Finding a Balance

The Dorothy Babb Academy below the offices of LM Restaurants
The Dorothy Babb Academy below the offices of LM Restaurants

When it comes to child care, LM Restaurants has its workers covered. 

At the Dorothy Babb Academy, located below the offices of LM Restaurants in west Raleigh, children play with blocks, practice their colors and interact with teachers. It looks like any other preschool, with cubbies for jackets, cots for naps and a playground. But the standout feature for the children of this school is who’s working upstairs: their parents, employees of LM Restaurants.

Founded four years ago, the school employs a staff of three teachers and currently enrolls eight students, all children of LM Restaurants workers. Use of the preschool is a perk available to LM staff as long as space for enrollment remains. 

And, for the children, the benefits are clear. Along with having their parents just upstairs, the school offers water play days in the summer, scavenger hunts throughout the office and lunch brought in from the Carolina Ale House daily, including steamed vegetables and salmon.

Onsite childcare is far from the norm in the U.S. In fact, only 3 percent of companies offer it according to the 2017 Employees Benefit Report from the Society for Human Resource Management. Considering 80 percent of companies offer free coffee, it’s clear that some perks are easier to provide than others.

“It’s not easy but there are far more difficult things companies undertake than this and the benefits are so astounding,” says Dr. Cathy Crossland, a professor of special education and director of the Diagnostic Teaching Clinic at NC State University, who helped establish the school. “I don’t think any program like this can operate at a for-profit margin to provide the types of services to employees that you would want. We pay the teachers well, their benefit packages are good and that’s what employers need to understand. You can’t run it on the cheap if you want to run it in a first-rate way.”

While LM employees pay for enrollment, that cost is heavily subsidized by the company. Tuition is comparable to local five-star facilities, an LM Restaurants spokesperson says.

How It Began

Amber Moshakos grew up in the restaurant business. She made friends with bartenders sipping virgin daiquiris and chatting up employees. Now a mother herself, Moshakos wants the same experiences for her own family. 

Working alongside her parents, Lou and Joy Moshakos, for the last 16 years, Moshakos is now the president of LM Restaurants, a family-run business her parents founded 40 years ago which encompasses seven brands, 26 locations and four new brands in development. In Raleigh, the LM portfolio includes Vidrio, Taverna Agora and Carolina Ale House.

Amber Moshakos with her father, Lou Moshakos, at Vidrio
Amber Moshakos with her father, Lou Moshakos, at Vidrio

“It’s hard being a working mom and constantly doing the balancing act between supporting the team in my leadership role, but also supporting the family in the mom role,” says Moshakos.

When Moshakos became pregnant approximately six years ago, it sparked a discussion about how difficult it is for parents to be separated from their children for so many years while they work, especially for mothers who want to nurse. When another LM employee, Tonya Towler, became pregnant at the same time as Moshakos, they realized they could find a way to bring the babies to work. 

“We asked how we could extend nursery care into a preschool,” says NC State’s Crossland, a longtime friend of the Moshakos family. “On the back of some napkins, we started sketching out a safe place for employees to have their children and visit them any time they wanted. Out of that came a four-star preschool.”

Family and Education

Patriarch Lou is committed to supporting his employees’ education and makes donations to an NC State scholarship fund. Along with Joy, herself an NC State alumna, the family helps motivated students attend the College of Education. 

It’s a value that has trickled down to his children.

“Culturally, it fits who we are as a family,” Amber Moshakos says. “Education is core to us. To provide an early foundation to these children and give our team members the ability to take advantage of it has been really exciting.”

When it came to naming the school, Moshakos thought of her grandmother.

“Dorothy Babb was the most incredible caretaker and she loved children dearly,” says Moshakos. “Her whole life revolved around taking care of others.”

Children from six weeks to age 5 learn manners, how to eat, clear their dishes and even academics like the fundamentals of algebra. Throughout the year, children go trick-or-treating or carry Easter baskets. During the day, parents can join their children, take a break or read a book. Santa comes annually.

All in all, it’s not just a school, but a community.

“We’ve created a safe environment for the parents and it has a calming and joyful effect on other employees,” says Crossland. “These little ones come up and visit and you see the smiles ripple across employees’ faces.”

For Crossland, the school has validated the premise that employers and corporations can create a work/life space in the professional environment that enhances employees’ working habits. Mothers and fathers who are secure about where their children are, are secure about where they work.

“Going through the process was really eye-opening,” says Moshakos. “It was important to lay a good foundation for our children so they could grow and prosper. If more companies could figure out a way to do it, it would help keep women in the workforce. I hope we find it easier to support working parents. Sometimes, it doesn’t fit the traditional model and we have to be open to things that are different to what we’ve been accustomed to.”