By Caitlin Raux

In the words of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat.” When Andrew Massetti (Hospitality Management ’14) was offered a position as Community Manager at Spotluck, the rapidly expanding restaurant app that solves the age-old diner’s dilemma, “Where should we eat dinner tonight?” he didn’t hesitate — he got on board. “We launched in New York with 250 Manhattan restaurants. Now, 8 months later, we have over 100 more, and we’ve expanded to Brooklyn, Queens and Hoboken,” Andrew tells me one afternoon at ICE. With a broad smile that rarely turns off, it’s pretty clear that Andrew is fueled by his job. Andrew’s willingness to take a risk on an idea he believed in, combined with his ICE education in hospitality and all things restaurants — from food production and kitchen management to sales and marketing — made him uniquely qualified for this burgeoning area of the startup world.

Andrew Massetti

Andrew Massetti, Community Manager of Spotluck

The idea behind Spotluck is simple. In a city like New York, where you can’t Uber a block without passing a slew of restaurants, the decision of which restaurant to choose can be a challenge. Spotluck provides a sort of restaurant roulette: take a spin on the mobile-friendly wheel and score a discount for the restaurant where you land. Andrew comes in at the point of access between the restaurants and the app — he introduces Spotluck to restaurant owners, explains to them how it works and shows them how it can improve their businesses. “Every restaurant in New York City has been acquired the same way — by personal touch. I’ve been to every single one and they know me by name,” says Andrew. Rather than chains or corporately owned restaurants, they focus on local, family-owned businesses, where the service they provide can actually make an impact. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. “I work with each restaurant independently, because each has different needs,” Andrew explains. “If they have higher food costs, then I work with them on the discount amount. We want to bring in as many people as possible, but make sure it’s smart for each restaurant.”

Andrew wasn’t always on the hospitality path. The Long Island native received a business degree from SUNY Oneonta, and for a time, considered a career in finance. His mother was a banker and his father a teacher, and as his twin brother had already gone the teaching route, the finance world seemed logical. After college, however, Andrew started seriously reflecting on where his passions lay. “I loved restaurants, I loved traveling, so I figured I’d do something that took everything I loved and combined it into one.” He decided to research hospitality programs, which led him to ICE. “It wasn’t too long, it wasn’t too expensive, it wasn’t a Masters program. It was just the right amount of school to give me a basis in the industry.” Andrew enrolled in the hospitality program at ICE, where he started laying the foundation for the dynamic career ahead of him.

I loved restaurants, I loved traveling, so I figured I’d do something that took everything I loved and combined it into one.

When he started at ICE, Andrew was sure about one thing: he wanted to work in hospitality. But as he progressed through the Hospitality Management program, he was able to home in on where in that vast industry he wanted to be. Through his externship and class field trips to notable New York hotels, Andrew realized that he wanted to work in a “lifestyle” property — a hotel that offers high quality service in a more casual setting. “Our class took a trip to the Ace Hotel and I thought, ‘This is somewhere I can see myself working.’” With that in mind, he landed his first post-graduation position as a guest services agent at the Refinery Hotel, a hip boutique hotel housed in a former millinery factory and tea salon. There he cut his teeth on front-of-house operations, gaining experience doing something that seems to come natural to him — interfacing with clients. He knew, however, that his long-term goals were in another part of hospitality. “I used my front desk experience to propel me into sales and marketing,” says Andrew, who transitioned to a role as sales and marketing coordinator at the Knickerbocker Hotel, the famed hotel originally constructed by John Jacob Astor IV. It was an ideal position, and one he had no plans of leaving, until he was approached with the opportunity to join Spotluck. The Maryland-based startup was on the brink of expanding into the New York market and needed a person on the ground to form relationships with local restaurant owners. Andrew believed in Spotluck’s mission and took a leap of faith.

