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Nation's Restaurant News 2023 Power List Mimi Shora Olive Garden
Mimi Shora leads the Littleton, Colo., Olive Garden, which includes three managers and 110 team members.

Mimi Shora excels at team-building

The general manager dreamed of opening her own restaurant, but loves Olive Garden too much to walk away

Mimi Shora had just finished cooking breakfast for her team at the Littleton, Colo., Olive Garden, and the general manager of five years was sharing her insights into being a top-notch general manager.

“A positive culture includes the ability to make a fun, safe environment for my team [and] for our guests, and empowering my managers to be great leaders, empowering my team members to make the right decisions and building future leaders,” said the 39-year-old Shora. “Promoting our hourly team members to managers is very life-changing for them.”

Shora and her sister, originally from New Jersey, had harbored the hope to open their own Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and applied at the Olive Garden in Aurora, Colo., in 2007, taking jobs as servers to gain hospitality experience.

“We needed restaurant experience before we could move forward,” Shora recalls of that dream 16 years ago. “So we started applying at many restaurants and then we walked into an Olive Garden and we got interviewed and hired the same day. … We just fell in love with the culture.”

Shora and her sister later became certified trainers, and she was promoted to sales manager. “Then my sister and I looked at each other, and we were like, ‘Yeah, this is not going to happen. We're not going to open up our own restaurant. We love the Olive Garden.’ We were in love with the culture. We're not leaving.”

Today, Shora leads the Littleton operation, which includes three managers and 110 team members.

Wayne Covey, Olive Garden’s senior vice president of operations for the Dallas division, said Shora “is a shining example of what makes a great general manager. She develops her people. She really cares about her people.

“She empowers her people to make decisions,” Covey added. “They feel like they have a say in the business and have a lot of ownership here. … Every time I come visit her in her restaurant, I can't believe I’m getting paid to do this job because it feels like a vacation.”

Shora said being personable with her team is important. “We have one-on-ones,” she said. “They can come talk to me with whatever is going on in their lives. We are also flexible with their schedules.”

Beyond supporting her people, Shora is dedicated to her community and giving back. When she was a team member in Aurora, she collected old server aprons and made them into personalized bags with inspirational quotes, then donated them to a local orphanage.

Covey said Bill Darden, who founded Olive Garden’s parent company, “talked about the fact that we’ve just got to have great people.”

“Happy people do happy things,” Covey said. “They take care of our guests and want our guests to come back, wanting more every time. … Mimi makes it look easy, but it's pretty hard.”

Shora suggested other general managers would find success with her approach.  “My advice would be to follow up and follow through — and keep your promises,” she said, adding that “a positive culture will make life easy, will make work easy.”

“We continue to empower our managers, making sure that we train them to be business owners — having the business-owner mentality,” she said.

Covey added that Shora’s approach is felt throughout the restaurant.

“You won't find a person on her team who doesn't feel like she doesn't personally care about them,” he said.

The role of general manager, he added, has many pressures but is unlikely to change in the near future.

“It's all about people,” he said. “It's about getting results through people. And in order to do that you have to lead people the right way. People want to work in a place that they feel valued and that they feel listened to and that they feel a part of the team. Mimi does all of those things, and that's what makes her successful.”

Shora, whose favorite Olive Garden dish remains the Chicken Alfredo, said she still remembers the advice her general manager gave her: Always keep a smile on your face.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

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