Since 1983, Zachary’s has been making award-winning pizza in the San Francisco Bay Area. When Zachary’s founders, Zach Zachowski and Barbara Gabel decided to retire, they handed the company over to the employees via an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). In 2010, Zachary’s became 100% employee owned.
For February we are shining a light on Aria, our Oakland and Berkeley Office Manager. Aria, who started with Zachary’s in 1999, has been with us since before our transition from private to employee-ownership. Aria felt the pressure of taking over a successful company from two inspirational founders, as well as the honor and responsibility of continuing the Zachary’s legacy.
Name: Aria V.
Hire Date: September 1999
Home Restaurant: Rockridge & North Berkeley
Favorite Pizza: Stuffed Spinach & Mushroom, pesto inside, pepperoni on top.
Favorite Activities: Spending time with family on outdoor adventures, softball, and baking.
Aria’s Claim to Zachary’s Fame: Aria is the creator of the Enchi-Holla seasonal special pizza! You can see her taking a bite out of her signature pizza further down the interview.
Aria was interviewed by Zachary’s Marketing Manager Robin Smith on February 2nd, 2021.
Robin (R): Hi Aria, thanks for sitting down with me!
Aria (A): Of course!
R: Let’s start at the beginning, when did you start at Zachary’s and what made you decide to work here?
A: I started at Zachary’s after I graduated college basically, September 1999. Graduated college, moved home, and then the, you know, “What am I gonna do now?” (laughs). So I had that moment and, just kinda enjoyed my summer. Had a summer job, that ended, saw Zachary’s was hiring and…I grew up right up the street on Ocean View, so knew about Zachary’s and I didn’t come here that often, but I knew people that worked here. So, of course you know, Timmy K was working here at the time and he was like,”Oh yeah! You gotta work there, it’s so you, it’s so you, you’ll like it.” So I applied and still here (laughs), 2021.
R: So, after twenty…?
A: 21 years. In September it’ll be 22.
R: What has made you stay these 22 years? What’s been the driving factor that has been, “I’m willing to stay at this job for this amount of time?”
A: Right, yes, great question. Cuz a lot of people ask me that like, “Daaang, you’ve worked there for that long!?” It’s unusual for someone to work [at a job], especially in a restaurant, for that long, and it’s basically one thing, it’s the people. It’s the people that started the company, the people that run the company, and the people that work at the company…It really is like a second family and it all started with Barbara and Zach. They made you feel like they appreciated you and that you were part of this bigger thing, and so, that kinda kept me going through the waiting tables and all that kinda stuff. The management was also always really good and communicated well and I was- I mean, you make good money too (laughs)! So when the opportunity to keep moving up and to become a manager came around, I didn’t jump at it at first, but then I thought…I’ve been with this company, and I think it was after four years, I finally accepted the management position and could see myself keep movin’ and BOOM (both laugh)! So it’s all about the people. I’m still enjoying everybody that I work with, everybody that works here.
R: We’ve gotten that before, its come up in other spotlights, that [Zachary’s] is like a second family, and it’s people oriented, and I agree 100%. So when Barbara and Zach decided they were going to retire and were considering what they were going to do with this company that’s super successful, how did it make you feel when you found out they’d decided to give it to the employees rather than do a public sale?
R: Were you surprised that they were going to do that?
A: For sure!
R: Were you a little anxious, like, “What does that actually mean?”
A: Yes! Totally! “What does that really mean?” Like, what, I’m gonna have to start really paying attention to things (both laugh), because I’m an owner, you know? I can’t just come to work? But then learning about it…First it was sad. Barbara and Zach were going to retire, they’re the founders, they are the backbone. So it was a little like, oh man, what are we gonna do?! But learning about it, and seeing how there was still going to be a structure and having confidence in the leaders of the company at that time, it was intriguing and then it became exciting. Then each year receiving your [ESOP: Employee Stock Ownership Program] statement it became even more exciting cuz you’re like, “Wow, ok!” It felt, I felt a little bit like an adult (both laugh) because I was saving for retirement. It definitely got its claws in me and kept me.
R: Absolutely. So, being able to take over a successful business, doing something that’s not very common, especially at that time- you don’t see a lot of Employee Stock Ownership Programs in general- did you feel the pressure to really make sure that we maintained the legacy of Zachary’s? What [Zachary’s] is about and to make sure we continued to be that great? Did you feel that pressure?
A: Oh for sure, for sure I did. I think because, I mean, for me, because I did work with Barbara and Zach and I knew the core values that they brought and instilled in everybody that worked for them, and how much hard work they put into building the company. I felt it my duty, my honor, to continue that, for sure. And I think back on all the different people that I’ve worked with and how they made my experience here at Zachary’s, and [they] made Zachary’s, so to continue that…I, it’s like I have to, that’s my destiny! Because [Zachary’s] is so great, if we continue to keep it great than the people that we bring on to work for us…they’ll see how great it is and they’ll want to do the same, to put in that effort, to make it their honor to make it great. So for SURE I felt it (laughs). Still do (both laugh).
R: I know, I agree, I feel it too. So almost 22 years…I assume you have stories in that time?
A: Oh my goodness, yes!
