ABC Partner Stories: Olive Garden Rochester

The Rochester Olive Garden restaurant opened in 2002 and a crew of six to seven ABC participants has been working there weekdays ever since. While the crew is present less than two hours before the doors open to the public, their contribution is critical to the successful operation of the restaurant.


The ABC crew pose with owner Mark Bertschinger (in white) in front of the Rochester Olive Garden in 2017.

“Rolling silverware at the end of a shift is a nightmare for our wait staff. Having our ABC crew do this takes a huge burden off our staff and allows them to get more done. My employees are happy, I’m happy and the ABC workers are happy. Ultimately our customers are happy, which is my bottom line,” said Rochester Olive Garden Manager Mark Bertschinger,

For the uninitiated, “rolling silverware” entails rolling a clean set of silverware in a cloth napkin for dinner customers or in a paper napkin for lunch. Since this work can be completed while sedentary, it provides a great opportunity for participants who may need walkers or wheelchairs to have meaningful employment. The ABC team completes, on average, between 500 and 700 “rolls” each day.

Job coach Elisa Karnitz ensures that the team works together to produce efficient and quality work product each and every day. Elisa has been with the team since the start and her attention to detail and commitment to quality are legendary.
Elisa explained, “I love to see how crew members become more independent and grow to take on new challenges. I remember one crew member who struggled at first to complete ten napkins per day. Now, she completes more than 150 daily, each of the highest quality.”

“I’m doing so many things all the time and may not otherwise realize that we’re getting short on a certain item. Elisa and the ABC crew help me keep a handle on that. It’s a really great partnership.”

– Mark Bertschinger, Rochester Olive Garden Manager.

Every year the Rochester restaurant sponsors a disability mentoring day, where crew members are treated to lunch at the restaurant, get to know the staff and their jobs better, and are recognized for their accomplishments.


Job Coach Elisa Karnitz (right) assists Gail of ABC as she performs a silverware roll.

“Mark and his staff are very friendly and go out of their way to make us feel part of the Olive Garden family. They continually provide positive feedback and encouragement to the entire crew,” Elisa added.

Partnering with ABC and with other local non-profits, such as participation in the Boys and Girls Club tip roundup program, demonstrates Mark’s commitment to making Olive Garden a true community restaurant.

Mark is now working with Lynda Kuscienko of ABC to develop a new partnership with ABC’s Vocational Evaluation program. The Evaluation program places adults re-entering the workforce in jobs of interest to them on a short-term basis to see if they are a good fit.

Next time you dine at Olive Garden, pause a moment to notice the carefully wrapped silverware. It stands as a testament to the strong and lasting partnership with ABC — one in which both organizations take much pride.

– Return to ABC Partner Stories.