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Cafe Owner Sends Workers to See the World

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David Ford owns Y.J.'s Snack Bar in Kansas City, Mo. After an employee has been on the job one year, Ford buys that worker a roundtrip plane ticket to a destination of his or her choice. He tells Scott Simon he wants people whose "taste for the world is alive and vibrant."


Y.J.'s Snack Bar, a small cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, attracts art school hipsters and jazz musicians for a weekend brunch or a cup of coffee. Unlike most hangouts staffed by hungry aspiring artists, the employees at Y.J.'s traveled the world on the house. The snack bar's owner, artist David Ford, buys each employee who works for him at least one year a round-trip plane ticket to wherever they want to go--Italy, Spain, Morocco, Guatemala, even Kansas City, Kansas, if that's where they really want to go. So you can imagine staff retention is very high. David Ford joins us from member station KCUR in Kansas City.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. DAVID FORD (Owner, Y.J.'s Snack Bar): Well, thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: How can this be good for business?

Mr. FORD: Oh, it's much cheaper than you'd imagine. If you take 25-cents-an-hour raise you could give someone, and even if only they work 25 hours a week, at the end of the year, you've got enough money to send them to a fine Third World country.

SIMON: Well, what are some of the places that you've sent your employees?

Mr. FORD: Generally, we've been going to Central America. I have a real love of the Mayan world and Guatemala has been a heavy favorite.

SIMON: Now has it ever happened, do you mind me asking, Mr. Ford, that an employee says something like, `You know, I've always wanted to go to Pango Pango,' and you've said, `Excuse me. I'm generous, but that's ridiculous'?

Mr. FORD: Well, they would get the equivalent in cash towards that ticket if they'd like, but usually if we purchase in bulk or we arrange to go as a group, there's a little more savings. You can get a little more bang for your buck.

SIMON: And you just lock the store up then?

Mr. FORD: Yeah.

SIMON: Good.

Mr. FORD: This year we're doing it in January. Don't come by in mid-January. We'll be in Chiapas for the Festival of San Sebastian in Zinakantung(ph).

SIMON: What's it do for the employees to see some of these places, do you think?

Mr. FORD: Well, for quite a few of them, it's the first chance they've ever had to leave the country. Hopefully, it endows them with a passport and a love of cultural interface that's going to pay off for their art in the long run. You know, this is definitely a selfish gesture on wanting to retain staff and work with people who are intellectually stimulated and, you know, whose taste for the world is alive and vibrant.

SIMON: May I ask what it costs to eat at your place or have a cup of coffee?

Mr. FORD: You'll definitely be filled up for under $5, and we have yesterday's leftovers, which are usually priced a little bit cheaper. We've got something for everybody, you know?

SIMON: Mr. Food, businessman to businessman, is this a tax write-off for you?

Mr. FORD: Not at all. In fact, the snack bar isn't really designed to make a lot of money. I've just had to convince the IRS after a 17-month audit of that very fact. They kept wondering, `Well, why do you have this program? You know, why are you recycling? Why are you doing this?' I said, `Well, it's about, you know, stabilization.' I'm a painter. I want to have my three meals a day and break the archetype of being a starving artist myself, but in the long run, it's meant as a cultural endowment.

SIMON: Mr. Ford, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. FORD: Absolutely, Scott. It was a pleasure.

SIMON: David Ford is an artist and he owns Y.J.'s Snack Bar in Kansas City and he'll be spending part of January in Chiapas, Mexico, along with the rest of his employees.

Twenty-two minutes before the hour.

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