Pardreas Sports Cafe the latest venture for owner who offers second chances

Men At Work car wash founder branches out

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Mike Phillips shows off Pardreas

RALEIGH — As Mike Phillips says, “You never know your journey.”Phillips, 57, came to Raleigh from Philadelphia to attend St. Augustine’s University in 1979. He didn’t graduate, and after a brief time back in Philadelphia he returned to N.C. More than 35 years later, his Men At Work brand has grown into a mini empire.His flagship car wash has been employing ex-cons and people down on their luck since 1988. It survived three moves and a year on the street “bouncing from corner to corner.” Then more than two years ago Men At Work Barbershop opened next door to the car wash’s current location on West South Street.After that, Phillips — who has seemingly spent his entire life looking to help others — looked inward and lent his son a hand.”My son got in trouble in 10th grade and I didn’t know which direction he was going,” Phillips said of his son, Mike Jr. “He is now in business for himself at Men At Work Kustom Kicks. He designs tennis shoes — I couldn’t be prouder of him.”The custom sneaker shop, which just celebrated its two-year anniversary, is nestled on the same street, featuring the same red, yellow and white color scheme of the other businesses.Mike Jr., just 22, has done so well that he invested in his father’s most ambitious venture yet: Pardrea’s Sports Cafe, a new restaurant and bar named after Phillips’ 26-year-old daughter.Phillips is counting on the same infectious positivity and hard work that made Men At Work Car Care Center and its offshoots successful to carry over into his foray into food and entertainment.To Phillips, it means taking care of his customers and trusting his employees, nearly all of whom have had some kind of trouble with the law.”All I know is how to treat folks right. And I know that always works,” Phillips said, his booming baritone carrying through Pardrea’s on 330 Tryon Road, which should open in mid-January when renovations are complete. “I’m going to give folks responsibility. … If you see something that needs to be done, do it. Don’t say your job don’t call for it, ’cause it does. If it needs sweeping or mopping, sweep it or mop it.”Phillips, as they say, walks the walk. At the car wash he’s right in there with his employees, vacuuming, washing and cleaning. He’s also overseeing the set up of the restaurant, which will feature 10 televisions and nightly entertainment such as card tournaments, comedy, music and parties. When it opens, he won’t be a bystander.”That’s the leader I am. I do it all,” Phillips said. “I ain’t afraid to get dirty. Matter of fact, I kind of like it. When you’re dirty, that means that you are involved. If I need to be back there washing dishes, I’m not only going to do, I’m going to do it with a smile on my face.”Those two concepts are at the crux of what makes the Men At Work conglomerate work.”Either way, you’re still going to have to do it,” Phillips said of taking on unenviable tasks that come with working in the service industry. “With the frown, you’ll be looking for another job. With a smile, you’re going to be looking for a raise. Now whatcha looking for at the end of the day? I believe you’re looking for the latter. It helps; it’s motivation for you.”Certainly there are risks involved in hiring employees that other companies often won’t even consider. Phillips’ management style strips it down to the bare minimum.”At Men At Work, our three rules are no stealing, no stealing and no stealing,” he said. “The rest of the [nonsense] I can handle.”Phillips said friends have done things like hire migrant workers to grow their businesses, but he said that’s not part of his journey. Pardrea’s — which Phillips wanted to name Men At Work After Work, but was vetoed by his family — will keep in the tradition of hiring those looking for a second chance.”I got down on my knees and said, ‘Lord, tell me what to do.’ He was like, ‘Look Mike. If you give up on them, where are they going to be at now?’ I didn’t give up,” he said.Phillips keeps it simple, and Pardrea’s Sports Cafe will, too. He said the menu will have 10 to 12 items, cold beer, and a focus on fun while also giving back to its customers with things like classes on credit to help young people avoid debt.”Every time we have a party or something like that, we’re going to have a message with it,” Phillips said.Phillips’ message has been a beacon of hope to many, but he gets something in return, too.”The heart feels good. That’s very important.”