By Melanie Mowry Etters, Special to the Democrat, Tallahassee Democrat, Oct 11, 2012
SARASOTA — More than six years ago, Sweet Tomatoes Restaurants eliminated the position of greeter at its locations. However, Matt Hightower is still on the job, welcoming customers to the restaurant in Sarasota on U.S. Hwy. 41 South.
“There are not many greeters in our restaurants. Matt was grandfathered in because our area manager felt that he was essential to making our restaurant experience the best,” says Lara Keefe, general manager. “He is an icon. Everyone knows who Matt is.”
Hightower’s responsibilities include answering questions from first-time guests and making sure people are aware of any specials being offered during their visit.
Hightower has cerebral palsy and is a customer of Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. APD is highlighting the contributions of people with disabilities to the workforce.
Hightower says his mother instilled in him the need to earn what you get. “My mom said nothing is going to be handed to you. You have to work for it.” He has taken his mother’s lessons to heart and has worked at Sweet Tomatoes restaurant for almost 15 years.
“I love the people I work with. I have always wanted to work in a restaurant,” Hightower added.
Hightower, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, says he does not look at the wheelchair as a confinement — just how he gets around. He also encourages employers to give people with disabilities an opportunity. “We want to be a part of the workforce,” he says.
Keefe agrees. “Matt is a great morale booster for his fellow employees with always something positive to say each day. We hope he is able to stay around here as long as possible. We don’t want him to go anywhere.”
APD annually serves more than 50,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. For more about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit APDcares.org or call toll-free 1-866-273 2273.