A: Yeah, characters. The first thing that pops into my head of a character I worked with was Lae Charles. Back in the day there were only two people, two hosts, that worked at Solano during the daytime. So it was just me and Lae Charles, dishing out slices, yada yada, and- I mean, this isn’t gonna make sense cuz not everyone knows this person, but we worked with this other guy, Patrick. Patrick had this hairdo where in the front it kinda stuck up. Ok, so…I was in the back restocking something, and I’m passing the oven coming to the front and Lae was like, “Eh, can you go ring up Patrick’s dad up there?” And I was like, “Patrick’s dad? Ok.” So I go to the front and I look at this gentleman and I just started laughing (laughs), and you know, I tried to play it off, like “Oh hey! Let me ring you up! I’m having such a great day!” But it was because the gentleman had the same hairdo as Patrick, but older you know? So something so stupid and so simple, but it was the way [Lae Charles] said it, and, I don’t know, I just laughed so hard. And when Lae came back up [to the counter] he was kinda smiling, and I finished up with the customer and [Lae Charles] was like, “What’s so funny?” And I just said, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you said that right before I came up and helped this guy!” So, I guess it just goes to show how much fun a day shift at Solano, dishing out slices and ringing people up, but the people you work with [can] make it so fun, and he was so funny. I just have a lot of memories like that, where it’s just something little, small, but it lifts you up for the rest of the day, or for the rest of the night, and it makes your simple work of being a host fun and makes your day fun. So it was just stories like that always stick out in my head, like “Oh my god, Lae Charles!” He was such a jokester!
R: And an iconic voice.
A: Oh my goodness, yes! And just to watch him actually make his way through the dining room on a busy Friday night, I was always so impressed with him. Anyways, that’s the first one that comes to my head! I laughed so hard, that customer must have thought I was crazy.
R: Or just really happy!
A: Yeah, right? “I love this job!” (Both laugh) I gotta have a better story…no, that’s a good one! It’s the first one that comes to my head.
R: Do you know what’s [interesting] about when I ask that question? It seems there’s always going to be this iconic story that’s some major thing, but it’s always moments like that. It’s always these very simple, in the moment stories that people tell, about a regular day of engagement. It seems like just an everyday interaction, but it brings so much joy and it stands out so much, that as you said, it’s a testament to how much fun it can be. How [moments] stand out in the day, and uplift you and you think about them years and years after.
A: Yeah! And it was such a simple little joke! Like, “Oh my god, he looks like Patrick!” (Both laugh) And then, alright, and then the little tidbit at the end, cuz I was like, “Is that, was that really Patrick’s dad??” And Lae said, “No!” (Laughs). Silly, Aria.
R: Zachary’s is obviously a Bay Area business, Bay proud. How do you think Zachary’s represents the Bay within our model and what we do? How do you think the essence of the Bay is represented here?
A: Oh. That’s a great question. I think that the casualness of us and…we don’t try to be too much, you know? We’re pretty simple; pizza, salads. We stepped it up a notch with meatballs, and a couple other appetizers at our other locations, but pretty simple. We just do [one thing] and do it well. But also the casualness of dining in, and how we kinda stack people, and you’re so close to the other person and it’s so loud in here, but it’s, it’s just the Bay! It’s kick backed, not really pretentious, or not uppity, not trying to be…it’s just Oakland, it’s the town, it’s not trying to be anything its not. I think mostly just because we started [in Oakland], and this is the home base, that kinda spread to our other locations. Solano is chill, the other locations as well. And I think it’s good that we’re taking that very relaxed yet professional approach to high quality food. I like that.
R: I agree, I think that’s a great answer.
A: Thank you.
R: What is the thing that you’re looking most forward to getting back to within Zachary’s post Covid?
A: Ahhhh! Ok.
R: And personally too!
A: That’s kinda a tough one because, I mean, what we’re really missing [is] the dine-in aspect of it, but…I’ve kinda enjoyed the more simpleness of just take out, you know? So that’s tough. Maybe just not wearing this mask at work? (Both laugh) But also, I guess this crosses over to personally too, is just socializing; with friends, with family, and having people I know come and dine in. Just seeing them, and being able to attend to them, but also being able to show off what we do here. So I guess I miss that workwise but also in the other half of my life too. Just gathering, with people, with family, not having to be like, oohhh, keep your distance, and…hugging friends when you see them. Yeah so, I’ll be excited to get back to that for sure.
R: Transitioning from that, what do you like to do when you’re not at work?
A: Oh! I like to be outside. I like to, I love spending time with my husband and my son. We go for lots of hikes, we go backpacking. I love to play softball, I miss that, a lot actually. I have been on this women’s team for, gosh, I wanna say like six or seven years, and this is the very first time that we haven’t played in an extended period of time. So, I miss my girls. But yeah, just whatever outside. I like to bake actually too. I don’t know if you knew that about me Robin. (Laughs)
R: I did not. Where are my samples?!
A: I know! (Laughs) Not so much cooking. Which I mean, I do cook, but I definitely like to bake. I like spending time with my sisters, you know there’s four of us, I got three sisters. My brothers are cool too. Spending time with family and friends, and yeah, just getting out there. I love just going out in nature, whether it’s an extended period of time backpacking or camping, or just hiking. That’s what I like to do. Pretty simple.
R: Thank goodness a lot of those are what you can do right now during Covid.
A: Yes! There’s more people out there than usual (laughs).
R: The last thing I want to ask you is very basic, but very important. What is your favorite pizza?
A: Oh my pizza! Yes! Well, ok, woooo gosh, I’ve worked here for awhile so I’ve tried many combinations. But I have to have two, because you have to have a stuffed and a thin.
A: You don’t always feel like a stuffed, especially if you eat it as much as I do. So stuffed would definitely have to be Spinach Mushroom, pesto inside, pepperoni- pepperoni on top! Makin’ it crispy! So it’s like reversing the pepperoni and the pesto. I also like that version as a thin crust. NO sauce, rolled thin, spinach mushroom, pepperoni on top, maybe no pesto though. Yeah. I’m gonna go with those two.
R: That sounds good, maybe I’ll order that thin today!
A: I know right? Mouth is watering.
R: Well, awesome. Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me Aria.
A: Of course Robin.
R: It’s been a pleasure.
A: Yes, it has. Thank you.