On Cathy Amato's first day as a Jack in the Box management trainee in the early 1980s, her trainer questioned whether Amato was up for the rigor ahead--changing grease vats, scrubbing floors, and crazy hours.
"He was really like, 'Real girls don't want to do this kind of work,'" Amato remembers.
He didn't know Amato, who along with partners Martha Jordan and Rick Riley, collectively own and operate 55 Subway restaurants in San Antonio and Austin, along with Mooyah and Ruby Tuesday brands. The winner of Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine's 2012 MVP Role Model Award truly believes she is in a business that rewards hard work with opportunity.
"I never had any aspiration or skill set that would necessarily help me be successful in the restaurant industry," she says. "I started at the ground floor and through hard work and applying myself I've been able to move up the ranks. But also, I have been able to go out on my own and build a substantial company."
She may not have predicted her career path, but it seems fitting that at 14, Amato's first job was as a busboy and dishwasher (by hand) at the Highway Café in La Vernia, Texas, outside San Antonio. Years later, when she "needed a break" from clerical work, she returned to the restaurant industry as a waitress. Amato fell in love with the people, the business, and the unstructured hours--and never looked back.
Lured by a Jack in the Box ad aimed at bringing more women into management, the budding restaurateur cleaned those vats, scrubbed those floors, clocked those crazy hours, and soaked up every facet of management, eventually becoming the corporate training manager for all of South Central Texas. After 15 years, Riley snatched up Amato for Subway, where she also works for the development office for South Central Texas, responsible for selling franchises, site selection, and leasing. With strong growth plans ahead and supported by an established infrastructure, Amato is passionate about promoting from within, developing in underserved areas of the city, and being a good corporate citizen.
Amato is a role model--on and off the field. She has served as a board member for the local advertising boards for Subway and is an advocate, with her husband, prominent businessman Charlie Amato, of child-related causes and animals, a natural for Amato, who has three dogs, two cats, and a parrot. She says the MVP Role Model Award "touched her heart" because she hopes it will inspire others.
"We all talk about what we are going to leave behind, we accumulate all these things," she says. "But I really feel that I will not have lived in vain if I can leave this planet with just a few people saying I inspired them to do better, they had an opportunity to do better, and somehow I made a difference in their life."
Name: Cathy Amato
Brands/units: 55 Subway, 3 Ruby Tuesday, 1 Mooyah Burgers & Fries
Years in franchising: 20
Years in current position: 20
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