Secret Hotel Pathways - Kevin Schwartz
Delicious food and generous hospitality complement each other like bread and butter. Kevin Schwartz, former Assistant Food and Beverage Director for the historic Grove Park Inn located in Asheville, NC developed a passion for both while growing up in Indiana.
His successful career can be attributed to his mother's exploration of new recipes as well as his own willingness to experiment with fresh ideas in the kitchen. He has fond memories of family and friends gathering around the dinner table.
|Kevin continues the tradition of creating memories with his family.|
Kevin grew up with farm-to-table style living even though his family did not own a commercial farm. Long before the concept was part of mainstream culture as it is today, Kevin's mom would can hundreds of quarts of food in the fall because they always had a big garden. They enjoyed fresh eggs and also divided fresh meats with several other families.
They always had a stainless steel table in the garage. Farm-style living was a family affair for the Schwartz family.
Aside from his first job of bailing hay for a neighbor, Kevin worked his entire career in the food-beverage and hospitality industries. His story is a perfect example of how diverse the hospitality industry has become over time. Food and beverage is a critical component for successful hotels now.
Even smaller hotels are finding ways to incorporate some type of food and beverage in their offerings. Aside from that, you will never experience more job opportunities compared to the hospitality industry.
Kevin did not start his career by working at a hotel. At age fifteen he acquired a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant and continued working in restaurants during college. He quit school to become a manager at a local, independent Italian restaurant in Ft. Wayne, IN.
He experienced some regrets not finishing college when he was so close to his diploma, but life had different plans. He earned a career instead of a diploma. What an exciting career he was able to enjoy. Even though he has retired from the industry, he is still using his hospitality skills, enjoying fine wine perfectly paired with delicious food and still making meaningful connections around the dinner table.
Kevin often wondered why he didn't get into cooking because he loves to cook, but he typically ended up working front of house for restaurants. You can sense his passion as he talks about his experience in the hospitality industry.
|The Omni Grove Park Inn|
Kevin moved to Western North Carolina to start his life outside of Indiana. He was able to travel the world while initially working part-time at historical Grove Park Inn (built in 1913). Although he had previous restaurant management experience, he was simply needing to reboot professionally and was happy to be hired as a breakfast server for the resort, which he did for six months.
He was a dinner server for Grove Park Inn's fine dining restaurant for a year before recognizing a familiar tug about returning to management.
During his early years at the resort, Kevin hosted informal wine tastings at his home. Each couple brought a bottle of wine and some food. They would enjoy a great time together and learn more about wine. He continued to host these events once a month for two years.
Kevin's mother made homemade wine when he was growing up so he always had a fascination and continued to become more involved with wine throughout his career.
|Kevin Schwartz and his mom|
He created a world class wine program for Grove Park Inn, which gave them more prominence instead of simply buying wine and selling it to guests. Even though Kevin found the project to be a lot of fun, he set a higher goal for his team which helped them reach a Gold Award resort status.
Kevin transformed old walk-in coolers that were not being utilized and refurbished them to be wine cellars. They eventually had five different cellars and several different wine vaults in the restaurant. At the height of the program they had three quarters of a million dollars in wine - actual cost. Because he was buying large amounts of wine, they had enough to last them so he then created verticals, which is lines of one wine. He then started building more depth in countries.
Eventually they received the Award of Excellence. Kevin would have continued developing the program beyond that milestone, but leadership began to invest in other parts of the resort development as well. He is very proud of what his team accomplished and their consistent levels of service.
"I do enjoy management. I enjoy being part of something that you're fielding and training and taking care of people," says Kevin. "I love showing people an experience. Whether you're a manager or staff member, it's best if you desire to help another person have a great experience. As a manager you have a little more freedom to help make that happen - but if you stay in your office all day, that never happens."
Kevin appreciates what his mentor demonstrated for him. He witnessed a former President of Grove Park Inn regularly walk through the hotel lobby and snatch debris from the floor or straighten up a chair at a table. "That is a manager you can emulate," says Kevin. He also learned the benefits of networking on a large scale.
Kevin began networking locally, nationally and globally. He did this by design and met people from all over the world - friends he wouldn't have met otherwise. He enjoyed meeting with local, independent restaurant owners, but he also liked being aware of what is going on with the food industry in general.
During Kevin's management, Grove Park Inn was able to offer their guests a private label house wine that Kevin helped create. "We had a lot of opportunities to try new things as management at Grove Park Inn," says Kevin. "I worked with a director that was willing to let me do more."
To create the wine, Kevin had conversations with leaders in the wine beverage industry and used his networking skills. Throughout the process, he worked with Jed Steele, who put the Kendall Jackson brand of wine on the map before branching out on his own.
Through trial and error they created a product and price point that made them extremely happy. Kevin was also part of the creative process for the bottle label design. He is proud of that accomplishment and that his name is on the label. All his extra effort proved to be very profitable for Grove Park Inn. They more than doubled how much private label wine they were selling.
Following that success, Kevin decided to create a beer for the resort. This occurred around the same time craft beers started receiving more attention. "Asheville, NC was on it's way to becoming Beer City at that time," says Kevin. "It was cool to be part of that and was really a one of a kind experience."
|Kevin worked with Oscar Wong, founder of Highland Brewing Company in a year long process that involved them taking time to find the right blend of ingredients to create Grove Park Inn's Great Gatsby Abbey.|
According to Kevin, "It takes a little more work to do something like that, and a little more nerve - but it was a great experience and the guests liked it too!"
Kevin has personal "Aha!" moments when a particular wine tastes really good with select food, but he came to realize that those moments were even better when other people came together and enjoyed the "Aha!" simultaneously.
Since his retirement, Kevin developed a website called TheAshevilleFoodie.com
He owned and operated Divine Wine & Beer in Asheville, NC for a period of time, again using his networking skills to develop his business project.
Now he is also actively involved in his church and extremely supportive of his wife who is head clergy for their congregation. They enjoy traveling, participating in mission trips, and eating at local, independent restaurants. They also enjoy regularly spending time with their seven godchildren, introducing them to family traditions of gathering around a dinner table while enjoying good food.
|Kevin enjoying a candid, happy moment with his wife, Shekinah Glori|
He was on the board of AIR (Asheville Independent Restaurant Association) for four years with two of them being President of the organization. He continues to volunteer in the community, including participating in A Taste of Asheville - a premiere food, wine and craft beer tasting event. Most importantly, it's a community fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds from the ticket sales every year benefit various programming and outreach efforts, some of which include: Asheville Independent Restaurant Association's Chefs of Tomorrow Scholarships for culinary students at AB-Tech Community college, as well as the GO! Kitchen Ready Training Program (an initiative started by AIR and past AIR board members).
In his spare time, Kevin has also taken up the craft of canning food, just like his mom did when he was growing up. You can find some of her recipes on Kevin's website.
|Another highlight in Kevin's career: Kevin and his staff served food and drinks for US President Barack Obama and his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama during their stay at Grove Park Inn.|
Kevin Schwartz enjoyed a successful career in the hospitality industry. He takes pride in everything he accomplished but speaks most fondly of the personal connections he made along with way. He took time to get to know his employees, to actively improve his hospitality and culinary skills, and to learn what guests appreciate.