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Olive Garden Manager Pays It Forward to Create Future Leaders

March 23, 2015

By: Darden Restaurants,

Olive Garden Manager Pays It Forward to Create Future Leaders

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DJ Jones, an Olive Garden culinary manager in West Hills, Calif., has set a great example of mentorship in his location. By taking pride in mentoring, we take pride in the future of the Olive Garden brand.

How ironic that DJ Jones, an Olive Garden culinary manager in West Hills, Calif., was once “afraid of the kitchen.”

When he first became a manager, just 10 months after joining the company in 2008 as a server at Olive Garden’s Burbank location, DJ was initially uneasy about working with the back of the house.

“I had been at Olive Garden for a short time, and was not yet a professional when it comes to food and the kitchen,” he says. “But I learned.”

According to Norma Rodriguez, DJ’s general manager, he regularly takes fellow employees under his wing, guiding and encouraging them to embrace and take advantage of opportunities.

“I take pride in helping and mentoring others. I think the more I give to others, the more I will receive in return,” DJ explains. “It’s very satisfying when you see someone moving ahead.”

In fact, several Olive Garden employees have – like DJ – risen to the manager level with his guidance.

One example is a young woman named Sarah who was a bartender at Olive Garden’s Glendale location. DJ educated Sarah on the importance of waste management at the restaurant location.

“Every day, I would have her print out the reports and we would go over them together. It gave her an understanding on how important this really was to the running of the restaurant,” DJ explains. “I used her as a catalyst because I knew my other team members would listen to her. She would rally up the team and let them know our progress and get people motivated.”

As a result, the restaurant was able to decrease its waste and Sarah was promoted and became the service manager at the North Ridge location.

DJ, who spent several years working in the retail industry, joined the Olive Garden family to help support his own family (wife, Estella, and daughter, Skylar), while he was attending Los Angeles Valley College.

Being a server at Olive Garden was perfect because “I love talking to people and working with the public.” Quickly, his talent, personable nature and work ethic led him to stints as a trainer and service professional – and, less than a year into his career, a management position.

Much of the impetus for DJ’s focus on mentoring stems from his childhood in the south side of Chicago and, as a teenager, in south central Los Angeles. “Those were pretty tough areas to grow up and I saw a lot of people settle for what the world had to give them. But I believe you should never settle; you should go out there and create opportunities for yourself.”

That is a philosophy he instills in co-workers while mentoring, whom he encourages to be friendly, team-oriented and always eager to provide the best service possible to his guests.

“You get more accomplished from teamwork than you could ever do on your own,” DJ adds. “If you maintain positive energy, you’ll move to the next level in life.”

It’s a viewpoint Skylar, now 14, is learning from her dad. “I tell her, ‘Enjoy life every step of the way. Always help others, and you can’t go wrong!”

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