99 Restaurant makes philanthropy its business

Members of the staff of Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub were at VFW Post 9460 on Dec. 7 to serve a holiday dinner to military veterans, as the restaurant donated the meal and time. From left are Connie Jandro, Chrissy Schultz, Marilyn Buonocore, Ryan Keefe, VFW Commander Bob Johnson in back, Marysol Rodriguez, Margaret Honafius, and John Calcaterra, general manager of the Stratford restaurant. Karen Reid photo.

Members of the staff of Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub were at VFW Post 9460 on Dec. 7 to serve a holiday dinner to military veterans, as the restaurant donated the meal and time. From left are Connie Jandro, Chrissy Schultz, Marilyn Buonocore, Ryan Keefe, VFW Commander Bob Johnson in back, Marysol Rodriguez, Margaret Honafius, and John Calcaterra, general manager of the Stratford restaurant. Karen Reid photo.

Name just about any local nonprofit or charity and it is pretty likely that the Stratford branch of Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub has already found a way to help.

On a recent Sunday, the staff served a holiday turkey dinner at Stratford’s VFW Post 9460 for patients of the West Haven Veterans Administration Medical Center. The VFW sponsored the dinner, and Stratford’s Ninety Nine Restaurant provided the food and staff.

On Tuesday evenings, bartender Connie Jandro organizes a fun bingo game around her bar to raise money for juvenile diabetes research. Over the last year, she has raised close to $1,000 on Tuesday evenings alone.

Each year, Ninety Nine Restaurant, located in Stratford Square on Barnum Avenue Cutoff, participates in or donates to dozens of charitable events and causes, including Stratford Pop Warner, VFW Post 9460, Stratford Professional Firefighters Burn Unit, the Stratford Cat Project, The Hop-A-Long Hollow, Visiting Nurses, Relay for Life, the Victoria Soto 5K, and local churches and sports teams, to name a few.

Passion to serve

The restaurant has a few standard ways it gives, but like Jandro’s bingo night, team members are limited only by their imagination. The Ninety Nine policy is one of “a passion to serve,” which translates beyond the restaurant into the community.

The restaurant donates food to charitable organizations for nonprofit events like the Soto 5K, it donates gift cards that can be used for fund-raisers, and it welcomes local charities and nonprofit organizations to participate in “Dining for a Cause,” in which 15% of the restaurant revenue for one evening is donated to the organization.

Additionally, the local enterprise raises funds for annual chainwide fund-raisers for three causes important to the family brand: the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Jimmy Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Pine Street Inn, a Boston-based homeless shelter that is the largest in the Northeast.

The Ninety Nine fund-raising model encourages local community support, so in October, when team members at the store raised $4,395 for the Boys & Girls Club as part the chainwide fund-raiser, those funds went directly to the Lower Naugatuck Valley chapter, with clubs in Shelton, Ansonia and Seymour. The store donated a dollar per selected menu items that guests ordered. Team members also sold commemorative bracelets and offered guests the option to add a donation to their bill.

“I’m continually in awe of how closely our team members work together to ensure a successful fund-raiser for our long-standing partner, the Boys & Girls Club,” Ninety Nine President Charlie Noyes said.

Noyes, who transitioned from operations to company president in October, has been with the company since 1981. He started as a server, bartender and line cook while in college at Johnson & Wales University. After graduation, he worked his way up as general manager, director of operations and regional vice president of operations.

Stratford general manager John Calcaterra has been with the store for nearly seven years. Managing both the for-profit and charitable parts of his store’s business comes as second nature, he said. Before joining the Ninety Nine team, Calcaterra and his family owned the Peter Pan Café in West Hartford, where community involvement was a key part of their business model.

Loyalty

“I grew up in a small neighborhood, working in the bar my family owned for 48 years,” he said. “I saw what charitable giving could do for my family’s place. It created loyalty. It was about being a responsible neighbor and business partner, and bringing support to the community where you do business.”

Calcaterra said he joined Ninety Nine Restaurant for the positive work environment and the generous and practical approach the founding family took to community partnerships. Since the restaurant was founded in 1952 by the Doe Family, the brand has changed hands three times, and is now owned by American Blue Ribbon Holdings, a food service company that operates more than 650 company and franchise restaurants in 43 states under six different brands. Much of Doe’s “team” — including the president, regional vice presidents, and directors — have remained in leadership positions throughout the transitions, Calcaterra said.

The Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub was founded in 1952 in Boston at 99 State Street. It is now headquartered in Woburn, Mass., with 105 restaurants throughout New England and upstate New York. Ninety Nine employs more than 6,500 people in all, many of whom have worked for the organization for more than 15 years. Approximately 50% of Ninety Nine’s management staff started out as hourly team members.

The Stratford store has 52 employees and is the southernmost location of the chain.

“Charlie Doe has always had the ‘We Treat People Right’ attitude. Not just team members, but also the guest and the community partners,” Calcaterra said.

Calcaterra said local stores are not required to raise funds for charity, but they are encouraged in a way that makes team members excited to participate.

“They are very humanistic in their style. They don’t pressure us to participate but encourage with incentives. For example, they have a long-standing affiliation with the Red Sox for 30 years. So the top 10 restaurants that raise funds for Pine Street Inn and Dana-Farber might have a Ninety Nine night with dinner at Fenway Park.”

In July, the Northeast restaurant chain raised more than $600,000 for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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