Every wedding needs something old.
Why couldn’t it be one of the grandest old hotels in the Pacific Northwest, says Dana Schroader ’07.
It’s mid-afternoon and about 250 guests are due to arrive at the Fairmont Olympic in a few hours for an elegant evening wedding. Schroader, dressed discreetly in a black skirt and jacket, slips through the two-story lobby of the 1924 Seattle landmark toward the Spanish Ballroom, stopping at the base of the stairs to straighten a welcome table. She steps up to the foyer, which is dotted with tables for a cocktail hour, and pushes open the gilded doors to the ballroom, where a florist is dressing tables with cream cloths and towering floral arrangements rich with hydrangeas and roses.
“Oh, this is a pretty wedding,” says Schroader, surveying the room and opening her list and seating chart to run a quick check. She sweeps past the cake table to pick up the bride and groom topper, takes another look around the room, and heads down a long cool hallway to the kitchen, where a pastry chef is assembling and frosting the cake.
There are a lot of moving pieces in a wedding this size. While Schroader stops to check in on the prep for the à la minute meal service, the bride dresses in a room upstairs with her bridesmaids. A photographer is posing the groom and the men of the wedding party on an upper landing of the lobby. The bride’s father in his tuxedo strolls through the reception site. A worker delivers the wine and champagne. And out-of-town guests check into their rooms.
Schroader’s job as the hotel’s catering sales manager, or more simply, wedding coordinator, touches on many components of the field of hospitality, including the lodging of the family and guests, planning and coordinating the cocktails and meals, and running the event itself with its waiters, bartenders, and musicians. And she gets to do it in the heart of a city that she loves in a spectacular setting. The job is not what she imagined when she was working after classes at Pullman’s Holiday Inn Express and Fireside Grill to gain experience and pay for college. “It’s better,” she says.
Washington State has a $16.4 billion travel and tourism industry, according to the Washington Tourism Alliance, making it the fourth largest industry in the state. The leisure and hospitality sector alone, which includes restaurants, hotels, and motels, employs about 330,000 Washington workers.
Like Schroader, many of the Washington State University students who graduate with a hospitality business management degree go straight from Pullman to a management job in the industry, says Nancy Swanger, director of WSU’s School of Hospitality Business Management. One reason for that is the rigorous business training they get in Pullman, and now at WSU Vancouver as well. About 25 percent of their curriculum is in core business subjects including finance, business law, economic statistics, and accounting.
The program requires 1,000 hours of industry or internship experience before a student can graduate. “It allows them to have practical experience to compare to the theoretical things they have learned in class,” says Swanger. “And recruiters want experience.”
But that’s just a part of it. As the concept of hospitality grows and changes, the school is adapting, too. It must, to prepare its students for an ever-changing industry.
Back in 1932, when Washington State College introduced its hospitality program, no one had yet imagined an airport hotel, a drive-through restaurant, a convention center, or the boom of international travel. According to old program paperwork, the hospitality degree was founded simply for the purpose of “training men in hotel operations and women in dietetics.”
Georgina Petheram Tucker ’33, now 102, was a student in Pullman when the Washington State College introduced a limited curriculum in hotel management. “Possibly no single action involving curricular expansion ever brought [WSC President] Holland more praise from the College’s constituency than did this one, as compliments continued to reach him from year to year,” according to the book E.O. Holland and the State College of Washington. The Spokane-born girl found more than a major. She found a role shaping a young industry.
Tucker’s degree led her to housekeeping and dining services work in Spokane, Boise, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and a 42-year career with Westin Hotels. Her jobs in housekeeping and later as Westin’s corporate food director included menu creation, staff training, and developing food service plans. As she grew in her career, her focus grew from simply cleaning rooms and coordinating schedules to managing issues of health and safety, staff diversity, and working with unions. “She really professionalized housekeeping in hotels,” says Swanger.
“She is such an amazing person,” says Swanger. The toilet paper end folded into a triangle is her most amusing legacy. “It’s called the Tucker point.”
After retiring, Tucker worked as an industry consultant and wrote The Science of Housekeeping and The Professional Housekeeper, which for years were used for training industry-wide.
As the years passed, the Washington State program grew. A page tucked in with the hospitality program’s archival materials from the 1940s shows how the school recruited new students. “Our graduates have the advantage of stepping out of college into a new and uncrowded field… rapid advancements are assured on securing a position, for the men now actively engaged in the work have nothing but the school of hard knocks as a teacher.”
In 1942, the program was temporarily halted because of war. It started up again in 1946, but recast as a training program for hotel, motel, and restaurant managers and relocated from Home Economics to the newly-formed School of Business and Economics. Early coursework included personnel administration and institutional purchasing, and was later enhanced to include the law of innkeeping and tourism.
