From the outside, Sammamish’s MOD Pizza store looks like any other fast food joint on the Eastside.
But something special is happening inside. A close-knit group of local teens are working there this summer, gaining life skills from their first job while building a lasting bond with each other as they churn out custom-built pizzas for a constant stream of customers.
Given its proximity to local high schools, combined with the appeal of a quick and personalized meal, MOD Pizza has become a go-to place for lunch, dinner or snack for teens and adults alike.
“On an average day, about four groups of teens hang out here and maybe more over weekends,” said Garrett Sogge, the store’s 35-year-old general manager.
Sogge has been working at MOD Pizza for six years, and has been driving the recruitment of teens to work on his staff. A friendly environment and free food makes MOD Pizza a luring job opportunity for local high schoolers, many of whom are looking to make some extra cash.
Currently, the restaurant employs 15 high school graduates from the Class of 2022, and 4 more students who are rising seniors. They make up more than 50% of the 32-member “MOD Squad.”
About a year ago, MOD Pizza revised its hiring policy and opened up jobs to teens under 18. This was due to the shortage of labor, especially in areas like Sammamish where most kids pursue college after high school and shun service jobs, while the adults work in higher-paying professions.
“If we don’t hire under 18, it is hard to get people to come here,” said Sogge.
About three-quarters of its teen employees are from Skyline High School this year, and the remaining hail from Eastlake and Eastside Catholic high schools.
Referrals are a huge part of MOD Pizza’s hiring strategy. Often, employees bring in friends to work together. The staff get along so well that they even build new friendships or strengthen existing ones as they work across the kitchen.
Rishi Sharma, Saksham Bhardwaaj, and Amrita Oberoi are friends and recent Skyline graduates. Convinced by other friends of MOD Pizza’s friendly environment and amazing manager, they applied for jobs and started working there together in May, when the restaurant reopened after a kitchen remodel.
“I enjoy the atmosphere and the relationships I have made throughout the process,” said 18-year-old Oberoi.
While each of them joined at first to make some extra cash, they have gained some essential life skills in the pizza kitchen.
“I learned some basic cooking skills and will not go hungry in college,” said Bhardwaaj, who is 18 and heading off to college at the end of the summer.
For Sharma, 17, the experience has helped him improve his communication skills, especially through interacting with customers.
Over the years, Sogge has built a reputation of serving the community beyond the restaurant. A couple of years ago, he mentored a Skyline senior on how to run a business. He also referred one of his employees, who was a sophomore in college, to MOD Pizza’s corporate marketing department to help her complete a school project.
That dedication is what motivates many teen employees to eventually come back and work for MOD Pizza during their summer breaks from college. Some of the current teens plan to do the same.
“I plan on returning to MOD for the summers after my freshman year as not many internships are available then,” said Bhardwaaj.