I was studying economics and wanted to work in the restaurant business for a couple of summers, so I interned at Lettuce Entertain You. I fell in love with the business, but when I finished my degree, I went to be a consultant at Deloitte. I did that for a couple of years but was missing restaurants. So I called up Rich Melman, who runs Lettuce, and said, “I really would like to come learn how to run restaurants and work for you.” It was about a 30-second conversation, and he said, “That’s fantastic. When can you start?”

Later, I came across Smashburger while I was in business school at Northwestern. At the time, the CEO and SVP of marketing were grads, so I got in touch with them and ended up moving to Denver to work at Smashburger after business school. I did many different roles over five years: operations, finance, and real estate.

There are two things for me just in terms of a match with my personality. No. 1 is I really like to please people. There’s a hospitality gene where some people just get joy out of giving joy to other people. The other aspect of the business that I like is being part of a young brand. The fun thing at Mici is that we get to do everything all at once, and I enjoy that. If you are the variety-seeking type, then this is a good business for you.

I talked to a lot of people about joining a family business, and they all had words of warning. But, when I described the family and what their intentions were and their openness to bringing me on, they all found that to be very unique. The stereotype is that the founding family doesn’t want to change anything; there’s an air of stubbornness. I found the Miceli family to be totally the opposite and very open to input and wanting to grow, wanting to learn new things. Jeff, the founder, I see him almost as a brother, and we’ve been working together for less than a year.

It was just a magical thing that came together in terms of his openness to bring me on, my appreciation for what he had done and wanting to preserve much of that. I love that we’re a tiny fast-casual brand that has a really rich food history.

What was your first restaurant job?

Oyster shucker.

What’s your favorite menu item at Mici?

Our lasagna. It’s a family recipe.

Your favorite type of food excluding Italian?

I love Vietnamese food. The interesting thing is you can eat some extremely healthy and also extremely flavorful food in Vietnamese cuisine.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Rich Melman used to say it’s all about the food. If the food isn’t spectacular, then you might as well not look at marketing or anything else. Go make the food great.

What are some of your interests outside the business?

The best thing you can do on a Saturday is watch your 5-year-old learn to ski. We spend a lot of our weekends and time off camping as a family, and then I get to take the little man skiing during the winter.

Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Mici Handcrafted Italian