Words From The Streets Current Position: As the group sales manager for Fogo de Chão in Pasadena, California, Jimena Sirri is responsible for booking significant events and private dining. “I am proud of what I do because I get to connect with people and help them plan their special events,” said Sirri.
To pay her way through college, Sirri began her career with the internationally renowned brand in 2014 as a server. “I later became a trainer for other team members and soon transitioned to a customer service representative in the restaurant,” Sirri said. “Two years later, I became assistant manager in our Downtown Los Angeles location, and another two and a half years later, general manager at the Irvine Spectrum location where I spent three years.”
She has been in her current role as group sales manager for nearly a year. Sirri relishes that her current position allows her to spend more time with her family and connect with guests.
The Company: The origins of Fogo de Chão go back to 1979 when two sets of brothers, the Coser and Ongaratto families, opened a small churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The restaurant quickly gained popularity for its traditional gaucho-style cooking and exceptional meat quality.
Fogo de Chão has gained a reputation as a leading Brazilian steakhouse brand worldwide, known for its premium cuts of meat, elegant dining atmosphere and exceptional service. It continues to be a popular choice for meat enthusiasts, offering a unique and authentic churrasco experience.
Parental Guidance: A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sirri’s family migrated to America when she was ten. Her parents were searching for a better future for their four children, and they settled in California. “My parents brought four little kids to a new country when we landed in America with just some suitcases and a dream,” she said. “As siblings, we want to honor what they did by working hard and trying to be as successful as possible.”
“My parents were always very supportive of us, always looked for opportunities to provide the best, and that’s why they decided to move to the United States,” Sirri fondly recalled. “They taught my siblings and me to look for the best, work hard, do what you need to do to support your family, and find a better future for them.”
The Voice: One of Sirri’s fondest childhood memories is spending time with family and doing much singing, especially with her mother. “I grew up in a musical family; my grandmother studied piano, my uncle and mom had a band, and they played guitar and sang,” said Sirri of her musical roots. “I grew up harmonizing with my siblings.”
One of Sirri’s previous jobs was giving voice lessons to children at a music school. Whether it was karaoke, performing in school, church choir growing up or teaching, music has always been a massive part of her life. Sirri’s vocal prowess has paved the way for her to perform in public venues, win competitions, earn income and make television appearances. On more than one occasion, she has sung “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Dodger Stadium. Earlier this year, she was the first-place winner of Fogo’s Got Talent at the company’s international leadership conference in Florida.
Have It Your Way: Sirri’s first job was as a cashier at Burger King when she was a sixteen-year-old high school student. A dry cleaning establishment was in the same shopping center as the royal-themed fast food chain. During breaks, she would exchange pleasantly with the elderly couple who owned the dry cleaners. One day, they posted a sign indicating they needed a front desk associate. “I decided to leave Burger King to join the dry cleaners,” Sirri reminisced. “I really liked the front desk, the early morning hours were good, and there was always that fresh dry cleaning smell.”
Another Go Around: With experience in the garment care industry, Sirri worked for another family that owned multiple locations in Northern and Southern California. She worked at three different sites owned by the same dry cleaning family — Inland Gateway Cleaners & Shirt Laundry in Rancho Cucamonga, Just In Time Cleaners & Shirt Laundry and Colonies Cleaners & Shirt Laundry, both in Upland.
She became proficient in various business areas due to multi-tasking and cross-training. Her duties included working the front counter as a CSR, marking and tagging orders, separating garments by color and fabric type, folding and boxing shirts and bagging. Sirri even got her feet wet in the back end, including pressing. “I learned to iron the sleeves of the shirts because there were instances when there would be downtime at the front desk, so I would help the pressers in any way I could,” she said. “I would open the plant, turn on the machines, throw in the first load in the morning, clean the filters, the boiler room, drain the water. You name it, and I did it.”
She even drove the company vehicles when needed, took the deposits to the bank, and knew how to operate every machine or press throughout the entire operation. “I can’t remember one thing I didn’t do,” Sirri said of her multi-faceted usefulness.
Higher Education: Before receiving her bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations from California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA), Sirri obtained an associate degree in criminal justice at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. “I wanted to be in law enforcement at one point but realized that I was better at talking and didn’t see myself carrying a gun,” said Sirri with a hearty laugh.
Common Ground: Even though dry cleaning is an entirely different animal than the restaurant industry, Sirri acknowledges the connection between the two and how the former has helped her thrive in her current career. “There are common things about both places, like how you treat the guests that come in,” she said. “Whether it’s the customer that drops off their suit at the cleaners or the guest that comes to Fogo to enjoy an experience or celebrate an event, it’s essential to connect with them, show interest and provide them with care.”
When Sirri contemplated the connectivity between the two industries, she quickly pointed out the particular dynamics of teamwork. While each individual within the organization had a specific role or task, staffers would cross department lines to ensure everything got done at the end of the day. “The lessons or teamwork at the dry cleaners translates to a huge restaurant like Fogo where you have to work as a team to accomplish service for the guests,” said Sirri. “The teamwork, the customer service and the experience of the person bringing their business to you is how they connect.”
Words Of Wisdom: Sirri cites dependability, humility, kindness towards others and hard work as essential in life.
“Never give up and follow your dreams,” Sirri exhorted. “If something doesn’t make you happy, don’t be afraid of trying something new!”
It Takes A Fogo Village: Several mentors have helped Sirri navigate and ascend the career path she is currently on.
“My first general manager, Clair Pizzi, gave me every opportunity and tool to learn and grow,” said a grateful Sirri. “My area director, Vitor Melchior, who believed in me and put me in charge of our very successful Irvine Spectrum location, and Neri Giachini, our regional director for the West Coast, who was the first person to interview me and gave me a chance when I had no experience in the hospitality industry.”
“Lastly, Rick Lenderman, our amazing COO who is one phone call away whenever needed as busy as he is and has supported me through my career with Fogo,” Sirri beamed. “Rick has been there through my growth and development and has guided me with kindness and respect — a true leader!”
Sirri continued, “I am lucky to have met great leaders who recognized my hard work and commitment and allowed me to grow.”
John Leano works for BRYAN’S Cleaners & Laundry in Pasadena, California. He responds to email: Leano@BryansCleaners.com, you can read his verbatim interviews right here every month.