LongHorn Steakhouse Kitchen Manager Michael Walker will remove his black chef coat and leave the restaurant that bears his name for the last time on Jan. 8, a date he chose for his final day before retirement because it’s the birthday of Elvis Presley.
For 30 years, the music superfan has run the kitchen in Kennesaw, GA — and for 29 of them, he has worked with Managing Partner Lisa Anne Sist. The restaurant team, brand and community will miss Michael, but perhaps no one will feel the loss more keenly than Lisa, who kept his name near the front door beside hers.
“We are a team — like Mom and Dad to everyone — and I wanted that reflected at the entrance,” she said. “It’s always been the two of us. Whatever one didn’t do, the other one did.
“We’ve been through five marriages together between the two of us,” she said, laughing. “We’ve raised four kids — my two and his two — and we’re great friends. Our relationship won’t change. We talk all the time.”
The explanation for why her last name is missing from the front door exemplifies their relationship. “Shortly after my second divorce,” Lisa said, “when my last name was changing for the third time in front of the building, Michael got a ladder, went outside and scraped my last name off the building! So for the last two years, it’s just been Lisa Anne.”
Michael said he would miss the people the most, especially Lisa, but he is ready to travel. First, he is off to California to attend several concerts by his favorite band, Yonder Mountain String Band. Michael has attended 325 of their concerts, and the band celebrated when he attended his 300th concert and gave him a year-round pass. “I go near and far to see this band,” Michael said. “We’ve developed a relationship. I consider them family, and they consider me family. I’m an old Deadhead, too,” he said, referring to the Grateful Dead. “I traveled with Jerry Garcia for 40 or 50 shows.”
Next, Michael will spend some time in Alabama fishing with his father. He also looks forward to visits with his grown children — a son in Georgia and a daughter in Louisiana — and his three grandchildren. One of them, Isabella Morales Walker, works as a host at the LongHorn location in East Ellijay, GA.
Michael gave several reasons for his long stay at LongHorn, where both he and Lisa were promoted to managers after only one year with the brand. “It just felt right, but I’ve told Lisa over the years, ‘If it wasn’t for you, I might have left.’ The pay was always good, and the people were always friendly. Next thing I knew, five years had gone by, then 10 years and now 30!”
“Michael is the embodiment of what makes a great LongHorn manager,” said LongHorn Steakhouse President Todd Burrowes. “He combines a mastery of the technical aspects of the role with an ability to put people first in his daily interactions. Through the years, he has inspired countless leaders at LongHorn — including yours truly.”
“Lisa and I worked hard,” Michael said, “but we laughed all the time and we always had each other’s backs.” He said he’s proud that they mentored so many people, many of whom have moved on yet still take time to visit the restaurant and tell the pair how much they learned from them.
“Darden is a great company to work for,” Michael said, “and the benefits are great. If you do right by Darden, the company will do right by you.”