Jerry Burtenshaw ’56, who enrolled in 1952, says it wasn’t all numbers and textbooks. He’ll never forget the interactive class in how to break down a pig carcass. It made sense back then, he says, because it was valuable to know the process for anyone wanting to go into restaurant management. And he did, since his family operated the Alpine Cafeteria in Bellingham.
“The program was only 20 years old,” he says. “It was still in the embryo stages.” But the country was seeing a boom in the industry. Chains like Hilton and Sheraton were fast expanding, and Holiday Inn had started up in 1952. The demands of a mushrooming industry and the influx of Korean War veterans studying hospitality on the G.I. Bill “really gave it a big push,” says Burtenshaw.
The program took advantage of the campus resources, putting students to work in the dining halls. “We’d go in early each morning and help set up the food,” says Burtenshaw. They were also involved in creating plans for what would become the Rotunda Dining Center.
Burtenshaw’s training served him when his family expanded their local Alpine Cafeteria into a major industrial catering business with outlets in Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma, as well as concessions contracts at places like Husky Stadium, the Kingdome, the Tacoma Dome, and Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. As more people dined out and sought food at entertainment venues, the business grew. And as the nation’s hospitality industry evolved with expanding restaurant chains, hotels, and motels, the program adapted again.
In the 1970s, Brian McGinnis ’77 found his way into the hospitality program and discovered that he enjoyed the coursework, which included an internship requirement. To fill it, he took a summer post as maître d’ at the Rosario Resort in the San Juan Islands, tying together his training and his love of beautiful places.
After graduation, McGinnis went to Hawaii for a vacation and stayed for a job at Westin Hotel’s resort in Waikiki. He became front office manager, was transferred, and started to climb the corporate ladder. “People think of hospitality as just minimum wage and tip jobs,” he says. “But where else can you start out as a bellman or dishwasher and move up to general manager? There are many rags to riches stories within hospitality.”
Eventually, McGinnis went to work for Westin’s development group and had a role on a number of projects including the Westin Tokyo. In 1997, after 11 years in development, he left the company and stepped into one of the most interesting resort projects to take place in Washington in the last 20 years: the Alderbrook Resort.
The old Hood Canal vacation site was up for sale. The facility had been established in 1913 as a collection of camp tents outfitted with potbelly stoves and accessible only by water. Over the years, it changed hands, a highway came in, buildings went up, and with each new owner, it engaged a new generation of guests.
A family with a home nearby asked McGinnis to help them make an offer. It didn’t suit the Alderbrook’s owners, who instead sold the property for more money to another buyer. McGinnis went on to other projects, but was brought back in in 2001 when the new owner, who hadn’t made the place profitable, was looking to sell. This time Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft executive, and his wife Tricia ’78 were interested in restoring the property. With McGinnis coordinating the negotiations, the deal succeeded.
Buying the property was only the first step, says McGinnis, pointing to an aerial photograph of the site. The overhaul involved moving a half-mile of the highway back into the hillside. Then it required taking down some buildings, restoring others, and building new elements to harmonize the architecture of the entire place—which included 21 small cabins from the 1940s. “It had been operated as a funky old inn,” says McGinnis. “It was in rough shape.”
Once the sale was complete, “I got in the car with my construction manager and my designer and said we’re going on a road trip,” says McGinnis. “We went to the Salish, Semiahmoo, Skamania, and the Salishan, all the S’s.” He wanted his team to see each Northwest resort and pick the brains of the owners and operators to “understand what we should be doing here to make it successful.”
The Alderbrook project included new kitchens, meeting rooms, a spa, a bar, waterfront dining, a ballroom, and repairs to the marina. At the same time it protected the saltwater shoreline as well as the freshwater streams that run through the site. It enhanced the Northwest vibe with elements like peeled wood posts in the lobby, pine floors, fireplaces, works from artists of the Skokomish tribe, and inviting furniture.
The whole idea was to create the feel of an old family beach house—only in the hands of a new tech-friendly generation, says McGinnis. That in itself was a good notion, since a number of long-established Northwest families have their beach retreats nearby.
Alderbrook reopened in June 2004 as a full-service upscale hotel and resort. Not everyone can own a house on the beach, says McGinnis, but with Alderbrook they can have that experience.
Washington has been fortunate when it comes to investors willing to rescue and restore historic hospitality landmarks. In Spokane, thanks to a couple willing to venture into the hotel business, the 1914 Kirtland Cutter gem known as The Davenport was saved from the wrecking ball. The downtown grand hotel had been shuttered since shortly after Matthew Jensen ’88 attended his senior prom there.
Jensen, who credits his time as one of the first Cougars to study at Institut Hôtelier “César Ritz” in Le Bouveret, Switzerland, with his understanding of luxury hotels, is today the Davenport’s director of marketing.
Jensen’s career route back to Spokane started with a job as a resort and management trainee at the Hyatt Hotel and Spa in Monterey, California. He soon transferred to the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco. He next took a job with Kimpton Hotel Group, which has boutique hotels in cities around the country. He became Kimpton’s director of sales at the San Francisco Hotel Monaco, moved to Seattle to open another Hotel Monaco, and then became the regional manager overseeing the Monaco, the Alexis, and the Hotel Vintage Plaza in Portland.
