Restaurant manager’s fundraising passion drives business through COVID-19

As the restaurant manager of Carmella’s Italian Bistro in Appleton, Wisconsin, Lisa Johnson and her marketing team attract customers through social media campaigns for social justice. Johnson’s advocacy passion works with local organizations like Harbor House to raise funds to bring clothes to children. Johnson’s staff on average, raises $1,200 per campaign matched by the owners of Carmella’s who donate ten percent of their restaurant sales from social media promotional events.

     UW Whitewater journalism student Bradley J. Burt sat down with Lisa Johnson Sunday September 20, 2020, to discuss success strategies keeping her restaurant open. Johnson returned to work in early spring due to stay-at-home order who attributes social media fundraising as a secret recipe to retain customers.  

Lisa Johnson adores organizing restaurant social media campaigns, especially when owners match fundraising efforts. Johnson stopped by Carmella’s to grab menus on a Sunday afternoon.

     Prior to the interview, Johnson sat down to share and sample coffee. Johnson supplied a robust and flavorful cup of regular roast. The Sunday coffee aroma accompanied the interview session with a radiant smile.

Q: Can you share a little bit about yourself and your background?

     A: My name is Lisa Kathleen Johnson. I am a restaurant manager at Carmella’s Italian Bistro. I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. I went to school for Psychology. I received a bachelor’s in science. I thought I would help people after taking my secondary education teaching certificate through Lawrence University. I have always worked in a restaurant. They always say that someone who works in a restaurant would be a good doctor or nurse.

     Q: What made you decide to pursue the restaurant industry?

     A: I don’t really know. I never knew this would be my calling in life or my passion. I think it was the opportunities that happened. It was presented to me at my previous employer, which was a private country club. They created a position and asked if I would want to fill it. I discovered I was pretty good at planning weddings, special events and that type that drove me to pursue my career.

     Q: What drives your passion to advocate through social media to address social injustice on the Carmella’s Facebook page? Can you describe one of your campaigns at all?

     A: We are a part of S.U.R.J., which stands for Showing Up for Racial Justice. This means that we stand up for race or creed equality and that you are welcome at Carmella’s. For a long time, especially during the era of terrorism stuff, we were a safe place for Islamic people. We created a welcome experience where we did want anyone to be judged. We are also part of the Black Lives Matter movement. When we subscribe to social media movements this means we are a safe and welcome place.

     Q: What can someone expect when they visit your restaurant?

      A: When you come to Carmella’s, you are going to get really good food obviously. Everybody who knows us knows we don’t use big vendors. We try to source as locally and responsibly as possible. With that being said, we put our love and care into who we hire and the product we put out. Our care translates to our guests. We want you to know that you are important to us. We want everyone to know they have a space where they can be free of judgement and worry. Just to sit back and break bread with loved ones.

      Q: Is there anything I missed that you would like to share?

      A: We try to be a supportive voice for those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. We are a safe space and stand up for indigenous people, for people of color and LGBTQ people. We are all inclusive in our own ways and we all express ourselves in our own ways. We are really lucky that we are settled enough in the community by our following and that we can say how we feel. We are grateful we can stand and speak about what we believe in because you really are taking a risk. The views that we have aren’t of the majority. It just gets to the point where you can’t be silent anymore. You have to say what you believe in, who you believe in and what you stand up for.

      When dining at Carmella’s, Johnson insists all have the best seat in the house. Johnson’s passion felt by her friends, family and staff benefit from a diverse environment who graciously volunteer when asked. Johnson’s dedication to community service results in touching the lives of children during fundraising events and festivities.

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