Waiter celebrates 30 years with Houston restaurant

March 24, 2013 8:35:13 PM PDT
A Houston institution is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and one employee there is celebrating 30 years as well.

If you go to Damian's Cucina Italiana restaurant on Smith Street in Midtown, you may find yourself in the presence of a Houston legend.

It's not unusual for crowds at Damian's Cucina Italiana to include a visiting dignitary, but as the restaurant celebrates its 30th year in Houston, one VIP is always there.

"I got laid off from Hughes Tools in December of 1982 and I came in here looking for a job, thinking at that time things will get better in the oil industry and I will work here temporarily," server Armando Rivera said.

Thirty years later, that temporary job has become a distinguished career for Rivera, and he says there is a simple reason for his staying power.

"You got to love it. You got to have a passion for it," he said. "One of our mottos has always been, 'we treat customers like family.'"

Over the years, that family has seen the popularity of the restaurant grow. It's now a favorite of clients from as far away as New York.

But those first few weeks are the most unforgettable for Rivera, who still recalls a conversation with owner Frankie Mandola after just eight people showed up to eat the first day.

"He looked at me and said, 'Armando, heck, this has been a tough first day. Do you think I made a mistake?' And I said, 'Damian, you know in this line of business you have to be patient. You know it is going to take some time,'" Rivera said.

A week later, Rivera says the restaurant was packed and he has been dishing advice to co-workers along with serving the public ever since.

"We are here to take care of people, and it is a nonstop deal," Johnny B. Mandola said. "What he has taught me is how to do that."

With his own section in the restaurant, Rivera has proven to countless customers that their needs are second to none.

"You are treated as if you are the only one in the restaurant, and the food is fabulous and the service is spectacular," longtime customer Elaine Rhodes said.

Rivera would like nothing more than to keep that experience going for many years to come.

The original Damian's was in Huntsville, but moved to Houston in 1983. Besides Rivera another waiter has worked there 29 years and the chef has also been there 29 years.

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