Spotluck

Spotluck in action

During his school days, Andrew took inspiration from ICE’s campus — New York City. “I loved being in the city, loved being in the hustle and bustle. I would walk around the hotels and see what restaurants were around. I was learning about the industry from just being there.” Today, a large part of Andrew’s role as Community Manager is hitting the pavement. “I’ve put in a lot of miles. I’ve walked probably every street in the city,” Andrew says with a laugh. Perhaps not every city street (Ed. note: figures estimate around 120,000 blocks in the five boroughs of New York), but he’s done an impressive amount of firsthand research on each neighborhood where Spotluck has a presence. He figures out what the needs are and combines those observations with his knowledge and training from the hospitality program to help local restaurants to bring diners in. “During the restaurant operations class, I learned about food costs, revenue per seat hour and all the math involved in operating a restaurant. For every restaurant, their goal is to fill each seat and turn each table as many times as they can. I learned that at ICE.” In a time when more and more customers are opting for delivery services, convincing diners to forego Netflix and takeout for a traditional restaurant experience is more challenging than ever. That’s why the service provided by Andrew and Spotluck is so valuable — to restaurants and diners alike.

A key player in a growing restaurant startup may not be where Andrew expected to be, but in retrospect, each step prepared him for the next. And he seems nothing if not thrilled with where he ended up. For him, the intersection between startups and hospitality is the perfect fit. “It’s a unique job. If I go out today and add another restaurant to the app, we’re doing good for the restaurant and for the community,” Andrew tells me. “The most rewarding part for me is knowing that what I do every day is having a direct impact on the company.” Oh, and the perks. Of course, there are excellent perks: “Our restaurants are great — they love to feed us.”

Ready to get on the path toward your dream career? Learn more about ICE’s career programs. 

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By Caitlin Raux

On any given morning, you can find Christina Delli Santi (Hospitality Management, ‘15) quietly tending to the flower cart in the entrance of the Ace Hotel. For Christina, it’s a brief moment of peace and reflection, and an opportunity to check in with herself before she spends the rest of the day checking in with others. Soon enough, she’ll be assisting hotel guests, plowing through meeting after meeting and making sure everything in the hotel’s front office is copacetic — all part of her duties as Director of Front Office. A former hair stylist who left salons to pursue a career in hospitality, client satisfaction is a natural priority for Christina. “I love people — hearing their story and trying to help them — that’s hospitality to me,” says Christina.

Early on a Tuesday morning, Christina and I met in the buzzing Ace Hotel lobby, where laptop-wielding creative types were already competing for prime real estate at the cozy lobby tables. We chatted about her switch from hairstyling to hospitality, and how in just two years, she moved up the ranks to director-level at Ace.

How long have you been working at Ace Hotel?

I’ve been in the building for two years now. I originally started over at The Breslin [the Ace Hotel’s acclaimed gastropub, led by Chef April Bloomfield], through my externship.

So you studied hospitality management but started with a culinary position?

When I was looking for an externship, there was an alum who was working here at the time. ICE Career Services advisor Tessa [Thompson] reached out to him and told him that I was really interested in working at Ace or The Breslin. Originally, when I enrolled in the hospitality program, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in hotels. I enrolled in the program more for the event organizing aspect. I wanted to do weddings and parties. I figured I would work for a restaurant group or something like that. I never thought about working in a hotel. The idea of a bigger hotel wasn’t for me.

I ended up getting an externship at The Breslin. At first I was in the events department, doing a little bit of everything — working with the kitchen, ordering food and organizing private bookings for parties. It was really cool because it was exactly where I wanted to be, in terms of learning.

Christina Delli Santi

How did you transition to director of front office? And so fast!

