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Clinton restaurant employee earns state recognition

Published: Nov. 28, 2021 at 10:22 PM CST
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CLINTON, Iowa (KWQC) - The restaurant industry saw many challenges over the last two years. One Clinton restaurant employee rose above those challenges and earned state-wide recognition earlier this month.

Rastrelli’s Natasha Johnson married her husband and immigrated from Ukraine to Iowa in 2005.

Now, fifteen years later she’s the Iowa Restaurant Association’s Employee of the Year.

“It’s [was a] surprise for me. I’m not expecting [it], it’s not only me,” Johnson said. “I’m just doing what I love to do.”

The recognition this year was the second time an employee from Rastrelli’s won the award. The first time was back in 2014.

Upon arrival to the United States, Johnson didn’t know too much English. She tried learning at a community college but found it difficult learning from people who didn’t speak Russian. Instead, she wanted to learn on the job.

A friend eventually told her to apply at Rasterlli’s Restaurant. One day she walked in for an application and had an interview the next day.

“I am screaming, happy. I tell my family ‘my god, you [won’t] believe it, I have [a] job,’” Johnson said. “I go in next morning, and that started my journey.”

Johnson started off as a salad bar attendant, but owner Mike Rastrelli pushed her to become a server.

He understood Johnson’s struggle, as it was the same one his parents faced more than 90 years ago.

“When my dad came over from Italy, he couldn’t speak any English. He determined he was going to do it,” Rastrelli said. “[Johnson] continued to improve on her English, learning it. You see that growth. Of course, then the customers see that.”

General Manager Daleah Utz said not only does everyone love working with Johnson, customers often request her.

“[Johnson] never comes in with a bad attitude. She always comes in ready to work,” Utz said. “She always comes in ready to give her fullest, to all the customers, good, bad, anybody.”

Johnson is just one of more than 150,000 restaurant employees in the state according to the IRA.

Despite the challenges the industry faced due to the pandemic, Johnson came into work every shift ready to bring smiles onto people’s faces.

“Don’t [be] afraid and speak,” Johnson said. “Don’t [be] afraid to open [your] hands, open heart with customer, it’s easy.”

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