Meet Maria! She has been a part of the Fifth Group family since Ecco Midtown opened. Since then, she’s also joined the teams at Lure, South City Kitchen Buckhead and La Tavola. Known at Ecco’s “pasta sorceress,” Maria preps all the breads and pastas for our guests. During off hours, she is also building a name for herself as an artist and can be found dreaming up new ideas around the city. Read more about Maria below!
How did you get into the restaurant industry?
I’ve been in the restaurant industry since I was 15. My first job was as a crew member at Bruster’s. I got a lot of free ice cream. I found out later that we weren’t supposed to take it, but I was working with high school kids and we all thought we were supposed to have free ice cream.
What were you up to in-between your first job and now?
I started at Bold Catering and then worked here at Ecco when they first opened, and then I did a walkabout to see what non-hospitality things were like. I came back to Lure and then I went to South City Kitchen Buckhead. Then Ecco Midtown and that’s where I am now. Oh, and I’m at La Tavola now too!
I’m also an artist and I’ve always drawn. draw comic books and illustrations and am looking into what the tattoo industry is like. Now in this stage of my life, I’m doing a lot of portfolio work and laying the groundwork for my business on the side which is drawing. I’ve finally gotten to the level where, if I put enough work into it, I could take it to a professional level.
What’s your role now?
I do back of the house a lot and four years ago one of the managers pulled me off the line and had me do greeting work so now I do double duty. It’s cool in my specific position because I prep the pastas and breads here and when I walk around and seat the guests it’s kind of cool to watch them get all excited. It’s like the whole team is on a plate and it makes people happy. It’s nice to be a part of that. That’s what Fifth Group does – it makes people happy.
What is your favorite part about being part of the FGR family?
I like being part of the Fifth Group family because I like how there are different atmospheres for each restaurant. I’ve worked at almost all the concepts and each one has its own personality. And the people we hire are really nice. I’ve made a lot of friends through Fifth Group.
What’s your favorite dish and drink at Ecco?
I really love our gnocchi. Drink? Long Live the Queen.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in the Philippines and then we moved to New York but I’ve lived in Atlanta for over half my life. We moved here when I was 7 so I consider myself from Atlanta because I’ve lived here the longest.
What was your favorite meal as a child?
Anything my mom made. She’s a very classic Filipino mom so literally any Filipino food that my mom made. I specifically really liked her empanadas Also, lechon – it’s a whole roasted pig. It’s very rare, but when we would have it, it was really special. Also, my mom’s Bibingka cake. It’s a sponge-type coconut cake and then you wrap it in banana leaves.
What part of town do you live in?
I live in Kirkwood now.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Atlanta when you’re not working?
I like to draw Atlanta. I go on what I call “art adventures.” I take this portable brush pen with ink in it and another one with water in it and I do really quick sketches around the city. I love going to the High Museum and doing sketches of random things that I find there. Specifically, I think on the third floor, there’s a lot of neoclassicism and it has the terracotta bus that I really like drawing from different angles. When it gets warmer I’m going to draw the Atlanta skyline. I’ve been actually building up to that because I really want to take my actual sketchbook and an easel and paint.
I also chase pianos around the city. They have the Play-Me pianos around the city. The one I like specifically is the Woodruff Arts Center and the High Museum one because they’re really well-tuned and they have all their keys. I play and sing, but I have an electronic piano at home, and these are real pianos which I will never be able to afford.
What’s your food-related guilty pleasure?
I eat healthy a lot so as far as guilty pleasures go I love the “trashy food.” For Valentine’s Day I went home and I ate Velveeta shells and CVS ice cream. I like taking boxed meals and making them homemade, like chicken tenders and pizzas. I cook so fancy and healthy all the time so my guilty pleasure is naughty food. No diets, no holding back.
What’s your favorite travel destination?
Japan, hands down. I went for 18 days and 10 cities throughout Japan because we had the Japan rail-pass. It was a beautiful country. The people were so nice, I love the culture and the food was incredible – down to the convenience stores! You’d pick up something and it was still warm because they made it that day. It’s one of the few places I would go back to. I’m a super nerd so to me it was like visiting my home country because I’m so into anime. My favorite city was Kyoto. I cried when I left Kyoto. There’s no other place that can be as beautiful as that. This place had a bamboo forest, monkeys I can play with, and tons of matcha. We came on the day that was their coming of age ceremony, so everyone was dressed in the best of the best kimonos. And I thought “Great, now I have to leave.”
Lady Gaga. She is crazy amazing. She inspired me to be an artist when I was gonna give up. She’s one of the reasons why I picked up the piano and sang. I’ve seen her during the Monster Ball, I’ve seen her at ArtPop and I saw her in Vegas recently.
What are three adjectives that best describe you?
Artistic, hardworking and spunky.
What inspires you most in your career?
Making people happy. I have three jobs right now: Ecco, La Tavola and my art business, and the three things they have in common is that they make people happy. What inspires me is that I can work really hard and I can love what I do here. As a greeter, you get to be the first thing that sets the tone at night. I make food that people love – who doesn’t love pasta and bread? I like drawing because the way I draw makes people happy and that is such a treasure because that’s not a team putting that together, it’s all me and if what I draw makes people happy then that’s what I want to do.
If you could invite one person, living or dead to dinner at a Fifth Group Restaurant, who would it be, where would you take them and why?
Lady Gaga. I’d take her to La Tavola because she’s Italian.