Sometimes, where you are isn’t where you are meant to be. Even if that place is secure and comfortable. After spending nearly ten years working for a Big Box Retailer, I knew it was time for a change. Although I had worked my way through various positions, into leadership roles and worked alongside some amazing people, I felt that something was missing. I was going through the motions and did not find a meaningful connection with what I was doing. I wanted to do more for employees and have a bigger impact on the organization.

So, after a decade with one company, I began to search for a new opportunity. I came across Cotton Patch Cafe and it seemed like a good company to work for. Although I had never worked in the restaurant industry, I was very intrigued. The concept drew me in with its small town, family appeal. There happened to be an opening for an Office Administrator in the corporate office. The position was only part time but after some research, I decided to apply. Yes, it was a risk. I mean, if I got it, I’d be leaving a secure job at a successful company for an unknown future in an industry I knew nothing about. Well, I was offered the job and I accepted. Crazy, right? It was a leap of faith, for sure. But, something told me it would be worth it.

I was only there for two months when I got promoted to full time Office Administrator. I was enjoying the work and loved getting to know my fellow employees. During those first few months, I decided I wanted to work in HR. At the time, it was a department of one. I figured that would change as the company grew and that there might be an opportunity for me to work more directly with employees. So, I asked about working in HR. I wasn’t immediately given a defined role, but I began to help out with some departmental administrative duties. As I lent my assistance, I continued to absorb more responsibilities. A few month later, I was officially promoted to HR Benefits Administrator.

It was then, I knew I had made a good decision in coming to Cotton Patch. My hard work and dedication was being recognized!

Soon after, I began working with a great leader that introduced me to Recruiting. I began assisting in this new role and found a great sense of accomplishment in helping people find their careers at Cotton Patch. I was getting involved in the full spectrum of the employee experience. It was interesting and challenging work.

Over the next couple of years, the HR department continued to expand, and we went through a few departmental leadership changes. In that time, I got even more involved and continued to take on new responsibilities. I felt like I was learning and growing daily. I learned and worked with digital job boards, online recruiting tools and even began to expand into social media. It was exciting and added more satisfaction to my job.

When our current Head of Human Resources, Rachael Kelly-Marcus came aboard, the department really began to take off. She immediately helped to focus and streamline our people operations—we’ve become much more efficient and a specialized department. She’s challenged the team and in doing so has given us opportunity to grow in our roles.

Since coming to Cotton Patch, I have seen my role evolve and change. I have gone from being a part time Office Administrator, to full time Benefits Admin, to Recruiting Manager, HR Benefits Manager overseeing warehouse operations, and now- People Operations Manager. At each stage, I have grown both professionally and personally.

Today, as a group our department really focuses on the things that have significant positive impact on Cotton Patch employees—a great employee experience. For me, that means being a resource for all our employees, working on employee issues, and offering solutions to those issues. It is my goal to make every employee’s job easier and more enjoyable. I have also been fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know our management and restaurant staff members at our corporate office and across our locations in various states. I’ve been able to develop close relationships with many of my colleagues, and they know I am here for them. They are my customers and I take great pride in helping them on a daily basis.

March 4th of this year was my four-year anniversary at Cotton Patch Cafe. I have learned and grown so much since I came to work here. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is accountability. I am accountable for upholding the duties of my position, taking the action necessary to stay on track with my current responsibilities and striving to grow professionally. All that translates into my primary focus of being accountable to all our employees, and really being equipped to help them in any way I can, whenever they need assistance.

It’s an exciting time to be working at Cotton Patch, especially for me as we continue to focus on making the company and the employee experience the best it can be. The relationships I have developed here are very important to me. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I enjoy coming to work each day and look forward to being part of the Cotton Patch family for many years to come.

So, yes #FeelsLikeFamily really is how it feels to me at Cotton Patch Cafe. I know that won’t change. In fact, I think we will only become closer as a family as Cotton Patch continues to grow. Maybe it’s time for a new hashtag. I think #WeAreFamily is where we are headed. And I can’t wait to see where that leads the entire CPC Team.

Maria Gallegos is People Operations Manager at Cotton Patch Cafe. She celebrated her 4th anniversary with the company on March 4th of this year.