Darden for Life — Kathryn Graham of Olive Garden

Sep 13, 2016 8:25 PM ET

Q. How long have you been with Darden? What job positions have you held besides your current one? 

A. I’ve been with Darden 34 years in August. I started in 1982 with Red Lobster, where I worked as a cashier for 11 years and then as a host. The company selected me for management, but I chose not to take that road because I was raising children and a flexible schedule was really important. When Red Lobster was sold two years ago, I transferred to the Olive Garden on Memorial Drive in Tulsa, OK, where I’m the lead host and a service professional. I’m so thankful to be with Olive Garden and to have stayed on with Darden. 

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

A. Honestly, it’s the guests. ‘I have made wonderful friends after 34 years, and our regular guests are like my family.’

Some of them attended the funerals of both my parents, and that meant a lot to me. The connections I’ve made are priceless. 

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. Yes, I’ve referred a lot of people here in Tulsa. I love our management team. They treat me with respect and make me feel appreciated. They have confidence in me and entrust me with added responsibilities. This is a really busy restaurant, but we’re well-staffed and that makes a huge difference because it reduces our stress. Even after 34 years, I am getting good raises. My last one really stunned me. And the 401(k) retirement plan from Darden is a huge plus.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I’m proud that I’ve stayed with Darden 34 years and that I’ve been nominated for Olive Garden’s Team Member of the Year award. My general manager, Deborah Holmes, and I are on pins and needles waiting for the announcement in August. I won this award 10 years ago at Red Lobster. 

Q. Can you share with us a memorable interaction with a manager that moved you?

A. I could talk about this for hours, but one event stands out. When my daughter was born 27 years ago, my general manager at the time and another manager delivered flowers and catered a meal for my husband and me at the hospital. It was so wonderful. That same daughter, Brittany Castorena, is a server at the Tulsa Olive Garden with me.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

A. I don’t like to lose! I love to play the board game Sequence, but I’m very serious and competitive. I tend to pout if the game doesn’t go my way. My husband laughs at me and I’m trying to do better, but I want to be a winner.