“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” is a slogan that El Gaucho Hospitality’s Director of Operations Cooper Mills likes to quote. “That is true for me – I haven’t worked a day in eight years,” he chides, and quickly follows up with, “I’m living the dream!” (Another phrase he frequently exclaims).
To know Cooper is to love his razor-sharp wit and sense of humor.
A Missouri native, Cooper has worked in Seattle’s restaurant industry for over 20 years in many of the city’s iconic restaurants, such as Salty’s on Alki and Ivar’s Acres of Clams. Initially, the hospitality industry was not his calling – it was simply a job that allowed a flexible schedule to help pay the bills to get through college. While studying finance at the University of Washington, he was continually asked to take on bigger roles at the restaurants in which he worked.
After graduation, Cooper took an internship at Smith Barney. On his first day, he realized he’d go crazy behind a desk. “It was then I realized how much I loved the hospitality industry, and that was truly my passion,” he says. “Each day was different than the day before. I found it challenging to deliver an experience that was unique to each guest and that the experience of doing so fed my caretaker nature,” he explains.
When El Gaucho owner Paul Mackay met Cooper, he recognized his natural sense of hospitality, and recruited him to manage El Gaucho Seattle in 2007. Paul personally mentored him to learn El Gaucho’s history and philosophy regarding high standards of guest service.
“It was at the same time my daughter Sophia was born, and I was a bit leery about starting a new job,” Cooper says. “The more I talked to Paul and Chad I knew I had to be a part of what they created and were about. I had worked for some great restaurants and great people, but never the two combined. So I made the leap!”
Cooper’s daughter Sophia. He started working for El Gaucho when Sophia was born.
Cooper cheering on the Hawks with work teammates Tony, Jimmy and Larry!
He has never looked back. His favorite part of working at El Gaucho is the people. “I have never been prouder to be associated with the people I am fortunate enough to work with every day,” he says. “I also love being a part of something that if we do it right, will outlive us all.”
Humor is also a big part of working at El Gaucho. “We laugh every day – a lot,” Cooper explains. “We also love scaring each other. The Michael Myers mask from Halloween movie had a great run – we got a solid eight months of scaring everyone with it,” he laughs, and also hints that another round of scaring is in the works.
While having fun is important to Cooper, so is honesty, integrity, and character. “My dad always told me to protect my good name and credit, because once you lose either with someone, you’re unlikely to get it back.”
When asked about his most important accomplishments, Cooper says trying to be a great father, son, brother, boss, employee and friend top his list. “Trying to be a good human being is the most important to me, but it’s always a work in progress,” he says.
In his free time, Cooper loves to golf, play tennis, camp, play catch with his Jack Russell, Sampson, and has started snow skiing again. When it’s sunny, he loves driving his 1974 VW “thing.” He also is a Husky Football fanatic, but his favorite is daddy-daughter dates with Sophia, what he calls, “poppapalooza.”
Which brings up his favorite meal ever, which happened to be with Sophia and his wife Rebecca, at El Gaucho Seattle in 2009. “Sophia was just sitting in her booster seat, and I remember thinking to myself that for her, this is just the beginning of many family dinners. What a great moment,” he recalls.
The most important aspect Cooper wants people to know about El Gaucho is, “We truly revel in celebrating lives,” he says, “with each other, our guests, and our community. Our company places a big emphasis on giving back through our time, resources, and talent. It’s a big part of what we do,” he says.
Cooper was recently promoted to a newly created position of Director of Operations for El Gaucho Hospitality. In his new position, he will be supporting all El Gaucho restaurants and working closely with the management team. Please congratulate Cooper on his promotion!