In a tight labor market, ZaLat Pizza’s formula to earn employee buy-in is as unique as it gets. 

ZaLat Pizza opened its doors in 2015 with the objective of filling white space with high-quality, late-night takeout pizza in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The business model has proven to be a rousing success—by the end of 2022, ZaLat will have nearly 30 locations between the Houston and Dallas metro areas. But the model also brings with it various challenges. Namely, handmade pizzas cooked late into the night require a well-trained team that can consistently execute and meet the ZaLat brand standards. 

“Making thousands of handmade pizzas takes an incredible amount of training,” Nguyen says. “And not just training, but it requires buy-in from our workforce. We’re not just throwing pizzas on a conveyor belt—if you’re hand-cooking and baking your pies, the risk of burning or underbaking is trendenmous. To be best-in-class in this space requires a lot of love and care.”


In that way, ZaLat Pizza is hardly unique in the quick-service space—it faces many of the same recruitment, retention, and training challenges that all brands do. As Nguyen and his team keep opening stores and expanding, they’ve found that the culture they build is only growing in importance.

Where ZaLat Pizza finds itself ahead of the game, however, is in its unique ability to create a culture that earns employee buy-in. It starts from the top down: few, if any, restaurant industry CEOs have taken steps that Nguyen has to create a dynamic company culture. Employee perks include stock options in the brand, and a tattoo artist on retention for employees who would like some ink after a year on the job. ZaLat Pizza also awards colored bracelets for employees to wear that indicate how long they have been with the company, inspired by the belts earned by students of Taekwondo and Karate. 

But, according to Nguyen, one of his brand’s best retention tools is its training platform: Opus, a mobile-first training platform built to engage the modern worker. Opus is centered on the idea that workers who stand on their feet all day prefer to be trained via a combination of mobile learning and on-the-job skills training. The platform helps operators build engaging content that efficiently trains deskless workers on what they need to know in order to get ramped up quickly. Management can easily create multimedia lessons in less than 10 minutes and automatically assign them to employees, brandwide, while tracking how effectively each employee can execute on procedures.

“In general, if you’re going to have a fast-casual operation with the needs for a talented workforce the way we do, a learning management system that they find engaging is very, very important,” Nguyen says. “You can’t just have old videotapes training McDonald’s workers. It’s 2022—there are tools you need to put into place to make sure you can bring your workforce up to speed as quickly as possible. For us, they have to understand the mission we have, and why we need more from them than a typical brand would.” 

But Opus’s usefulness to Nguyen and his operations team is not restricted to learning how to execute recipes, or detailing, step-by-step, how to properly ring in an order. Nguyen also uses it to explain things like why ZaLat offers team members stock options, or why the company keeps a tattoo artist on retainer. He finds these micro lessons critical to his brand’s mission of creating an inclusive, motivating environment that employees want to be a part of.

“If you work a typical restaurant job, the expectation is that you show up and you’re told how to make the food and what goes where,” Nguyen says. “I think what the past couple of years have taught us is that most people don’t find that to be a fulfilling life on its own. For us, it’s crucial that our team members know that we’re different.

“We don’t view our employees as a necessary evil,” Nguyen continues. “They are the most crucial part of the business, because the care and attention to detail they put into our food is what we are selling. So we use Opus to explain what stock options are, and why they deserve them. It’s a little complex to teach, but we need them to know that we care about them and are truly willing to invest in them.”

For more on Opus’s ability to train and retain employees, visit the Opus website.

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