Pizza with a Purpose: 2023 Commitment to People Recipient Janelle Reents

Pizza with a Purpose: 2023 Commitment to People Recipient Janelle Reents
July 12, 2023 Susan Diepen

Pizza with a Purpose: 2023 Commitment to People Recipient Janelle Reents

Interview with Janelle Reents

President, Monical Pizza Corporation
2023 Commitment to People Recipient

It’s our favorite story. You know the one: teenager gets a job at the local community restaurant, and through dedication and perseverance, rises through the ranks and eventually ends up running the company.

Meet Janelle Reents, who embarked on her journey of making pizzas more than 30 years ago, and is now President of Monical Pizza Corporation and our 2023 Commitment to People Recipient!

Common themes in her nomination form included how Janelle pays special attention to motivation and appreciation, is compassionate during the current employment crisis, creates personal content to support Monical’s new e-learning system, is active in planning employee/family celebration events, drives their wellness and volunteer programs, and works side-by-side with vendors and franchise owners.

We could not wait to talk to Janelle about her journey to President and people-centered practices.

Janelle with Jeff, her husband, and daughters
Justine (left) and Jordyn (right)

Was your journey to President intentional?

When I think about the journey, it amazes me. It would make a great story if it was intentional, but the reality was I had no clue. Starting as a pizza maker at 17, I couldn’t have imagined all of the opportunities that would be placed in front of me along the way.

Growing up in Washington, IL, I grew up on Monical’s. I remember our family going to the Monical’s in Peoria. The way they bundled the product in the “Family Pleaser” was affordable.

I enjoyed working in the restaurant, and was there for seven years while in high school and college. During that time, I learned all of the hourly positions and even moved into management with encouragement from a District Manager. When I left to work towards my Master’s degree, I continued to work at Monical’s during the holidays and school breaks. It was a great way to stay in touch with all of the friends that I made at the store.

When did it occur to you that you were moving up the ranks?

Once I received my MBA, I started working in finance for a mutual fund company, which did not fit my personality. I went from the people-oriented, energetic restaurant industry to working in a cubicle in a very structured environment. So, I reached out to the General Manager at the Washington restaurant and she mentioned that Monical’s corporate office in Bradley, IL was close to me. Though there was no open position, the timing was perfect.

Then President Harry Bond hired me back in 1995. From then until 2008, I rotated through all of the departments, learning about human resources, finance, IT, franchising, distribution, and much more. It was an incredible opportunity to learn about the business in a completely different way. I understood how everything was connected. Coming up through operations provided context and credibility. I can still remember working those busy nights in the restaurant.

In 2008 when I was presented with the opportunity of President, it seemed everything had come full circle. As I looked back on my career, I was thankful for all of the great people who played a part in shaping my journey. I wanted to make them proud, but also wanted to be sure this new position would not take a toll on my family. My daughters were seven and nine at the time. Fortunately, this company understood the importance of family. It was because of that I was allowed to go from Team Leader, to part-time entry level, Co-President, and then went right into President! The fact that Monical’s allowed me that flexibility was appreciated – all the pieces came together.

Over its 64 years, Monical’s Pizza has grown from a local pool hall pizzeria into a sophisticated, competitive multi-million dollar company. The Monical’s mission is simply stated as The Family Pleaser®…People Pleasing People®.

What leadership skills did you need to develop on your path to President?

I was always one that would jump in and help out. I like to try new things and do things differently, But, I was not a natural leader. I am still working at this today, and there is always room to improve. I try to show my true self to my team which at times means revealing my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. That fosters trust, relationships, and support.

I think about this like a flywheel, which not only rotates the engine, but stores energy so that the engine operates at maximum performance. In business, the flywheel effect happens when small wins build on each other and gain momentum. From there, growth happens!

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I try to listen to my team and actually hear what they are saying about how we can improve. To be transparent and communicate as a collective group, we will get there together.

Fostering those skills has helped us all navigate the last three years, which have taken a physical and emotional toll on our team and the industry. I am proud of our work during the height of the pandemic…providing food, providing a smile, and providing comfort early on when people were uncertain about what was ahead.

“I think about relationships like a flywheel, which not only rotates the engine, but stores energy so that the engine operates at maximum performance. In business, the flywheel effect happens when small wins build on each other and gain momentum. From there, growth happens!”

– Janelle Reents

What are some words or quotes you lead by?

