Obviously no one saw COVID coming. And in the beginning, it was really bleak. For me, I’m a very positive person, and I try to turn a negative into a positive whenever I can. Energy is infectious. As a leader, people look to you to set the pulse and set the tone of, “Are we going to be OK?” It’s really important to give the reassurance that we’re going to do our best to be OK and get through this together. You can’t just be a name or a figurehead in a company, but a face and a person that goes in and spends time in the restaurants and gets to know the people who are creating the amazing food you’re serving, because it means a lot to them.

I think it’s important to be an active participant in the community that supports you, and we have a responsibility to do what we can to help the people that have supported us all these years. That is part of the fuel that drives Luna Grill and all of its employees. With schools closing, there wasn’t an immediate plan for anyone. So we pivoted in the first initial weeks of COVID to do The Good Card, which was basically a gift card. For every gift card that was purchased, we would donate a meal to a kid in need. Through that program, we were able to feed 35,000 meals to kids in need. That not only rallied our team and got everyone excited, but it also felt good to be able to help in a time that we knew everybody was hurting. We also were able to feed over 25,000 meals to first responders in over 20 hospitals in California as well as in Texas.

Luna Grill wouldn’t be here without each and every person that has come and gone or is still with us. We have people that have been here over 10 years. If you know how transient the restaurant business is, that’s just an amazing achievement. The sense of family has given me a lot of support and fueled the innovation that we have had to be able to survive and do our best to claw our way out of the hole that was March of 2020. The faith and the great things that can happen when you’re aligned as a company and driven to do good is super inspiring.

What was your first job?

My first job was at my parents’ restaurant. I grew up in the restaurant business.

What’s your favorite menu item at Luna Grill?

I am obsessed with our falafel with garlic dip. We make our falafel in-house from scratch and it’s super delicious.

What’s your favorite cuisine aside from Luna Grill?

I love amazing Mexican food. I think that Mexican cuisine is so rich and varied by region.

Who inspires you as a leader?

I look to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., people who peacefully can create effective change in the world and make this world a better place.

What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?

Go into your restaurants and talk to the people who are cooking the food. Talk to your dishwashers, talk to your busboys or cashiers, and you can learn so much from that alone. Having that interaction, you can personally learn how to make your business stronger.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

I’m super active. I am an avid tennis player and I love yoga, pilates, hiking, and walking.

Fast Casual, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Luna Grill