To succeed in hospitality, you have to be ready to respond and adapt, even if it means moving from hotel to hotel, says Jensen. “It’s a 24-hour-a-day business. And the only thing you can absolutely count on is change.”
One day a friend in the business encouraged him to look into Spokane’s Davenport Hotel, which had been closed for 15 years but was in the midst of a $30 million restoration. He moved back to his hometown and took the post of director of marketing for the hotel. In just five months, he put together a sales team and a marketing plan to launch the reopening. Eleven years later, the Davenport owners have added a tower to the hotel and picked up the boutique Hotel Lusso across the street to form The Davenport Collection. They are planning still more projects. It’s quite a success for an old grand hotel that was nearly demolished, says Jensen.
As the hotel has modernized, so have the operations. The Davenport’s guests are more savvy and traveled than ever, says Jensen. They have high expectations and many take the extra time to research hotels before making their choice. And the hotel has had to keep apace, says Jensen. “There are so many ways now to show people what you’re like.”
Back in the 1980s, when Jensen was at WSU, the school ran a Seattle Center for Hotel and Restaurant Administration based at Seattle University. Students could spend the last two years of their degrees working in hotels and restaurants in the highly-populated Puget Sound region. The program ended in 1998 after funding was reduced.
It was a real loss, says Burtenshaw. But he and other alumni have created other ways to connect industry leaders with the students in Pullman. In 1981, Burtenshaw and his wife Angelina started a lecture series in honor of their son Brett, who died a few months before his freshman year as a hospitality major at WSU. Each year, the program brings in speakers from around the industry like the co-founder of Panda restaurants, Joe Fugere ’84 of Seattle’s Tutta Bella, Napa Valley vintner Stan Boyd ’78, the chairman of McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurant management group, and most recently the president of the Holland America cruise line. The diversity of speakers shows that there are so many directions to go in the hospitality industry, says director Swanger.
Food alone offers so many opportunities. Under the guidance of faculty and alumni advisors, the culinary program has been enhanced to reflect the growing focus on food in the travel and hospitality industry. The school now has a commercial kitchen, and is using local produce and expertise in training students in the essentials of cuisine.
The school also recently added a degree in wine business management. Given that there are now nearly 700 wineries in the state, it’s time, says Swanger.
As hospitality is growing in new and unexpected directions, the school is working to respond. Cruise lines are bringing a new wave of tourists into our region, and they’re spending extra days in our hotels and exploring our cities and landmarks. And the state now has more than 30 casinos, many of them with accompanying hotels, restaurants, and entertainment stages. Those are more opportunities for exploration and training, says Swanger.
The school is already diving into the new senior-living operations around the state. Much more than senior apartments and cafeterias, they offer restaurant-style dining, housekeeping and linen services, outings for shopping or cultural events, even a concierge. The people who plan, coordinate, and manage these places use the same skills WSU’s hospitality students learn on campus, says Swanger. In 2011, WSU offered its first course in senior living management, tapping into several industry experts from around the state to help teach the course.
More recently, alumni like McGinnis, who now leads the board of advisors for the hospitality program, encouraged Swanger to push the curriculum to include hotel development. A class debuted last spring bringing hospitality students together with students in architecture and construction management to learn first-hand from developers and designers the process of siting and building a new property. They learned about siting projects from representatives of Marriott, land use and design planning from architects Degen & Degen, budget from hotel developer Larry Culver ’64, and revenue projections from the company that manages the Salish Lodge.
Hospitality students today are still grounded in those original subjects of management and food service, but they’re also learning how to build hotels, run senior living campuses, address changing consumer behaviors, and work in an international setting.
“I think that business foundation helps us right away,” says Sarah Carter ’05, who works with Schroader at the Fairmont Olympic. When Carter came to the hotel in 2007, her job was in conference services running events like small corporate board meetings and large conferences. She has recently moved over to sales, where she plans meetings and hotel stays for corporate clients, advisory boards, sports teams, and government delegations.
Since they are trained in so many areas of the business, graduates like Carter can adapt quickly, moving from one area of the business to another, says Swanger. Carter says her time abroad through the program at César Ritz was probably the best part of her degree. “You really learn how to work with other cultures and overcome language barriers,” she says. “Our industry is definitely global.” Carter also credits the industry classes, the help in knowing what to put on her resume, how to dress for her job, how to interview, and how to adapt. “The professionalism they taught us, that really gave us an edge.”
On the web
WSU’s Bell Hop. With a 40-year run, this annual fundraiser tuned the women’s gym into a swank night club.
Celebrating a century on Hood Canal: WSU Hospitality alumnus Brian McGinnis ’77 talks about the history and renovation of the 100-year-old Alderbrook Resort and Spa in western Washington.