By FRED W. WRIGHT Jr.
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001
NEW POSITION: General manager, Maggiano's Little Italy, Tampa.
PREVIOUS POSITION: General manager, Maggiano's Little Italy, Costa Mesa, Calif.
After scouring flea markets and antique stores throughout the Tampa Bay area, George Ogorek was ready to open his restaurant.
As general manager of Maggiano's Little Italy, which opened its first Florida restaurant last week at WestShore Plaza, Ogorek has been in town since November, overseeing construction and filling the restaurant with memorabilia, old photos and antiques.
Ogorek said he had a five-figure budget to find and buy hundreds of vintage photographs and antiques that line the walls of his 250-seat restaurant. This quest took Ogorek and his wife, Debbie, as far away as Land O'Lakes and Plant City.
"Every Maggiano's is a little bit different," Ogorek said, "handcrafted to the general manager's feel of the restaurant. It was like furnishing a really big house. It was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work."
Reminiscent of the pre-World War II "Little Italy" restaurants of New York City, Maggiano's specializes in Southern Italian cuisine. Maggiano's began as part of Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc. and is owned by Brinker International of Dallas.
Ogorek started his career in the restaurant business at 18. As a Chicago native, he worked as manager of a busy pizza parlor. He graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor's degree in restaurant hospitality and went to work at Ruby Tuesday's in Chicago in 1993. Two years later, he became general manager of Maggiano's in Oak Brook, Ill., and later transferred to Costa Mesa, Calif. Now, at 30, he is general manager of the first of the chain's operations in Florida.
"My father said I was always good with people and had personality," Ogorek said. "He said this was the route to travel. I didn't like sitting behind the desk. I tried it and I loved it."
Ogorek, who played backup quarterback as a walk-on at Purdue, said he likes the hospitality industry because it allows him to be "a part of something so important to (the customer) -- Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays, anniversaries."
"Making those days special for people is what brings me in every day, being with the public, being able to put a smile on a person's face," he said.
Potentially, there could be a lot of smiles at Maggiano's: In addition to 250 interior seats, the restaurant can accommodate 300 banquet seats and another 100 people on the patio.
Ogorek said the adjustment from Costa Mesa to Tampa has gone fairly well. "It's a big city with a small-town feeling," he said. "Everybody knows everybody."
Ogorek is married and has two children. In his spare time, he plays on the Maggiano's softball team and plays golf, although he says he's been so busy getting the restaurant open that "my clubs have dust on them."