August 15, 2022

60th Anniversary

Tenure: Longtime Employees at Florida Companies

Longtime employees at several iconic Florida companies reflect on their personal histories — and their companies'.

Amy Martinez | 4/27/2018

Rich Menendez

Age: 66

Job: Bartender at Outback Steakhouse in Tampa

Education: Bachelor’s in mass communication from USF

Family: He met his wife, Stacy, while working at Outback and has a young daughter as well as an adult son.

In 1988, four entrepreneurs launched a casual, Australian-themed restaurant chain called Outback Steakhouse. The first location was in a Tampa strip mall. A month before the restaurant opened, Rich Menendez, then a student at the University of South Florida, drove by and decided to apply for a job, becoming the company’s seventh hire.

Initially, he didn’t get the sense it would amount to much, he says. “It seemed like it was going to stay small.” Menendez worked briefly as a waiter and did “extra things” as needed. Several months later, he took over the job of a bartender who quit. “They asked me if I knew how to bartend, and I basically lied,” he says. “I said, ‘Oh, yeah, sure,’ and I just learned on the fly.”

To make things look busier than they actually were, the founders had Menendez and other employees eat dinner near a front window in hopes of attracting customers. Menendez resolved to quit if business didn’t pick up. At one point, he gave himself three more days, and on what was to be his second-to-last day, business took off. “I thought, ‘I’ll definitely stay,’ and I guess it was a good choice,” he says.

Outback went public in 1991, then private in 2007 and public again in 2012. During the initial public offering, the founders gave Menendez company shares, which he eventually sold to buy a house.

Tampa-based Outback now has more than 600 restaurants in 47 states and several countries. Its parent company, Bloomin’ Brands, also includes Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar and Roy’s Restaurants.

Menendez, who finished his bachelor’s degree while working at Outback, says he didn’t have any set career plans. “I thought I might teach,” he says. “I just fell into this. I’m like the mayor because I’ve been here so long. I know everybody.”

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