Franchisees Who Give Back: Charles O’Brien of Sbarro
Franchisees Who Give Back: Charles O’Brien of Sbarro

A multi-unit franchisee with Sbarro weighs in on how charitable efforts can help grow a business within a local community.

Charles O’Brien is a local in the Washington, Pennsylvania community. He’s also a multi-unit franchisee within the Sbarro system, owning and operating locations in Washington, Westmorland, Greensburg and LaTrobe. O’Brien has a strong business mindset, but that’s not the only thing moving his businesses forward. He also has a strong awareness for charity and helping people in need within the local communities that his businesses call home.

1851 sat down with O’Brien to learn more about his top tips for being a successful entrepreneur while also giving back to people along the way.

How important is it to give back to your local community as it relates to growing your business?

O’Brien: We've always felt that we need to share our good fortune with the local community. Community members are the ones who are putting dollars into our business. If a business owner doesn’t give back, he or she can be looked at as a greedy operator. Holding that stigma is not a good fit, especially in the smaller communities we operate in. Community members know both myself and my Sbarro employees.

What local or charitable outreach efforts have you made in order to connect with your local community?

O’Brien: We first started with a coin box in one of our restaurants and donated the money to The Mel Blount Youth Home. We have built a plan to give and focus on a local charity every year. On average, my Sbarro franchises receive about $1,000 to $1,500 in donations and we promise to match whatever amount is donated from the community. After our year with The Mel Blount Youth Home, we decided to donate to Washington Youth Baseball. This year, we have partnered with St. Jude Children’s Hospital.  We are on par to round up $2,500, which we will match. 

Additionally, we help the local high schools whenever they have fundraisers. We will provide them with pizzas which they can sell or feed their students with. We will never say ‘no’ to them.

1851: Do you have a charity in mind for next year?

O’Brien: In 2019, we are opening up a new store, and to connect with the local community there, we will be donating to The Brownson House, which helps children in the community who are living in one parent households.

1851: How effective are charitable efforts in growing your Sbarro businesses?

O’Brien: Since we live in such a tight-knit community, the people know the foundations and have connections to these local charities. We strategically will place the box next to the register and hand change to the customer right over the collection box so they feel inclined to donate their excess change.  

1851: Diving into your business strategies, what are your top ideas or tips to market and retain customers?

O’Brien: We have seen recent success with radio ads. In my opinion, the most important thing we focus on is keeping each store extremely clean. That doesn’t just mean the physical location, but those working at Sbarro. We stress that the employees are in proper uniform and polite. After that, it takes care of itself. Having a customer first mindset is what we drill into our employees’ minds every day. Some of our locations are in shopping malls, and we say hello to everyone who walks by, even if they aren’t interested in buying anything. We train our employees to be successful not only at Sbarro, but later in life.

1851: What advice would you give to other franchisees who are just starting their businesses to best set themselves up for success on the local level?

O’Brien: New franchisees must be in their stores in the beginning. As an owner, you must have skin in the game. You must be shaking hands with everyone who comes in, almost like a politician. When parents step into the line with older children, we always ask if they have a job and see if they want an application. 

Additionally, franchisees must provide support to their employees. At our restaurants, we help our employees with their education, whether it is buying books, a laptop, clothes or providing them with help in paying tuition. We treat these kids like our own children. Our turnover is very low because we have kids coming back during the summer and long breaks.