Q. How long have you been with Olive Garden, and what was your first job with the brand?
A. I’ve been with Olive Garden five years, most of that time as a server at the restaurant in Humble, TX. I trained to be a manager at the Houston restaurant on Gulf Freeway, and I’m now a service manager there. When I go to work, I don’t feel like I’m going to work because I enjoy my job so much.
Q. Why have you chosen a career with Darden and Olive Garden?
A. I initially worked at Olive Garden to put myself through college. I earned a degree in supply chain management from the University of Houston last May, but as I applied for jobs in my chosen field, I wasn’t sure I wanted a 9-to-5 job behind a desk. I talked with General Manager Angie Preston at my restaurant in Humble, and she asked me to stay on with Darden and seek a management position with Olive Garden. I was always treated well and seen as a leader, and I have passion for the restaurant industry so it was a no-brainer. Angie helped me learn what I needed to, and I turned all my attention toward advancing into management. It was probably the best decision I ever made.
Q. What are you most passionate about in your career?
A. Guest and team member satisfaction. People turn to food for comfort, and it’s a way of lifting them up. I’ve known that since I was a child when I watched the Food Network instead of cartoons and learned to cook from my mother. I love cooking for family and friends. I make a mean lasagna from scratch, and I also smoke chicken, experimenting with different woods for flavor.
Q. Is there one Olive Garden dish you can’t resist?
A. The Shrimp Scampi. The garlic and white wine make the sauce so flavorful, and the colors of the tomatoes and asparagus really pop.
Q. What’s the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your life?
A. I’m a Muslim-American from Pakistan, and I’ve been subjected to discrimination growing up in the United States. When people make derogatory remarks, I’ve learned to endure the insults and not take them personally because nothing good will come from getting upset. I know I can’t change someone’s mind with a couple of sentences. My team members and managers have always been very supportive.
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I collect sneakers, mostly Nike and Adidas. I have about 35 pairs. I’ve always been a sports fanatic, especially about the Houston Rockets, and I grew up playing basketball.