‘Every Day is Veterans Day’ for LongHorn Steakhouse Cook
Army veteran Albert St. Clair III, a LongHorn Steakhouse line cook in Florissant, MO, knows all too well that veterans can experience difficulties when they return to civilian life. After his service in Central America in the 1980s, he was homeless for a year and a half.
"I had friends and family who would have taken me in, but I let foolish pride get in my way,” he said. “It’s a difficult adjustment when you are trained to harm and destroy, and then you come home and suddenly must return to loving people and caring about them.”
For the last 18 years, Albert has done just that, focusing his military discipline on the mission of helping local homeless veterans. Two years ago, he created a nonprofit in St. Louis, The St. Clair’s Hearts Foundation, to help veterans find housing, food and jobs. “I stand for the flag and kneel for the fallen,” he said. His promise to fellow veterans? “Leave no one behind.”
As our country pauses today, on the solemn occasion of Veterans Day, to honor the courage and sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, Albert vowed to continue commemorating these heroes every day. “Veterans Day isn’t just Nov. 11, it’s every day of my life. Our veterans need help every day.”
Today, the LongHorn Steakhouse restaurant in O’Fallon, MO, where Albert once worked, is hosting 15 to 20 Gold Star families who lost loved ones in combat. The restaurant has created a special menu for the families and is asking them to bring photos of their loved ones to display on a memorial table.
Albert’s restaurant in Florissant, the location in O’Fallon and four other LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants nearby also participate in Dining for Dollars events to raise money for The St. Clair’s Hearts Foundation, which collects food, clothing and donations to provide veterans and their families with housing, furniture, educational support and job-finding assistance. In addition to holding fundraisers and raffles to raise money, Albert helps homeless veterans navigate red tape so they can find help getting off the streets and into apartments.
“We’re out building wheelchair ramps and painting houses and whatever we can, helping one person at a time. It’s not just going to the homeless camps and throwing food and clothes at the veterans and saying goodbye. I get to know them and share meals with them so I can help them.”
Albert spoke of a female veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan whom he helped get back on her feet. “We found her an apartment and furnished it and bought clothing for her. Then she found an office job, but she had to get up at 4 a.m. for work because of her long commute by bus and train. So earlier this week, we surprised her with a used car to make her life a little bit easier.”
Success breeds success, Albert said. “A lot of the people we help turn around later and help us by volunteering to help other veterans.”
Albert needs the help. His eight regular staffers are unpaid because “one hundred percent of what we raise goes back into the foundation. A lot of us throw one paycheck a month from our regular jobs into the organization,” he said.
LongHorn Steakhouse is supportive of veterans and a good place for them to work, Albert said. “My restaurant has hired three veterans beside me, and my managers worked with me when I needed more time off last summer to grow my foundation. The restaurant has helped support my foundation through special events, and I appreciate that.”
Albert has worked in the restaurant business 35 years, the last 12 of them at LongHorn Steakhouse. “Albert was a hero when he served our country,” said Managing Partner Will Koehl. “He came home to be of service in our community and to LongHorn Steakhouse, and we are lucky to have him.”
Although some veterans carry battle scars, they also bring invaluable experience and skills to the table. Darden is dedicated to helping these men and women and their families find jobs and opportunities through its alliance with the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), a Department of Defense program that has helped 98,000 military spouses find jobs since 2011.
Darden is one of 335 partner employers that have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses through MSEP. “The program is a great fit because military spouses and children are usually looking for a portable career since they frequently have to move, and we have restaurants across the country,” said Jennifer Burkman, Olive Garden Human Resources Manager.
With more than 1,500 restaurants across its seven brands and 150,000 team members, Darden offers plentiful opportunities and has hired thousands of veterans.
“Team members look up to veterans like me,” Albert said. “They respect our ethics and principles and know that we take the reins and don’t run from tension or difficulties. We’re not going to cut and run. We will stay and help each other until the job is done.”