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The City Journals

Humans of Sugar House: Felix Villar

Feb 05, 2019 04:39PM ● By Spencer Belnap

Felix Villar is always smiling when he’s working at the Olive Garden restaurant. (Spencer W. Belnap/City Journals)

By Spencer W. Belnap | [email protected] 

People come to the United States, and ultimately Salt Lake City, for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps it’s to be closer to family or for a new job. Some come to be closer to the mountains. Many migrate to this growing city for opportunity. 

Felix Villar, who was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Puerto Rico, came here for that very thing. He seized the opportunities given to him since he arrived and developed himself as a restaurant manager. He is now the general manager of the Olive Garden in Sugar House (2272 S. 1300 East).

“I came here when I was 24 years old,” Villar said. “I worked at P.F. Chang’s when I first arrived. As soon as I saw Olive Garden though, I said I have to work here.” 

Villar worked downtown and at a couple other locations across the valley for several years in addition to the busy Sugar House spot. This marks his 11th year with Olive Garden. He has held just about every position at the restaurant, from hosting to serving to training, and worked his way up the ranks of management. 

“I’m always developing myself and my employees,” Villar said. “I try to hire great people and treat them right. It’s important to train them the right way and hold them to high standards. I’m always firm but fair.”

Villar has a very positive attitude. His management philosophies and style have proven to be vital at the restaurant in both developing employees and establishing a great culture. 

“If it wasn’t for Felix, I wouldn’t still be here,” said Ernesto “Ernie” Acosta, now in a head take-out and catering position at the restaurant. “I had put in my two weeks notice, but Felix convinced me to stay. I look forward to going to work because he’s here.”

Front of the House Manager Angella Katseanes expressed similar sentiments.

“He’s an awesome leader,” Katseanes said. “In restaurants it can get really chaotic and stressful, but he stays positive. I think he really exemplifies the behaviors that we should all aspire to. He shows it, he does it, he lives it.”

Villar cares about his employees’ professional development, but also their happiness and well-being. He asked Katseanes to cook a Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant for employees and their families since some may not have a family here. He himself cooked a huge Puerto Rican meal for employees and their families for a special part of their Christmas party.

“Felix has a big heart, and really tries to do the right things,” Katseanes said. “He listens, and truly cares.”

Villar enjoys leading other immigrants who have come to this city and helping them become as successful as he has. 

“I encourage them to learn the culture and learn the language,” Villar said. “Being bi-lingual is very important. I also tell them to get to know people and get involved with their community.”

After Villar migrated here, his brother and sister and a couple cousins eventually came. His mom will make visits, but prefers to stay in the warmth of Puerto Rico.

“It was very difficult to adapt to the climate here,” Villar said. “It was really dry and my skin was used to so much humidity.”

Villar grew up surfing along Puerto Rico’s coast, but now has adapted those skills to Utah mountains and tries to snowboard every winter. 

When he’s not working hard at the restaurant, or helping his employees, he’s spending time with his family. He met his wife, Daniela, at the Olive Garden location in West Valley City. The two welcomed a baby boy, Santiago, into their lives last year. They plan on staying here and raising him in their new home of Salt Lake City.