January 12, 2012

Featured business person: Joe Winner

Joe Winner

General manager, Olive Garden in Derby

Winner is one of the Olive Garden managers who’ve gotten the ultimate company perk – a week’s training at the chain’s Culinary Institute of Tuscany, in the Italian village of Riserva di Fizzano.

"Anybody who says they didn’t enjoy it should have physical punishment of some sort," he jokes.

"I call it a life-changing experience. To see the Italian culture, to see how they make every meal a celebration, to see how wine is a big part of their culture, it was incredible."

Winner said he tries to bring that spirit to the Olive Garden in Derby, which opened this month.

"I just try to fill it with passion," he said. "It’s such an amazing ingredient to put in whatever you do."

Winner, 43, grew up in Florida and spent six years as a mechanic on a nuclear submarine.

It was while working in restaurants to pay his way through the University of Florida that he decided to make the food business his career. He has worked for the Darden group, the world’s largest full-service restaurant operating company, for 10 years, including the last three at the Olive Garden in west Wichita.

Outside work, Winner enjoys golf, playing with his dogs and traveling with his wife, Melissa, who works for Longhorn Steakhouse, another Darden restaurant.

"We’re Darden disciples," he said.

Joe Stumpe

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