This Outback Steakhouse manager won a top local food award. Meet Joey Carzo

Joey Carzo, managing partner of Outback Steakhouse in Surprise, was named restaurant manager of the year at the Foodist Awards on April 24.
Joey Carzo, managing partner of Outback Steakhouse in Surprise, was named restaurant manager of the year at the Foodist Awards on April 24. Arizona Restaurant Association
At the Arizona Restaurant Association’s Foodist Awards on April 24, among the accolades was a somewhat unlikely winner: Joey Carzo of Outback Steakhouse in Surprise was named restaurant manager of the year.

Typically, many of the honors are bestowed upon independent restaurants and bars or homegrown hospitality groups. From a field of 220 nominations, the finalists for manager of the year were whittled down to Carzo, Elsie Lee of The Vig—Fillmore and Gerardo Sanabria of LON’s at the Hermosa Inn.

But Carzo is not just a cog in a corporate machine. He’s a managing partner working toward becoming a joint venture partner for Out West Restaurants — the parent company for Outback Steakhouse franchises in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada — and he's spent nearly 17 years with the company.

Throughout his upbringing in an Italian family in upstate New York, Carzo's parents and grandparents instilled in him a passion for hospitality and a strong work ethic.

“My dad has always worked and he has always held down these jobs that have taken care of the family through the roughest of times,” Carzo says. “It taught me from a very young age that you have to work hard to have what you want in life.”

And although the phrase “we’re all a family here” might be a workplace cliche, he insists it’s true for him, both literally and figuratively.

Carzo previously worked other jobs, including in banking and as a buyer for a manufacturing company. He started at Outback in 2007 because he wanted a part-time gig in addition to his day job and his brother worked there. At one point, he and his brother, sister, sister-in-law and cousin all worked for the Outback in Surprise making it truly a family affair.

Then in 2015, he recalls a time when he returned to his full-time job after a vacation and his boss didn’t say hello or ask him how the trip went, she just asked if he knew how much she had to do while he was gone.

“I looked at her and said, ‘I quit,’” he recalls. He called Outback and told them he wanted to become a manager. After reaching that goal in 2016, Carzo rose to managing partner at the Metrocenter location in 2018 before returning to the Surprise location in 2021.

“Talking to people and really bringing people together is my thing,” he says, and he couldn’t do that in a typical 9-to-5 job.

Carzo also was quick to give credit to his employees, including senior manager Cesar Jacabo, operations managers Rob Riesgo and Tyler Randall, shift lead Zach Keeler and all of the region's managing partners and managers.

“I tell my team all the time they’re the ones who make me look so good,” Carzo says. “My people are everything to me.”

When asked via Zoom what it was like to win the award, Carzo replies, “To me, it meant everything I am to my core. Every day I wake up to take care of people.”

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A trophy in the shape of a pineapple, the international symbol for hospitality, and $500 were presented to Joey Carzo of Outback Steakhouse at the Foodist Awards.
Joey Carzo
At the awards ceremony, Carzo received a golden trophy in the shape of a pineapple — the international symbol for hospitality — and $500 donated by David DeLorenzo with Bar & Restaurant Insurance, a longtime supporter of the Arizona Restaurant Association. All 19 winners and finalists are listed online.

Kristina Rangel, a joint venture partner with Out West Restaurants and Carzo's boss, spearheaded the nomination and got the staff, customers and Carzo's family involved in the process.

“He just lives and breathes taking care of people, whether it's his Outbackers or the guests,” she says. “I don’t think he has a mean bone in his body. He’s created such a culture in that restaurant that everybody wants to be a part of it.”

Rangel adds, "We’re in the people business and we just happen to serve steak and potatoes, and that’s what he does: He takes care of people.”

Winning the award took him by surprise, Carzo says.

“They did it behind my back, which is really hard to do because I usually know what’s going on all the time. My mom even got in on it. The way the word got out was amazing. I had 82 nominations.”

Some of the comments included: “Joey always puts his guests and employees first,” "Joey brings a positive attitude & work ethic to our store which is contagious" and “He is amazing. Everything about him."

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Over 80 colleagues and customers nominated Joey Carzo of Outback Steakhouse in Surprise for the Foodist Awards' restaurant manager of the year from the Arizona Restaurant Association.
Joey Carzo
One of Carzo's employees, Tiffany Pence, a bar lead and key server who has known him for 16 years and was the first to train him when he initially started moonlighting at Outback says he “is absolutely all about his people.” He “just creates this energy in the restaurant that’s positive and everybody wants to help him because he’s always helping them," she adds.

For instance, she says, Carzo invites staff with nowhere else to go to his house for Thanksgiving. And he always listens to what they need and puts them first, even if that means covering a shift behind the bar himself if multiple people need the day off.

“If we have an idea and want to try something, he lets us run with it. He’s very supportive in that way, definitely. He’s just a genuine person," Pence adds.

When he's not working, Carzo loves taking care of his Surprise home and listening to music, especially songs from the 1970s and yacht rock. "There’s not a song I don’t know when it comes on,” he says.

He also values family time, including visiting his parents in Florida and watching his nephews play hockey in Gilbert. And Carzo likes to try restaurants other than Outback, saying he eats at Over Easy at least weekly and also enjoys Ben's Pizza in Surprise and The Vig and Federal Pizza downtown.

But, as Carzo likes to joke, he works "nine days a week" and is motivated to continue his success at Outback Steakhouse.

Carzo helps his boss, Rangel, run 10 locations throughout the Valley as he trains to become a joint venture partner, which is akin to a regional manager. Laughing, he says he'll stay there "until CEO comes about."
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Geri Koeppel is a professional writer, voracious reader, devoted traveler, and an amateur cook, wine drinker, birder and tennis player. She's lived and worked in Detroit, San Francisco, and Phoenix.
Contact: Geri Koeppel

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