CUYAHOGA FALLS: When Cheri Hylton began working as a server for the Belden Village Red Lobster, she planned to stay a year.
A North Canton resident, she decided to keep the job while attending Kent State Stark, where she studied to be a high school math teacher.
“It was such a great place to work and they worked around my schedule,” Hylton said.
Thirty-one years later, Hylton is still with Red Lobster, as one of its top general managers.
She is one of 34 general managers in more than 700 Red Lobster restaurants to win Darden Restaurants’ top honor for 2013, the Joe R. Lee Diamond Club Award.
The award is named for the company’s first chairman and CEO, said Darden spokeswoman Vanessa Tostes.
It is presented yearly to the top 5 percent of general managers nationwide “who demonstrate outstanding leadership by living Red Lobster’s core values of respect, integrity, genuine caring, hospitality and teamwork while also achieving top financial performance in the company’s previous fiscal year.”
This is the second time Hylton received the award in the seven years she managed the Cuyahoga Falls location at 1090 Graham Road, and her third win overall.
Ask her about the honor, and she talks about her employees.
“We adamantly believe guest experience could never exceed our crew experience,” Hylton said. “We take care of the crew, because they take care of the guests.”
People can dine anywhere, she said.
“Our only competitive edge is our people.”
She hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a server, or the opportunities she was given to move up the ladder. Hylton hires a lot of college students because they tend to be “goal-oriented and looking towards the future.”
Hylton wanted to teach so she could enrich young lives. She tutored in junior high, high school and college, even going to group homes to help teens with their math and English. Although her path didn’t lead to a high school classroom, that doesn’t mean she’s not a teacher.
Hylton mentors her employees, helping several to become managers and some to go on to become general managers. And she’s available to help with homework.
Shortly after flying to Orlando, Fla., with her husband to receive the Diamond Club Award, Hylton was transferred to the Belden Village restaurant where she used to wait tables.
She has come full circle, greeting customers she once served.
“It feels like coming home,” she said.