Small businesses recognized for investing in lives

Business success is often measured by profits, but small businesses in Fort Worth are also recognized for how their employees flourish.

Merley Halk oversees a small kitchen staff at Z’s Café, building schedules, conducting sales and making sandwiches. But before coming to Z’s as a dishwasher, he struggled with drug addiction for more than five years.

Halk said Z’s, which is owned by Texas Christian University alumnus Carlo Capua and his mother Janet, has become his family.

“They take care of us,” he said. “If one of us gets sick, they’re going to make sure they check on us. If we get hungry or we don’t have enough to eat, they’re going to make sure we eat.”

Z’s Café is one of four Small Business of the Year awardees, announced at the mayor’s State of the City Address Feb. 22, according to a press release.

Among the other awardees are a construction company, Alpha Industries, and two technology companies, Southwest Office Systems and the Fulcrum Group.

Treating employees like family stood out to award judges, said Sherry Green, chair of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Board.

“We don’t care about what their revenues are,” Green said. “We care about how they are as a company.”

Since Z’s Cafe began in 2008, it has partnered with Samaritan’s House to employ 107 low-income men and women, many of whom have criminal backgrounds, Carlo Capua said.

“You know being able to see people who didn’t feel valued, who felt maybe thrown away from society, to see them achieve something that they never thought was possible has been really inspiring,” he said.

Like Z’s Café, Alpha Industries puts people back to work, actively hiring veterans who make up 20 percent of its workforce, CEO Trent Henckell said.

“Some of the best employees we’ve had, I mean they’ve come in as apprentices and now superintendents and leading job sites, and they are veteran status,” he said.

But caring for employees doesn’t stop at the hiring process.

The industrial construction company also prides itself on safety, reporting zero injuries that resulted in time lost on the job site, Henckell said.

“We can tell each and every employee that you can go home, you can go home safe,” he said.

Seeing the company as a family unit is a core value of Southwest Office Systems, a technology company run by two brothers, Vince and Buddy Puente.

Buddy Puente, co-president, says the family business recognizes its employees through monthly shout-out programs.

“You tend to take people for granted if you don’t watch it,” Puente said. “Our job, our business doesn’t work unless all those people are involved and care about what they do.”

For The Fulcrum Group, investing in employees means investing in a rhythm and structure employees can trust, Vice President David Johnson said. The Information Technology company has daily “huddles” that help each division of the business stay on task, he said.

“You know I think employees like to work for supervisors that are organized,” Johnson said. “They like to know that the company that they work for is gonna be in business next week, next month, next year.”

At Z’s Café, Halk said he has no regrets about coming to work for Carlo and Janet Capua.

“I’ve benefited a lot from working at Z’s Café from being more responsible, having the love and support of the owners, owner’s family,” he said. “They’ve treated me like I’m their biological child.”