Brothers Philip, Michael and Joseph Le share much more than a sunny California childhood and a hearty appreciation of food — they are also immersed in managing Darden restaurants and talk shop every chance they get.
“I don’t think we start our conversations with ‘hello’ anymore,” said Joseph, a Bahama Breeze culinary manager in Orlando, FL. Adds Philip, with a laugh: “It’s more like … ‘What were your sales last week?’” Philip is general manager of the Yard House restaurant in Orlando.
It was the youngest brother, Michael, an associate general manager at the Yard House restaurant in Irvine, CA, who launched the Darden train, then persuaded Philip and Joseph to climb aboard. “He told us it was a great company, especially if you wanted a career with longevity,” said Philip, the eldest.
They all wanted longevity, and they got it. Between them, they have devoted 16 years and counting to Darden restaurants. “The company invests time in its team members so they can grow with the company, and it provides competitive health insurance,” Joseph said. “Those things keep us here. This is my home, and I plan to finish out my career here without wondering if there’s something better out there.”
Darden feels like an extended family, Philip said. “It also feels like the smallest Fortune 500 company I’ve ever seen. As large as it’s become, our team members feel like they are individually recognized and contribute to the company’s success.”
“Last night I shook the hand of Bahama Breeze President John Wilkerson at my restaurant,” Joseph said, “and he greeted me by name. That just doesn’t happen! It made me feel valued.”
The trio has a fourth brother in the restaurant business, Anthony, who’s a managing director for another casual dining concept. “We have tried to recruit him on a number of occasions,” Philip said.
The Le brothers began helping in the kitchen as soon as they could walk. “Food was a family affair, and we grew up French Catholic, so some of our dishes were half Asian and half French,” Philip said. “It was the four of us boys, our parents, our grandmother, and our aunts and uncles, everybody in the kitchen, pitching in. I remember shelling green beans at a young age, and then we learned to roll wontons and make egg rolls. We learned to cook out of necessity at first, then grew to love it. It became a part of who we were.” (Below, the brothers share a bit about themselves in a short video.)
Michael’s first job was setting the table. He said those early days shaped the brothers’ respect for every job in the restaurant. “Every team member, from the dishwasher to the chef to the general manager, is key to the restaurant’s success. It goes back to childhood: If I didn’t set the table, where would we eat?”
They said it’s not easy to run a successful restaurant, but they have learned a few requirements. Team members need to build relationships and trust each other, and they should also have fun. “That transcends to the guests, and they will feel it, too,” Michael said.
“You might think following 50 steps in a recipe is challenging, but no, it’s the uncertainty of working with people every day, the spontaneity and the mystery of how we will accomplish our goals with the help of many different people,” Philip said. “That’s also part of what draws me to the restaurant business.”
Although the brothers used to be a bit competitive when they were younger, they are now committed to helping each other succeed. “We try to look out not just for our individual success but the team success, the group success, the family success,” Philip said. “When we talk shop, we talk about challenges and how we can each be a better manager. We share our achievements, and we learn from each other.”
Just last week, Philip said he called Michael for help with a restaurant challenge. “He lives in California, and I am in Florida, but Darden restaurants are common ground for us and they make us stronger as a family.
“When I think about how difficult it was for my parents to raise four rambunctious sons,” Philip said, “I think about the incredible gift they gave us. Their hard work was so we could have each other for the rest of our lives.”