According to Huse Culinary co-owners Steve and Craig Huse, the secret behind St. Elmo Steak House’s success is hiring intelligent, hardworking people and reward them well.
The sentiment seems to benefit both parties. When Craig Huse recently entered Harry & Izzy’s Northside, he was immediately greeted with an enthusiastic hug from one of the waitstaff.
In an industry that frequently sees turnover, Steve Huse said St. Elmo Steak House and its sister restaurants — Harry & Izzy’s, 1933 Lounge and The HC Tavern + Kitchen — have at least 15 employees who have worked for the company for 20 or more years.
“Part of the reason people come to us is we pay well, and we also have fully benefitted our people who are with us full time,” Steve Huse said. “We also have a family atmosphere and consider our business family as important as our biological family. We have very high standards on the products we buy to transform somebody’s lunch and dinner, and I think they (the staff) appreciate that. They know we aren’t trying to cheat anybody, and that all creates pride for your work.”
The Huses’ practice of treating employees well continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the company’s Hamilton County restaurants closed for 56 days, and its Marion County restaurants closed for 81 days, the owners found a way to provide for their employees.
“We were able to bridge payroll and never shut payroll down,” Craig Huse said. “We calculated gratuities in 2019 and went back and averaged that out and took that average paycheck and we made that their payroll.”
When the restaurants shut down, the Huses allowed employees to fill grocery bags with perishable food – such as produce and dairy — from the restaurant sufficient for their families.
Besides that, the Huses and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning funded 1,200 boxed lunches for local first responders and staff at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. Creating the boxed lunches allowed some Huse Culinary employees to work throughout the shutdown.
“It allowed people to be working again here while we were closed to the public,” Craig Huse said. “We had 15 people or so banging out 1,200 meals a day, which is like an assembly line.”
The real challenge for employees came when the restaurants reopened and experienced slow business as diners began slowly venturing out again.
“The suburban restaurants (Harry & Izzy’s Northside) and Fishers came back pretty quickly, because downtown was empty, so people who were going downtown were staying close to home,” Craig Huse said. “Downtown is still running at 60 to 65 percent of 2019’s numbers, and (Harry & Izzy’s Northside) hit a number of times the same sales volumes as 2019 and overall is 90 percent where we were pre-pandemic.”
Although gratuities aren’t quite back to where they were pre-pandemic, some of Huse Culinary’s most loyal customers are helping support the waitstaff.
“Some of our regular guests, which we call our patron saints, were tipping outlandish tips, like 100 percent,” Craig Huse said. “We had one donate a bunch of Visa gift cards to supplement our staff.”
The company’s Benevolent Program, which provides grants to employees in need, also awarded $15,000 to employees in need during the pandemic.
For more, visit huseculinary.com.