A few months after I started, Ace was about to open another location in Pittsburgh and the front office manager left to work there. The front office manager had been there for a while — one thing about Ace Hotel, a lot of people who come here wind up staying. It becomes like a home that people enjoy coming to and working. The front office manager who left, Sean Walsh, actually works at ICE now as a teacher in the hospitality program. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take his position, because it meant running a whole department — the bellmen, the front office, the rooms — but I knew that I loved it there and I could do it. So I just did it. I applied for and got the position as front office manager and stayed there for about a year. Now I’m director of the front office.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I love getting in super early, when the lobby is still quiet. It can get a little crazy-busy, so I love arriving around 7:00am. The first thing I do is review the VIP arrivals. I do a walk-through of the lobby, because this is the “shared space” and we have to communicate with all the other departments, from housekeeping to engineering to the Breslin staff, about it. Then I check the flower cart, which is my moment of peace for the day. I grew up around flowers because my parents own a flower shop, so that’s the moment I take to meditate on what the day will bring. After that, the day really revs up: I see who’s coming in, read the guest preferences, make sure everything is ready. We have guests that have been coming here since we opened [in 2009]. I think our number one guest has been here 200 times. We get a mixed crowd of really cool business travelers, like startups and bloggers, who really enjoy the lobby vibe. My team reviews the names of all guests who are coming, so they see if we have VIPs, or if someone works for a certain company or industry, we’ll write them a special note or do something that pertains specifically to them. I meet with all of the department heads at 9:30am and everyone goes through their whole day. We group in the morning, then we break and talk to each other a million times per day. The morning is about getting people out the door and the afternoon is about getting them in. I usually come to the desk around check-out time to see how guests enjoyed their stay. Then I come back at check-in time to make sure everything is flowing properly. It stays pretty busy. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve been here for 12-14 hours. Ace hotel

You said you were a hairdresser before switching to hospitality. What inspired that career change?

I became a hairdresser right out of high school. I’m from north [New] Jersey and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do out of high school. I didn’t think college was for me, so I went to cosmetology school when I was 18. I was a hairdresser for about 10 years. I had so much fun with it, working in tiny salons throughout Jersey before joining a bigger company called Toni & Guy, to advance my career. I loved it because you’re always giving something to people — helping them if they have a bad day or giving them a new hairstyle. I love people — hearing their story and trying to help them — that’s hospitality to me. Eventually I started managing salons, and was offered the opportunity to become a partial owner of a salon. I was 28 at the time — I’m 30 now, so this was pretty recent. But I wanted to try something new. As I got older, school seemed more interesting to me. I actually wanted to go to class and learn. I knew I wanted to go back to school and get into hospitality and events. I had some experience with organizing events while working in the salons. I found ICE and thought [the hospitality management program] was perfect because I didn’t want to go to school for three years. I’m the kind of person who’s very hands-on — I learn things on the job.

It’s interesting that you began the hospitality program with event-planning goals. A lot of people aim to work in more traditional hotels and tourism positions.Christina Ace hotel

I definitely came with an event-planning motivation. I wanted to learn how to break down budgets and plan events, and expand my food and beverage background a bit.

Do you keep in touch with anyone from the ICE hospitality program?

I do. It’s hard because everyone is so busy all the time. But I always float around opportunities that come up at the hotel. I’ve interviewed three people I graduated with for various positions here. I think I talk to Tom [Voss] the most. He called me last week to ask if he could bring hospitality students in for a tour.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I really love the people I work with. I think it’s so important to work in an environment with passionate people. At the end of the day, we do the same thing. The people who have worked here for years and have been in the industry for so long, they do the same thing most days. You check people out, check people in and create an experience for them. But every day, it’s so fun to work with the people here because everyone has so much passion. I think we’re the type of company that we don’t just have the same thing going on. There’s always new artwork in the galleries and fun events going on. It’s not your traditional hotel. We get to have a lot of fun. Our guests become our friends. If they’re having a bad day, they can come talk to us. But my General Manager always says, “Take care of the internal (employees) first, and then the external (guests) will follow.” Because if you take care of your team, they, in turn, will be able to take care of your guests.

Ready for an exciting career in hospitality with opportunities around the globe? Click here to learn about ICE’s award-winning career programs. 

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Here’s a question: What inspires students to enroll in ICE’s hospitality management program? Several of our students, past and present, answered that question and turns out there are myriad reasons why students choose to study hospitality management at ICE.

