His McDonald’s was closed for months for renovations. He continued to pay the staff.

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When Tony Philiou started at McDonald’s in 1962, he was paid 90 cents an hour to cut cheese. He slowly took on more responsibility, becoming a supervisor, then a manager – until he bought the franchise.

“I was proud of what I was doing from the start,” said Philiou, 90, who originally took a part-time job at a McDonald’s in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, when he was 30 as a second source of income.

At the time, he was newly married and had two small children. Although he had a full-time job at an auto parts factory, he had recently bought a house that needed renovation. He needed extra money.

“That was the beginning,” said Philiou, who immigrated to Cleveland from northern Greece in 1947 and served in the Korean War from 1950-1951.

He expected his job at McDonald’s to be a short-term gig, but 60 years later he’s still going strong — with no intention of retiring. Philiou worked concurrently at the factory for 16 years before taking the plunge and joining McDonald’s full-time. He had strong mentors there who helped him climb the ladder, he said, and now he hopes to do the same for his employees.

“They saw something in me that I didn’t know I had,” Philiou said of his employers. “I saw an opportunity and that I belonged in the service industry.”

He knows restaurants are a challenging business, and for him, making sure employees are paid appropriately is a key to success. When his restaurant closed for a little over three months for renovations at the end of March, Philiou continued to pay all 90 employees their regular wages.

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“How are these people supposed to make it without paychecks?” Philiou wondered when the renovation plans were finalized. He made a bold financial decision: “We’re going to pay everyone full money.”

“There wasn’t anyone in the world who could change my mind about what I thought was right,” he said. “What they already deserved, they got.”

Paying staff while the restaurant was closed “was a big investment,” said Philiou, who visits the store several times a day to chat with staff and customers and help with anything that’s needed. “We used up the account a bit but they helped create the account.”

“You haven’t lost a penny,” he added. “If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely do the same.”

The staff was blown away by his generosity.

“The staff were overwhelmed and very grateful,” said Ed Kocsis, 55, general manager of the restaurant where he started working when he was 15. “I thought it was fabulous.”

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Kocsis began working under Philiou in 1982 while saving for college. He went to Kent State and continued to work at McDonald’s during spring break and summer break. When Kocsis earned his business degree, Philiou encouraged him to continue his career with the franchise as a supervisor. Kocsis has been working there ever since.

Like him, dozens of employees have dedicated several decades of their lives to working at Philiou’s McDonald’s, many of whom have risen through the ranks from maintenance to managerial positions.

“Our turnover is very small compared to other quick service restaurants,” said Kocsis. “I think it’s because they enjoy working here and are treated with respect. They feel comfortable working here, so they want to stay.”

That goes for Mary Conti, 78, who started as a crew member at the restaurant in 1977. She never left – and has no foreseeable plans. Conti, now a manager, took the job when her three children were old enough to go to school.

“I worked here during their apprenticeships and took a few of them to college,” she said. Over the years, Conti said, she’s received countless “special perks” from Philiou, who’s sent her on multiple trips — including cruise – to reward them for their hard work.

“Tony was very, very good to me and my family and the whole crew,” said Conti, who works four days a week and “is in semi-retirement.”

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Given how well she was treated at work, Conti said she wasn’t surprised that Philiou continued to pay his employees during the store’s temporary closure. Nevertheless, she was delighted – and deeply relieved.

“Those bills were still coming in,” she said. “He took care of us. He went above and beyond to make our three months at home a personal vacation.”

“He’s very thoughtful. He takes everyone under his wing individually,” Conti continues. “He treats us like family. That’s the main thing.”

Philiou’s daughter, who grew up near the restaurant, agreed. She has been in the business since she was 14 years old.

“This is a second family for us,” said Mary Powers, 64, who owns a McDonald’s franchise with her husband in Chesterland. “Anything we can do to show them how much we appreciate them, we do.”

Her father “is the most passionate McDonald’s person on the planet. He lives and breathes this business,” she said. “Family comes first, but that comes second.”

Philiou bought the franchise in 1978. He has been married to his wife Effie for 68 years and they have three daughters, six grandchildren and one great-grandson. He has owned and sold six other locations throughout his career. He plans weekly pizza parties for his employees as well as regular celebrations and events. He also likes to celebrate successes – no matter how small.

“Whenever they do something good, we pat them on the back and say, ‘That’s a great sandwich you just made,'” Philiou said. “We give them praise and thanks, and it definitely makes them reach for more.”

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“Every one of my employees has a talent,” added Philiou, who said he enjoys every item on the McDonald’s menu and always gets double pickles on his hamburger. “They motivate me and I motivate them.”

The renovated restaurant, which has been refurbished with new fixtures and fittings and a remodeled dining room, reopened on July 5th with a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

“We opened up and nobody wanted to go home,” said Philiou.

Teamwork, he believes, makes it possible.

“I come here every day and work side by side with them,” said Philiou. “I am extremely proud of my employees and the people in the community.”

“You are the battery that keeps me recharged,” he continued. “It was a blessed endeavor for me.”

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