Sometimes doing the right thing pays off in unexpected ways. Just ask Antonio May, a line cook at The Capital Grille restaurant in Orlando, FL.
One night as he and his wife were leaving a comedy club, they saw a vehicle plow into a parked car and keep on driving. Antonio’s wife took a photo of the getaway car’s license plate, and they left a note including the tag numbers on the damaged car. The car’s owner, who called to thank them, turned out to be Manager Myriam Brown at the nearby Capital Grille location.
Myriam asked if there was anything she could do for them. “Are you hiring?” asked Antonio, who had recently graduated at the top of his class in the free Culinary Training Program at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in Orlando.
A year later, Antonio is thriving at The Capital Grille. “He’s a good-hearted, focused, determined hard worker with a positive nature,” said Myriam, who is now working at The Capital Grille in Miami. “He was a wonderful addition to The Capital Grille team.”
Antonio is building the foodservice career he always dreamed of. His father was a chef, and even as a boy Antonio loved cooking. When he was a member of the Boys & Girls Club in Orlando, Antonio got to know staff member Kenny Neal, the owner of Kolaiah’s Catering. Kenny became a mentor, and Antonio worked with him, off and on from high school through young adulthood.
Antonio felt he needed training to make a go of a restaurant career. “I didn’t know which direction to go, but I knew I couldn’t afford culinary school.” So he tried other occupations including construction worker, auto mechanic and barber, but he didn’t enjoy the work.
Then, in 2016, he lost his construction job, the engine on his car blew out and he tore his Achilles tendon. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do? I’ve got to make something happen!’ ” The pressure was even more intense because Antonio and his wife have a blended family with eight children.
Enter his mentor, Kenny, who told Antonio about the food bank’s free 14-week culinary program, which uses the Darden Foundation Community Kitchen built with $750,000 in funds from the Darden Foundation and Darden Restaurants to teach students. Antonio graduated in Jan. 2019 and is grateful to the culinary program and its instructors.
The training is paying off. “Antonio's commitment to producing quality food in a high-volume environment has made him invaluable to our operation,” said Managing Partner Souni Felipa.
Antonio, who enjoys learning something new every day and sees much opportunity ahead, hopes to become a sous chef in the next few years. “Just because you start in one position, it doesn’t mean you will stay in that position,” he said. “The more you learn, the more opportunities you will have at your restaurant or to open a catering business or food truck of your own someday.”