Rommel Gopez

Rommel Gopez, Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Edison

For Rommel Gopez (Hospitality ’14), it was an unquenchable thirst for international travel combined with a love of meeting new people that led him to the hospitality industry. In his words, “I love talking to people from all over the world. I’ll talk to someone from one country and then think, ‘Oh, I should travel there next.’ And when I do travel there, I already have a friend.” After spending years working on international cruise ships, he decided to enroll at ICE. Rommel explained, “I wanted the diploma to go with my work experience. And I learned so much [during my time at ICE]. I learned about hotel industry unions, management skills and the culinary side of hospitality. We also had the chance to get in the kitchen and prepare food. I love cooking, so that was a great experience.”

For Madison Malchiodi (Hospitality ’15), a job at Subway during college sparked her passion for service. As she recalled, “Over time, my job taught me something about myself: I took pride in serving as the shift manager, in taking on the responsibility of opening and closing the store.” This first brush with hospitality led her to ICE — a place where she could “boost [her] knowledge of management and service.”

ryan alexey headshot

Ryan Kim

For Ryan Kim (Hospitality ’16), a native of Seoul, South Korea, ICE’s hospitality management program was the perfect fit for a food lover who preferred to work outside of the kitchen. Ryan explained, “As much as I loved cooking and baking, I knew I wasn’t passionate about spending the rest of my life working as a pastry chef. I was looking for a way to be around food, but realized I would rather manage an establishment than be in the kitchen.”

Reeya Banerjee, a current ICE student with nearly ten years’ hospitality experience under her belt, chose ICE in order to catapult her career to the next level. “Between the classroom component and the externship requirement, the Institute of Culinary Education has a hands-on practical approach to education that appeals to me.” Another current student, Julie Milack, was drawn to ICE’s flexible schedule options — with morning, afternoon and evening schedules beginning on a rolling basis. According to Julie, “I chose ICE due to its flexible schedule that fit perfectly into mine.” With an intensive program spanning just 12 months, ICE is the best route for professionals looking to make a career change.

Though many paths lead them to ICE, our students share a passion for hospitality and service. From hands-on training with the latest property management systems to field trips into NYC’s premier hotels and resorts, ICE gives them the tools and experience to turn that passion into a career with endless opportunities around the globe.

Ready to launch (or advance) your career in hospitality? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

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By Caitlin Raux

On a crisp February morning, I met with Rommel Gopez (Hospitality Management ’14) in the lobby of Hotel Edison, where he’s Director of Guest Relations. The first thing I notice about Rommel is his dapper appearance — he’s sporting a navy, three-piece suit and a purple pocket square placed with just a touch of nonchalance. Nestled in the bustling Times Square District, the hotel is buzzing with eager out-of-towners. As he shows me around the art deco lobby, the second thing I notice about Rommel is his way with people: he treats both guests and colleagues with warmth and genuine attention, putting an arm around the doorman when we take a few portraits outside. He’s no doubt a people person — and given his love for international travel, it makes perfect sense that Rommel ended up in the hospitality business. The Hospitality Management alum was generous enough to take time from one of his usual, hectic mornings to chat with me for an ICE blog interview.

Rommel Gopez

You’re originally from Hawaii — did you stay there after high school?

After high school, I joined the military, the US Army, for five years. Then I decided to work on a cruise ship so I could travel for free with work. I did that for a while until I started working in hotels, using my experience from the cruise ships.

It sounds like you have the travel bug.

Yes, I love it. And that’s part of the reason why I love the business itself. I love talking to people from all over the world. I’ll talk to someone from one country and then think, “Oh, I should travel there next.” And when I do travel there, I already have a friend.

What made you decide to come to ICE?

Before I went to ICE, I was already working in the hospitality industry. But I wanted to learn more and have something under my belt to show that I was serious about my profession. I wanted the diploma to go with my work experience. And I learned so much [during my time at ICE]. I learned about hotel industry unions, management skills and the culinary side of hospitality. We also had the chance to get in the kitchen and prepare food. I love cooking, so that was a great experience.

Rommel Gopez

What skills that you learned at ICE do you use in your current role as Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Edison?

