Darden for Life – Brian Hodge of Olive Garden

Oct 11, 2016 9:50 PM ET

Darden for Life – Brian Hodge of Olive Garden

Q. How long have you been with Olive Garden and Darden?

A. I celebrated my 25th anniversary with Olive Garden in July, and I’ve been bartending in Boardman, OH, the whole time. I was a bartender for 12 years before I came here, so I’ve been behind the bar for 37 years! If you had told me when I was 20 that I’d still be tending bar at 57, I would have said you were crazy. But here I am.

Q. What do you like best about your job, and why?

A. I look forward to talking with my regular guests. Some of them had small children when I met them, and now those children are in college. I watched them grow up. I’ve met some special people and made some good friends. Sometimes, when they need someone to listen, I’m a bit like a therapist. I like hearing their stories. I’ve built special bonds with my guests and co-workers over the years.

Q. Would you recommend Olive Garden as a good employer to your friends and family? How about to the stranger you strike up a conversation with in the line at the post office?

A. I would. When I started out, I never considered bartending a career. Some of my friends would ask, ‘You’re still tending bar at Olive Garden?’ They doubted the wisdom of my career choice, but now I can tell them:

‘I’ll be able to retire in a few years with a healthy 401(k). So who’s laughing now? I feel really lucky.'

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. My 25 years of dedication and the fact that when I retire, I can walk away with my head held high and no regrets. I will still visit the restaurant then, but I’ll sit on the other side of the bar for once!

Q. Can you share with us a memorable interaction with a manager that moved you or possibly even changed you?

A. Years ago, manager Ron Rizzo was a tough but great mentor to me at the Boardman Olive Garden. He taught me the importance of a strong work ethic and also guided me about investing for retirement through Darden’s 401(k) and stock purchase programs. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for Rizzo. He died a few years ago. His daughter, Mary Rizzo, is still a server here at Boardman. We all miss him.