Statesman Article about Trulucks!

When Claudia Pérez steps into Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House, she’s walking into more than just its cool, dimly lighted lounge to enjoy the happy-hour specials, the relaxed atmosphere and the “super-friendly” bartenders and servers. She’s relishing the ambiance, cuisine and superior service that are the hallmarks of a restaurant whose employees have voted it one of Austin’s best places to work.

Employees of Truluck’s, which ranks first in the midsize business category in the American-Statesman’s 2011 Top Workplaces project, say the company invests heavily in their training and goes above and beyond to reward top performers. The company has its own constitution espousing its commitments to its employees and customers, stating that its mission is “to provide the best work experience of all our employees’ lives, to ensure their prosperity, and promote personal development.”

“They treat their employees just as importantly as they do their customers,” said Jaden Harper, a hostess and one of about 60 employees at Truluck’s downtown Austin location.

Teamwork, said bartender Benjamin Cantey, “is a vital part of what we do.”

“You can’t work here if you don’t operate as a team,” Cantey said.

The privately held chain, founded by Patti Turner and Stuart Sargent in 1992, has 11 locations in Texas, Florida and La Jolla, Calif. Truluck’s even purchased its own fishery in Naples, Fla., to ensure fresh delivery of its signature item, Florida stone crab, within 24 hours of being harvested.

Jennifer Huddleston, a server and trainer at the Warehouse District location, said the restaurant is the most professional one she has worked at in her 10 years in the industry.

“We focus on integrity in our products and service, which is the glue that holds our success together,” said Huddleston, a three-year employee.

Truluck’s service is a byproduct of the importance it places on training its people, Huddleston and other employees say. Waiting tables requires a minimum of six years experience as a server, as well as stints at the host stand, the food line and the bar operation to learn all aspects of the operation. Then there are four days of hands-on training with a server followed by a mock session with a manager that must be passed before being put on the server schedule. The training process, said Huddleston, “is often referred to as information overload, and it is nearly impossible to learn everything in just two weeks,” she said.

In addition, employees periodically are required to not only take menu tests to check their knowledge, but also must take culinary quizzes, Huddleston said.

“The things we need to know as servers are far beyond what you would imagine. u2026 It is important to know everything we can about the products we feature in order to earn the trust of our customers.”

Andrew Penridge is the maitre d’ at Truluck’s — a position he says the company created for him after he left to try out law school, then returned. “They worked with me to find a spot where I can thrive and give back to the company as well,” said Penridge, whose job entails calling every customer the following day to inquire about their dining experience.

Penridge describes the company culture as “meritocracy” that recognizes and rewards its top performers. That can mean everything from gifts to scheduling preferences to — in the case of Truluck’s chef Joe Prior — use of a company auto. Twice a year, the owners close the restaurant and treat employees and their families to a celebration at a special location.

Penridge said Truluck’s places high importance on an open-door communication policy, one of the guiding tenets in its constitution. Employees are encouraged to speak to managers about any issue they may have, to nip it in the bud before it can create a tension-filled environment, Penridge said. If a problem isn’t resolved at the manager level, an employee can go higher, to speak with the restaurant’s operating partner. Allowing contact with a range of higher-ups in the corporation also helps build relationships, which in turn can help employees advance in the company , Penridge said. Nine of the 11 general managers/managing partners started their Truluck’s careers as servers, including the downtown general manager, Riley Hutton.

Employees are evaluated every six months, and are given “the opportunity to express who we believe are the best team supporters, and also some folks that are maybe not meeting expectations.”

But it’s done in a constructive manner, Penridge said.

“It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s about trying to better ourselves collectively,” Penridge said.

Prior said Truluck’s also places a priority on fixing equipment when it’s broken — “even if they don’t make budget.”

“They view it as an investment for the building,” he said, reciting a management slogan that “the proper tool does the proper job.”

Benjamin Grieser, a server, said he’s waited tables at a lot of places, but at Truluck’s “I’m really learning how a restaurant can run well.”

“It blows other places out of the water,” Grieser said. “I’ve never worked at a place with so much support from management. This place is the hardest — and most rewarding — of any place I’ve worked. At the end of the night, I feel like I’ve accomplished heroic things.”