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Olive & June's Justin Jordan Talks Southern Hospitality

Welcome to The Gatekeepers, in which Eater Austin roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen who stand between you and some of your favorite hard-to-get tables. This week: Justin Jordan at Olive & June.OJbooths.jpgOlive & June. [Photo: Raymond Thompson/EATX]

Olive & June is the kind of place you go to get thoroughly stuffed, and Justin Jordan, the restaurant's general manager, is more than happy to hand you the fork. Indeed, this southern-seasoned restaurant industry vet is a part of the team responsible for injecting some Italian class and sass into Austin's culinary row. Open for just under a year, Olive & June combines regional Italian dishes with locally sourced ingredients and has proved a welcoming landing for not only Austin's eaters, but also for Jordan himself.

A former Mississippian, Jordan intimates that it's "great to come to work and be surrounded by a beautiful environment and a group of people that care about each other and their success." Taking a brief pause from his Olive & June upkeep duties, Jordan checked in with Eater to delve deep into Sunday night family dinners, the principles of swiping kitchen gelatos, and what being a true southern gentleman is really all about.

According to your Olive and June bio, you're a true southern gentleman. What is your definition of a "true southern gentleman," and how is it applicable to the work that you do?

I don't think it's the seersucker suit wearing, mint julep-sipping man of the past. I think a southern gentleman is a man who respects himself and others. One who wants the people around him to feel welcome and at ease. But please understand I'm not scared of a good seersucker suit.

How did you get hooked up with the Olive and June team? What compelled you to move to Austin from Mississippi?

One of my childhood friends moved here with his job almost three years ago. I came out for a visit during New Year's and was back with my belongings within a few months. I fell in love with the unique way of life here in Austin and knew that I wanted to be a part of it. After making the decision to move here, I realized that I knew quite a few people already living here. One of those individuals was a former roommate who, knowing that I was looking for a job in the restaurant industry, suggested I check out Parkside. He and his boyfriend had just dined there a few nights earlier and he felt that it would be a good fit for me. I contacted the restaurant, emailed my resume and started training exactly one week from the day I arrived in Austin. Later that fall, after hearing that Shawn was opening Olive & June, I let them know that I was interested in a position here.

What did your experience at Purple Parrot Cafe teach you about the arena that you work in? How has it impacted your work with Olive and June?

The Purple Parrot taught me to enjoy and take pride in the food that you serve and the way in which you serve it. My time there taught me that guests aren't just coming to a restaurant to get full. They are coming to relax and enjoy themselves, to get away from their everyday lives. My time at Purple Parrot impacts my work at Olive & June in every way. It was there that I learned how exciting the hospitality industry is and how passionate its people are about their work. I also learned the joys of working for a locally owned business. Then and now, I have been lucky enough to work for men who care about the community they serve.

I understand that the initial idea of Olive and June was centralized around the idea of a Sunday family supper, and other like-nostaligic feelings. How does your particular skill set fit in with this type of atmosphere?

I'm not sure that it classifies as a skill set, but I was raised in a large family in south Mississippi. Until the decline of my grandparents' health, the entire family spent almost every Sunday gathering for dinner at my grandparents' home. It was madness! There were children everywhere, food covered the tables and everyone(for the most part) truly enjoyed each other's company. Now at Olive & June there aren't groups of unattended children yielding sticks as guns or food covering every flat service available. There is, however, that feeling of comfort and enjoyment that a person gets from sharing a meal with family. Much like dinner at your grandmother's, we want to make sure that you are happy and satisfied when you leave because we want to see you again.

Describe a typical Sunday night at the restaurant. Why would I want to take a hot date there as opposed to, say, the Olive Garden?

Sunday nights are a lot of fun for us. Each week the four course, prefix menu changes and we post the menu online on Wednesday nights for the following Sunday. We only offer the Sunday Dinner menu on Sundays which is why we don't charge for children under 12. While we try to keep the menus pretty family friendly, we know that children can be picky eaters and may be less inclined to enjoy some of the offerings. That being said, this does give parents a great opportunity to let kids try things that they normally would never order. Halfway through the shift the whole scene changes on us and we see more couples and industry people. So later in the evening is definitely when I would come in for a date.

Now as for the Olive Garden part of the question? If the person you are dating is impressed by things such as "bottomless pastas" and all the bread sticks you can eat, then please enjoy your evening at OG. However, if the individual you are dating isn't impressed with those culinary offerings and you would like a second date with them then please let me know. I'll be happy to make you a reservation. Seriously though, I think it's a great night to bring a date because the set menu takes all of the pressure away about what to order. You don't have to sit and think about if you ordered the right thing or if you ordered too much or too little. You just sit down, choose your wine and we take care of the rest. All you have to do is sit and enjoy your company and the plentiful food that is served.

Do you feel that Italian cooking has much in common with Southern ambiance? How do the two compliment and contrast with each other?

When I think of Southern ambiance, I think of a slower paced, relaxed and welcoming environment. Southern Italian food is the same way. They're both comforting and unpretentious and yet there's a definite complexity there that makes you want to know, or in this case, taste more. We want you come and relax, to slow down and enjoy your meal. Without having to really think for a while, I see very little differences in the two.

What is your favorite item on the menu? Conversely, what would you like to see implemented that isn't included already?

If you promise not to tell, my favorite menu items are any of the gelatos that Steven Cak makes. I may or may not have taken a small sample of a few of them after all of the kitchen staff are gone. There is at least one perk to being that last one to leave. There will likely be padlocks on the freezers when I get to work tomorrow. A simple request, but I'd love it if we had a side of brussels sprouts. They are currently served with the lamb shank and I love them.

How has Olive and June changed since opening? Can you credit any of its developments as being a direct result of your contributions?

I, like many of our employees, have been here since we opened. It would be ridiculous for me to take personal credit for anything. We, as a team, have grown so much. Like any restaurant in its first year, we have had many changes. We've been met by many challenges and together we have worked through them and grown stronger and more confident.

What is your favorite aspect to working there? How does it compare to your previous experiences in the service and hospitality industry?

I love the atmosphere and also how well the staff gets along with each other. It's great to come to work and be surrounded by a beautiful environment and a group of people that care about each other and their success.

Do you see Olive and June as somewhere you'd be happily settled in for a long time? What does the future hold for both your role there and your restaurant career in general?

I hope that I'm here for quite a while. I am really enjoying life here in Austin and at Olive & June. As far as the future, who knows? I'm excited to find out though.

— Emma Kat Richardson

· All Gatekeepers Coverage on Eater Austin [-EATX-]
· Olive & June [Official]