As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Donielle Paden, General Manager of Little Alley Steak in Roswell, Ga.
Donielle Paden has been a noteworthy leader in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. The Atlanta native studied computer science at Albany State University. In between classes she waited tables at several restaurants in the Darden group. During that time she realized her true passion was food, and making people happy.
Paden took a position with the F&H Food Trading Group in 2008 and was promoted to General Manager of Little Alley Steak in Roswell, Georgia in 2012.
“In this business every day is different and there are ups and downs, but there is no better feeling than seeing guests having their expectations met or exceeded from the service we provide.”
Paden believes in giving back to the community and has helped raise funds for Earth’s Angels, an organization helping to eradicate mother and infant mortality by supplying hospitals, orphanages, mothers and children in need with life-saving medical supplies, food and clothing.
Paden’s goal is to one day own her own restaurant and her own clothing line.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
While studying computer science in 1999 at Albany State University I got a job at Red Lobster which at that time was part of the Darden group. From there I moved to one of their other restaurants, Bahama Breeze and realized I really enjoyed the hospitality industry. I was offered a job at Salt Factory Pub (F&H Food Trading Group) in 2008 and have been with the company ever since. Becoming a GM at Little Alley Steak has been a dream come true. When I can make people happy, it makes me happy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I started out at Salt, my mind set was efficiency. To be the best server I thought I had to go guns blazing all the time. I remember trying to carry seven glasses of wine to a table, losing my balance and watching as every single glass shattered on the floor. The only resulting injury was to my pride. The lesson I learned was that it’s more important to be safe than fast. And that when you have good relationships with your coworkers, they will have your back and be happy to carry glasses for you when your hands are full.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. She is so colorful in the way she describes wine. It has helped me with my wine vocabulary which comes into play at Little Alley. Our customers are very wine savvy.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I strive to give our customers that ‘aha moment.’ And as the GM of a fine dining restaurant I wear many hats. I’m involved in the hiring and training of my team and dealing with vendors. My vision is one of excellence, setting high standards and providing the ultimate experience.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
No matter what, keep moving forward. Don’t let anyone or anything bring you down.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Both of my parents got sick with Covid. Not being able to see them and care for them was very difficult for me. They are doing well now but it really hit home that life is short, make the most of every day. I’ve learned to embrace Zoom calls.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Because so many people have lost their jobs in the industry, at times it was very difficult to get in touch with vendors. We are now using a new app called SkilletWorks that has been a lifesaver. Instead of leaving a voicemail or text message to someone who may or may not be working, or trying to find inventory paperwork, I can place orders on my smart phone and they get the information instantly. This not only saves time but money which makes the owners very happy. Technology is getting us through these trying times.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
When my parents don’t see me they get anxious so I make sure we stay in touch virtually. We pray together and try to stay productive. We can’t lose hope that this will one day end.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
This is the time to embrace technology in our industry. Now more than ever. As I mentioned earlier, the app SkilletWorks has helped us in a time when we needed it more than ever. We’ve always had outdoor heaters and that has paid off with those customers still leery of indoor dining.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think masks will be in our future for quite some time and I’m okay with that. Zoom and Facetime will also be a part of this new reality.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We will continue to persevere. The safety of our staff and customers is vital. Our standards are high and will stay that way. And we will continue to serve more sustainable food and continue to offer curbside and delivery services.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Hang in there. We are an industry that supports each other. And we have been shown such tremendous love and support from our community. It has been overwhelming. Never think you can’t ask for assistance and never stop thinking outside of the box.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“None but ourselves can free our minds.” Bob Marley I have faced many obstacles in getting to where I am now, but I never wavered in my determination to succeed.
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