When one of the little eateries in our food court is completely dark on a Monday morning it’s normally for the wrong reasons.
“Whoa, I must’ve missed the news; I didn’t know Pret A Manger shut down,” I thought as I passed the Starbucks and neared the restaurant that in my book makes a damn fine tureen of Moroccan lentil soup.
If you’ve ever visited a Pret, you know that its staff is bubbly to the point of “you can’t possibly be in this good of a mood” obnoxiousness, loud, happy and always there with a kind word even if you’re not stopping for a bite or a coffee. Which is likely why it was even more obvious that something was terribly wrong.
On one hand I’m glad to report that Pret A Manger in the food court of 225 N. Michigan Avenue is not permanently closed. On the other, however, a sign in the darkened window near the coffee read:
“Our shop is closed today.
“We are so sorry to let you know that Dante Colloly, a much-loved member and manager of the Pret team, passed away following a motor vehicle accident on Saturday night.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and his many friends.
“The entire Pret team mourns the loss of our wonderful colleague. He will be forever missed.”
Pret A Manger
I walked away stunned — stunned initially about the news of the death of someone who very likely offered me a friendly howdy and rung me up. But as I passed the other chain establishments both large and small — Dunkin’ Donuts, Jaffa Bagels, Potbelly, McDonald’s, Burrito Beach — I wondered if they would do the same if a team member suddenly died. Really, would any company in the entire Illinois Center complex — literally thousands of businesses, ranging from international consulates to FOX 32 to well-heeled law firms to Human Capital Media — shut down for a day if someone died?
The answer is, probably not. And that’s OK. Every business has to evaluate what a death in the workplace family means to the organization — personally, professionally and financially.
Mr. Colloly was 29 when the motorcycle he was driving Saturday afternoon struck a guardrail on South Lake Shore Drive. He was thrown onto the bike path, according to the Chicago Sun-Times and died at a hospital a short time later.
When our co-owner Norm Kamikow died suddenly in the summer of 2014 there were many heavy hearts and tears shed, but the doors remained open as we worked through our grief. I didn’t think it was wrong then, and even after today’s shocker, I still don’t think it was.
We later discovered the store closures extended beyond our food court. My colleague Bravetta Hassell passed by another Pret A Manger during a midday walk Monday and it, too, was closed. We found this Twitter post:
“We regret to inform you that our Chicago shops are closed today to mourn the loss of a dear colleague. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
I can’t begin to calculate what one Pret A Manger location brings in on a Monday in April. But multiply that by the dozen or so in the downtown Chicago area alone and it has to be a sizeable chunk of change.
Also, consider that in roughly 24 hours Pret team leaders came to the conclusion to close not just one store but locations across the city. Dante Colloly died on Saturday afternoon and by early Monday morning a well-thought out, clear, passionate message about a beloved colleague was posted at all its locations. Credit Pret corporate executives for ceding a lot of control to managers on a local level. A gofundme page has been posted for Mr. Colloly, too.
True, Pret has been maligned in the past for manufacturing its air of employee happiness. But it’s clear that in the wake of Mr. Colloly’s death, the British-based chain has developed a deep culture of trust and concern for its workers’ well being.
As people passed the sign during a busy Monday lunch hour, one woman commented to her colleague, “That’s so sad; they are all such nice people there.”
Not an unexpected refrain when you put your people ahead of profits.
Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.