When I was working in the restaurant, my grandfather and I had a very close relationship. He was a huge Monical’s fan. Often, I would stop by to visit him after work and I remember him telling me over and over “One day, you will be running that company!” When presented with the opportunity of President, his words were with me. Thing was – I started believing him as my career advanced. He fostered the belief in me that I could do anything. Now, I want to be the one who provides those opportunities, that inspires others to reach out of their comfort zone to achieve their full potential.

To this end, I also live by this quote from Stephen Covey:

“Always surround yourself with people who are even more talented and competent than you.”

— Stephen R. Covey

What are some of the ways your training team best provides strategic value?

These wonderful, patient, knowledgeable, caring, compassionate people (Trainers) are critical to our success. I can’t think of a project or initiative they are not part of. When they bring up a suggestion, we listen and work together to find solutions and do what’s best for the team. They hold the pulse of the organization.

Especially during the pandemic, we would not have been as successful without our training team. They were the glue that held everything together. The critical nature of their role was highlighted during the pandemic and is why their voice is so important to the growth of our people and the brand.

“Always surround yourself with people who are even more talented and competent than you.”

— Stephen R. Covey

What program have you implemented in support of people that you are most proud of?

Working in restaurants is a physical job, but the last three years have caused a mental and emotional strain never seen in our organization before. To acknowledge this, we wanted to give them a safe space to talk about what they have been through. We brought in a psychologist from our Employee Assistance Program to help us address the mental exhaustion that many of our team members were feeling and tools to help them improve their overall well-being. These have been some of the most uplifting and impactful meetings I have ever been a part of. The sharing that happened was meaningful, impactful, and productive. We all needed to hear that others shared in the same struggles.

Our team is always looking for unique and interactive ways to bring our people together and do good for our communities. Whether it’s giving back to Toys for Tots, our local food pantries, or the Salvation Army, our people want to make a difference. I like being hands-on with our company events. We are always trying to find a way to do unique holiday celebrations that will create a lasting impression. One year, we had a musician come in who brought drums, which highlighted the importance of having a single voice, and what you can create as a group when you work together.

What is currently keeping you up at night in relation to running the business?

It seems like it’s just one thing after another for our restaurant teams. They get through one challenge, and here comes another. For that reason, we are constantly working to find them the tools and resources they need to do their jobs which continues to evolve in this environment. How do you run restaurants profitably while still maintaining the key elements of the brand? As costs continue to climb and consumers are more selective with what they are buying, how do we stand out? Also, it is nearly impossible to find the staffing resources that you need in this tight labor market. It is hard to grow in this environment. We have had to delay projects either because construction costs are high, or we don’t want to add any more complexity to our teams. Fortunately, we are a brand that has withstood 64 years of change and we will continue to do so because of our dedicated team of great people.

“Our industry allows for the care we can give our communities and, likewise, our community supports us. Our 64 years of building that trust and relationship with our local communities helped us greatly during the pandemic.”

– Janelle Reents

Personally, do you “have it all?”

I do have it all, and here’s why. I  have a support system in place that has provided me with the help to raise a family and still have an amazing career. My husband, family, co-workers, and friends. When you have worked with your team for so long, they know you, and they know and care about your family. I’m very fortunate. Without the support of my Monical’s team and others, I could not do this job effectively. It’s not so much a balance but more like an ebb and flow. I try to look at my work and personal commitments as ones that complement each other.

I am also fortunate to work for a supportive Board of Directors. This group recognizes the more diverse voices you have at the table creates a better environment and great synergy. As the first female to run this company, I recognize the importance of the opportunity I’ve been given and work every day to promote that same inclusivity.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love to work with my hands, and I especially enjoy refinishing furniture. My Monical’s coworkers have fostered my DIY passion by giving me unique gifts at holiday time. They have even given me nail guns! My dad was a landscaper, and I love that work as well. I enjoy turning something that has little potential into something special.

Janelle will be honored at the Commitment to People Awards Dinner on Monday, July 31, 2023 during the CHART Orlando Hospitality Training Conference. Congratulations to Janelle, and to the entire Monical’s team!

Janelle lives in Wilmington, Illinois with her husband, Jeff, who is a high school Assistant Principal and head football coach. They have a shared love of family, faith, and hard work. Their oldest daughter, Justine, is an elementary school social worker and their youngest daughter, Jordyn, is completing her senior year at the University of Iowa. No matter how busy life can be, they always make time for each other.