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People work in restaurants for a plethora of reasons: quick cash, not into working in an office, etc., but there are also specific people who work in the industry because they just love people and have a talent for forming connections. One of those people is Karen Nazarro.  

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Karen’s restaurant background technically started in high school where she waited tables, but to capture her full culinary story, we need to head years back and thousands of miles away to the Philippines. 

Karen grew up in the Philippines during her early years, in a province where all of her family was essentially at her disposal. She could engage with generations of family members just walking out the door. There, meals were not just a time to nourish the body but also the soul. 

Food, as she describes it, was a love language. She remembers her dad waking up at four in the morning to cook for her and her siblings before his commute to work. Her ‘aunties’ were constantly making intricate and hearty dishes throughout the day. Every single meal was made from scratch by someone who loved you, and no one would miss the opportunity to share a meal together. So, of course, Karen adopted this mentality, watching and learning from these family members growing up. 

Karen’s mother lived in the U.S. throughout her childhood working as a nurse. Karen always knew that the plan was for her and her brothers to move to the U.S. at some point, but it didn’t feel like an actuality. Her mother would come back and visit every year, bringing stories of her future home in the far-off land of America. This was until the fables became reality and she was 12 years old, on a plane to what could only be described as the opposite of the Philippines, the Bronx. 

The culture shock she experienced was inevitable. Karen’s mom ensured they still felt a sense of home, always cooking Filipino food for her and her brothers. But outside of her home, the food culture shock hit the hardest for Karen. She was used to intricate, well-balanced dishes created from recipes that had been passed down for generations – not tater tots and bologna. 

After her first year, her family moved to upstate New York. There she experienced a new wave of isolation being one of five students of Asian descent in her school. She had to brave the waters of small-town America, learning the ins and outs of her new life. 

As time passed and she settled in more and more, she still found herself connecting through food. She started messing around in the kitchen, trying her hand at baking as well as traditional Filipino cooking. When she was of legal age, she got not one, but two serving jobs at both a local Italian and Chinese restaurant. 

While other kids played sports or participated in student government after school, Karen was packing orders of General Tso’s chicken and asking if you wanted penne or spaghetti noodles. Like most people in this industry, she was hooked on the hustle. 

Once high school graduation rolled around, choosing what to do next was kind of a no-brainer for Karen. She went to Johnson and Wales to receive her associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s in food service management. While she loved cooking and knew it was her passion, she adored the front of house. This realization might have come after a busy, busy summer working in hot and humid Orlando, Florida with the Disney College Program. She slung thousands of pounds of fried chicken to sweaty and delirious parkgoers hearing the same country-themed show tunes on repeat night after night. Brutal reality check? Possibly. 

After college graduation, she moved to NYC, knowing it was where the industry thrived, especially for front of house. Focusing specifically on fine dining, Karen weaved her way in and out of some of New York's most celebrated establishments and absolutely loved it. 

She ended up at Lincoln Ristorante starting as a food runner and worked her way up to captain and private events assistant, where she engaged with diners and ensured their celebrations or date nights were everything they expected and more, all the while putting out little fires for her staff. It was exhilarating and so exhausting. Nights would turn into early mornings, and she’d get home when the running groups were starting their sunrise jogs. She knew the lifestyle couldn’t last forever for her, but it felt amazing for the time being. 

During her time at Lincoln Ristorante, she met two of the most important people in her life: her now husband and Eric Jeffay. Her husband was a sous chef at the time, and they hit it off. Like most restaurant love stories, they fit the stereotype of front of house women dating back of house men to a T. 

Eric officiating Karen's weddingEric, on the other hand, became her work husband. On their days off, they would frolic through Central Park, eat up and down Manhattan and share all the hot gossip that was happening in the restaurant (and you better believe, there was a lot).

When Karen got engaged and was planning her wedding, she couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to officiate her wedding than Eric. And he did a splendid job.

It’s relationships like these that make people stay and crave the restaurant industry. There is a community in each little restaurant. So when the pandemic hit, many industry people were just so lost. Karen had moved out of New York by then and was living in Houston. She had also left the industry and worked as an event planner after having her son. 

The event planning world also took a major hit during the pandemic, so her career went back to the drawing board. Fast forward to 2022, after spending a couple of years at home with her son she was ready to get back into her career. So she started calling. Calling her old restaurant friends, her event planning circle, her classmates – catching up and also hoping for some inspiration. 

When she called Eric, he told her he was still at MarginEdge and greatly enjoying it. They previously talked about the company, but at the time she didn’t think it was the right fit. Now, she was interested. 

Karen joined MarginEdge as a sales development representative in January 2023 and has loved it ever since. Her main role in that position was contacting restaurants to develop a relationship and share MarginEdge’s offerings, then passing them along to a business development representative who would go into more detail about the software and eventually bring them on board. Karen killed it in that role and was offered and accepted a position as a Business Development Representative position. 

The transition from vibrant, fast restaurants to remote working was not easy for her though. It was a total learning curve, but she’s so grateful she believed in herself. 

Not only has she benefited from this change, but so has her son. Working from home has given her the flexibility to be available for him in ways she didn’t expect. Being able to work full time and be home when he is, is something she never thought would be possible. Restaurant people sacrifice the normal ‘family hours’, starting shifts when the day is ending. This extra bonus of quality time is something she wouldn’t trade for the world. 

Karen claims that MarginEdge would have changed her life when she was still on the restaurant grind. She recalls countless nights in the dry goods area and walk-in counting and recounting inventory, making sure an order was ready to go for the next week, and losing so much time on completely benign tasks the software excels at. 

While she can’t benefit as a client, she is thrilled to be sharing all [me]’s offerings now. Karen is a light and we are so thrilled to have her on team [me]! Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. 


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