Work ethic strong among grads
When Charley Kraut looked over this year's pictures of names of Tonganoxie High School graduates, he recognized many of them.
Kraut, who has been managing partner of the Tonganoxie Sonic fast food restaurant since it opened in 2000, estimated that of the 124 graduates, about 35 had worked for him at one time or another.
In fact, when scholarships were presented during the graduation ceremony, Kraut presented a $500 Sonic scholarship to one of them -- Ben Brest.
The proximity -- and the working relationship -- between the high school and Sonic work out well, Krout said.
Before the restaurant opened, Krout left applications at the school, which is across U.S. Highway 24-40 from Sonic.
"Since then, all I do when we're ready to gear up for summer and put some more people on is I call the school and they announce it on their PA and I've got more than enough applications," Krout said. "And all the kids seem to work out real well for us."
Brest, who received the Sonic scholarship, is one of them. He has worked at Sonic since his sophomore year and he plans to continue working there through college.
Brest started at Sonic as a dishwasher working about 10 hours a week. Now he's working about 25 hours a week as an evening shift manager.
He's appreciated the move to the managerial role.
"When you start out, all you have to worry about is if the dishes are clean or not," Brest said. "But as a manager you have to worry about food going out on time, whether it's fresh or not, making sure the employees are busy and not standing around, and then also you have to keep an eye on the customers to make sure everything's fine."
Surveying the class
In a survey answered by 94 students in the class of 2004, 69 students (73.4 percent) said they worked during their senior year.
Of those, only nine students (9.6 percent) worked less than 10 hours a week. A total of 27 (28.7 percent) students said they worked between 10 and 20 hours a week. Nearly as many -- 25 students (26.6 percent) worked between 20 to 30 hours a week, and 10 students (10.6 percent) worked more than 30 hours.
While eight students (8.5 percent) said they worked to help their family with expenses, 63 students (67 percent) said they worked to have extra personal spending money.
Well worth it
The jobs at Sonic pay well, Brest said, noting that car hops, who also get tips, start at $5.50 an hour. In working his way up the ladder, he's now in the $7.50 to $8 an hour pay range.
While he has enjoyed working with other teens, as well as his older sisters Amy and Kaitie, Brest also is appreciative of his boss, Charlie Kraut.
"He's an awesome boss," Brest said. "He does a lot of things for us that I just know that other bosses don't do."
For instance, Brest recalled attending an employee meeting where Kraut handed out a dollar bill to everyone who attended.
And, Kraut also has been willing to work with his employees' crowded schedules.
"He's very compassionate," Brest said. "If you really have something you have to go to and you can't work that night he'll say that's fine, you can go."
Even while working at Sonic, as well as participating in cross country and basketball, Brest maintained a 3.7 grade-point average. He plans to take the first two years of college at Johnson County Community College and then to complete his bachelor's degree at Kansas University. These plans include working at Sonic.
College students who stay in the area tend to continue their jobs at Sonic, Krout said. For instance, he said Ben Brest's sister, Kaitie, has worked at sonic since it opened. Krout refers to Kaitie as one of the restaurant's "originals openers."
"I followed her all the way through high school and college," Krout said. "She has already graduated from college with one degree and she's getting ready to graduate again."
Because it takes about 43 employees to run a Sonic, Krout said it's especially important to make it a place where employees want to come to work.
"We try to make it fun," Krout said. "For a lot of them this is their first job and we try to show them that work doesn't have to be boring and it's OK to have fun at work as long as you can remember to do your job."
And, as Ben Brest said, especially for a high school student, the location's not bad either.
"We can just walk right across the street," Brest said. "It's pretty convenient."