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Fountain of Youth

Young employees add spunk to your startup--if you manage them right.

For more than 20 years, Jim Kalatschan has found success in the competitive restaurant market of Orange County, California. Kalatschan, founder of TK Burgers, attributes much of this success to his staff, more than half of which is composed of teen workers. "Working with teens is a lot of fun," says Kalatschan, 44. "They teach you how to think young."

At TK Burgers, where photos of the local beach cover each wall and surf movies play in constant rotation, thinking young is the only option. According to Leif H. Smith, president of Personal Best Consulting, a fun work environment is key in motivating teens. "No matter what the job is," says Smith, "when you make it fun, [teens] will stick with it."

The length of time a teen employee will stay with a business is indeterminable, but there are ways to keep them onboard. "I'm incredibly flexible with my scheduling," says Kalatschan. "I have to be; otherwise, they'll quit for a sport or even a weekend vacation."

With week-to-week scheduling and a pool of part-time employees available to work at any of TK Burgers' four locations, scheduling never forces an employee to quit. "Teens are very flexible," says Kalatschan. "They can work one day one week and five days the next."

Kalatschan, who projects sales of more than $2 million for 2007, also recognizes the shortcomings of the teen work force. "They're going to make mistakes, but rather than dismissing them out of anger, you have to be patient," Kalatschan says. "If you don't teach them and give them a second or even a third chance, you'll end up firing them and having to start all over again."

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This article was originally published in the May 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Fountain of Youth.

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