Annemarie Dummermuth is much more than a popular host at the Olive Garden restaurant in Torrance, CA. She’s the face of the restaurant, and a smiling one at that.
Most of her large following of regular guests, accustomed to her good cheer and greetings for the last 23 years, are aware that she’s an ovarian cancer survivor. They worry about her, and when she’s not at the restaurant, they always ask about her.
One of those guests, Terri Kursar, called Annemarie, 74, “a pleasure and an inspiration. It takes a special person to smile like she does when she’s sick.”
“I admire Annemarie as much as our guests do,” said General Manager Edwin Vientos. “She’s enthusiastic and energetic, and she was the first team member I hired when I joined Olive Garden.”
Earlier this year, Annemarie’s cancer returned for a third time, but illness has proved no match for her positive attitude. She’s undergoing chemotherapy, “but you would never know it by looking at her,” said Service Manager Evelyne Bota.
“I love to make my guests happy and comfortable,” Annemarie said. “The guests and the team members here in this beautiful environment are my family. Olive Garden is my home, and I light up when I walk in the door.”
Annemarie’s optimism and energy amaze Evelyne. “We ask her, ‘How do you manage to be so motivated every day?’ She laughs and says, ‘That's me!’ in her charming Swiss accent. ‘I've been like this my whole life.’
“Annemarie shows great passion for our guests and our team. She is an integral part of the lobby experience, and we are lucky to have her.”
When Annemarie was diagnosed with cancer the first time, in Feb. 2011, she said she didn’t cry. “I wanted to know two things: If I would lose my hair and when I could return to work. That was when the doctor first called me a survivor,” she said.
She was unable to work for seven months. During her recovery, Edwin said, Annemarie “walked five miles every day to condition herself so she could return to work with her usual high energy.”
Annemarie stays active, hiking and traveling with her husband, Rolf, in their RV. The adventurous couple visit Kings Canyon National Park in California every spring and fall and are planning their next vacation: a camping trip near San Diego with a visit to the San Diego Zoo. She met Rolf in California after moving to the United States from her native Switzerland in 1970. “I had to come all the way to the United States to meet a Swiss to marry!” she joked.
Annemarie said she feels “pretty good” right now except for the two or three days following each chemotherapy treatment. She has two more to go. “I’m here, and I’m strong!