While earning a business management degree at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland, Jordan Fazenbaker entered a manager training program that included an internship with the restaurant chain Red Lobster.
He found his calling.
“I immediately was drawn to the business,” said Fazenbaker, 27, who recently became general manager of the Red Lobster on Shady Grove Road in Gaithersburg. “I enjoy the stability of being in the restaurant industry because people have to eat.”
Before joining the Hagerstown Red Lobster as a server in 2008, Fazenbaker worked at The Plum, a Hagerstown eatery frequented by judges, attorneys and others in the downtown area. He not only found a career at Red Lobster but met his future wife, Stephanie, at the Hagerstown location.
“She worked for the company for 10 years before she recently resigned to stay at home,” said Fazenbaker, a native of Hagerstown. “She actually trained me as a server.”
Work romances can be tricky, and Fazenbaker said he was careful to keep things professional on the job. “You never want to bring your personal life into the work place,” he said.
Fazenbaker is a natural, professional leader “who thrives on developing people and achieving high standards,” said Billy Rudd, director of operations for Red Lobster, which is owned by parent company Darden Restaurants, based in Orlando, Fla. “He is loyal to his team and his guests.”
In Hagerstown, Fazenbaker soon was promoted to service professional and management positions, and most recently was staffing and training manager. He helped train more than 50 employees there.
In Gaithersburg, Fazenbaker oversees all aspects of restaurant operations, including managing more than 85 employees. It can be a daunting task in the fast-paced food industry, but he has found the work rewarding.
“I like to see the smiles on my customers’ faces when they enjoy the food and have a good time,” he said.
Restaurants and bars are a key employer in the area, accounting for some 39,000 jobs in Montgomery and Frederick counties, according to state labor department figures. That’s more than the construction, manufacturing, banking and insurance segments.
Issues such as a potential minimum wage hike in Montgomery County should not be a major deal, Fazenbaker said. “I’m a big believer in taking care of my people,” he said.
The federal government shutdown did not affect business much at the Gaithersburg Red Lobster, said Fazenbaker, who started as GM in September. “It’s still booming here. Our goal is to provide a great service.”
Customers have requested broader menu options beyond seafood. Red Lobster transformed its menu two years ago to provide more dishes and greater value, Fazenbaker said.
The restaurant gets its seafood from all over the world, with many of the lobster tails coming from Maine, Fazenbaker said. “We get the best catch from each ship,” he said. “These are top-quality, assured vendors who keep in mind the safety of our customers.”
Through the Darden Harvest program, Fazenbaker and fellow employees support the John C. Tracey Boys’ Group Home in Rockville. The program provides fresh, wholesome food donations on a regular basis to organizations that need them.
“We only donate the unused food, not leftovers,” Fazenbaker said. “We try to make sure it goes to a great place.”
Darden Restaurants has been named to Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for three consecutive years. It saw its revenue rise by 7 percent, to $8.6 billion, in fiscal 2013 from 2012.
Red Lobster, which has more than 700 locations across North America, showed a sales decline of 2 percent in fiscal 2013 to $2.6 billion.
Darden’s other brands include Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze.