Before meeting Temeka Castle, I had a clear picture in my mind of what she would be like. As the mother of a 10-year-old, General Manager of the Houma Olive Garden, community volunteer, and active church member, I thought she would busily rush through our interview like the Wonder Woman she has been rumored to be while only giving it (and me) only half of her attention.
More Diana Prince than Wonder Woman, Temeka insisted on getting me something to drink before leading me to a quiet table in the back. Only after making sure I really didn’t want anything to eat did she get down to business.
And does this woman know her business. Armed with a certificate in Accounting, the Fletcher graduate worked from the bottom to get to her current position. “ I was working at Ryan’s Steak House while going to school. So I kinda got promoted up through the ranks at Ryan’s and went into management, never thought I would be any type of food service manager at all. But I went through the ranks there and then became a manager.”
In addition to her full-time gig, Ms. Castle also volunteers with several area charity organizations. “I do give back to the community. That’s something I definitely take pride in as well. We partner with the NWAPC every year as well, and we sponsor their freedom fund scholarship banquet every year, which is between 800 to 1,000 people. We donate all the food for no charge, for free.”
She is quick to add, however, that she does not do it alone. “I bring about 30 team members that work for me with me to serve the food, and they volunteer their efforts, so I’m not even paying them to do that. It’s all volunteer work.”
Another program that she has started since becoming General Manager is for preschool classes. “We also do field trips for the Pre-K classes in Terrebonne Parish. They come to the restaurant, they take a tour of the restaurant, and they make their pizzas in this room right here, and then we make em all for them.”
Whether playing with dough or dealing with guests, Ms. Castle says she tries to always remember the human touch. She remembers her best review, “ …is a guest that came in and dined with us from a funeral. Their mom had just passed away, and they called me and told me they were on their way here from the funeral. And so I ran right across the street and got a sympathy card, had all my team members sign it and got it on a table for them. So we brightened their day when they came in, and now they come every year on that person’s death anniversary.”
Stories like this are why Ms. Castle loves working at the Olive Garden and recommends anyone looking for a job go to www.olivegarden.com. “We do have job openings in every position in the restaurant right now, and we start off with a really good wage rate.”
They also have some other really good job benefits, including paid trips to Italy. “ [It was] a really cool experience. We went to the Sistine Chapel, and even not being of the Catholic religion or whatever, it was still an amazing experience to be able to go through all of that and listen to those stories.
The trip caused Ms. Castle to think of food and wine in a different way.
“And then I was traveling to different cities; we went to Florence, we went to Venice, we went to Rome, we stayed in Tuscany um at this little cottage which was super awesome. Learning about the cheeses, and how they come up with the dishes on Olive Garden menu was something that inspired me.”
She credits a company Chef who lives in Italy half the year with teaching her the differences between palates around the world.
“There was a Chef that works for Olive Gardens that lived six months in Orlando, and six months in Italy on the company. Best job ever right? So he tells us about some of the dishes. Like, there is a dish that we serve, chicken and shrimp carbonara—a really good dish. But in Italy, they top the dish off with a raw egg. It would never sell here; nobody would ever order that.”
While in Italy, she also found a new appreciation for red wine. “I already liked wine but going to Italy and seeing how they pair wine with every meal, everything was like super awesome, and it got me to know the different wines—especially red wine. I wasn’t a red wine drinker but now that’s all I want is red wine when I’m sitting down at dinner, because it goes with the meal, um, so that was a super huge experience.”
When asked for a wine recommendation, she eagerly offers, “Red wine, so if you like a sweet red wine, my favorite is Roscato. Ours is imported straight from Italy. Olive Gardens was the first restaurant, first place in the States that sold it when they first released it. They just released it to our other vendors, who can now purchase it so that you can find it in other places beside Olive Gardens now, but before it was only Olive Gardens that you could get it.”
With all of the roles that she does, working woman, volunteer, tourist, barista, the one she prizes most is her mother. And with a 10-year-old future basketball star, she has little time to spare. “He plays basketball year round. We just finished All Star…and now he is playing with the league in Bayou. He keeps me busy, but I enjoy it because he enjoys it.”