I already knew Opera (a premier property management software) when I started at ICE, but ICE gave me the knowledge to teach the system. I’ve often had to train other employees, so this skill has been incredibly useful — not all, but I’d say 90% of hotels use Opera as their PMS. Additionally, the courses on union rules were a great help, professionally, because we have a large number of union employees.

Can you tell me about a-day-in-the-life in your current role?

It’s always busy. I get in at 6:30am in the morning and get out at 5:00 or 6:00pm. The first thing I do when I come in is check on my arrivals and my availability for the day. I check the rate and the occupancy. Then I look at how many VIPs I have and see whether I have enough rooms for my VIPs to be upgraded. I check emails and do my reports. From there, we have meetings and the day continues — I’m in the lobby talking to guests, showing rooms to guests, talking to my team about what’s coming up and any other issues.

What types of things do you report on?

I report on my VIP list, whether I have an executive VIP, honeymooners or birthday VIPs. I flag them all and make sure they have the proper amenities. We make sure that their rooms are ready. We prep everyone, not just my team, but all the other teams at the hotel as well. It’s important that everyone is aware of what’s going on.

Rommel Gopez

What’s the difference between Director of Guest Relations and a concierge service?

The concierge is someone who offers guests recommendations about the city: the theatre, where to shop, restaurants, maps, and so on. My job is quite a bit different: I’m making sure that our VIPs are satisfied so that they’ll come back. By their second stay, most guests already know me and my team. And we already know what they want and which room they want. We want to make sure that when they get to the hotel, everything is ready for them. Many of the guests email me directly to let me know when they’re coming.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

Trying to get a team together that has the same passion and the same mentality as me. The hospitality industry is hard because it’s all about people and service. You have to have the patience, the passion and the willingness to do the job no matter what. We can’t satisfy everyone, but if you have those qualities and a good attitude too, you’ll be successful.

Are there any surprising parts of your job?

Yes, people think we can give everything for free (laughs), which isn’t the case. But we always do our best to accommodate.

How do you see the industry changing?

It’s changing constantly. We have hotels popping up left and right in New York City. A lot of great hotels are popping up in Brooklyn these days. That’s a lot of positions that need to be filled. The hospitality management program must be booming right now.

Do you see yourself working in hospitality in any other cities?

That’s for when I retire (laughs). No, I think New York is the city for me. If you want to work in a hotel, there’s no place like New York City. The experience you get here is like no other.

Learn how you can launch an exciting, international career in hospitality — click here for more info.

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ryan alexey headshot
By Ryan Kim—Student, School of Hospitality Management

Growing up in Seoul, South Korea, I never really cared for extracurricular activities, sports never seemed that exciting and Model United Nations was simply not for me. Around the age of 12 or 13, I baked my first cake and realized how much I enjoyed cooking—and especially baking. For years, I dreamed of attending culinary school and yet I ended up at Smith College, studying completely different interests: architecture and art history. As much as I enjoyed these studies, after three years I made the decision to take a year off to pursue my culinary passion.

As I was concluding my search of which culinary institute to attend, I was torn between the Institute of Culinary Education and one other school. The opportunity to study in New York City played an important role in my decision, but ultimately I selected ICE because of the faculty and staff. During my entire application process, I was overseas and traveling which meant that getting in contact with the admissions staff was especially difficult. Despite all the missed calls and awful time differences, I was able to work through it with ICE admissions representative Ron Toomer, who made the process so simple from beginning to end.

Hospitality wasn’t originally what I planned to study. Initially, I was interested in the School of Pastry and Baking Arts, but as much as I loved cooking and baking, I knew I wasn’t passionate about spending the rest of my life working as a pastry chef. I was looking for a way to be around food, but realized I would rather manage an establishment than be in the kitchen. That’s when I learned about ICE’s Hospitality Management program.

Hospitality Management Opera POS

At first, I worried that Hospitality Management wouldn’t be as exciting as a hands-on culinary program. Yet just weeks into the program, both Plemmie Lawson, instructor for our human resources course, and Tom Voss, the dean of the School of Hospitality Management, have blown me away with their enthusiasm for the material. I know this year will not be filled with boring lectures. Moreover, I know that this program will enable me to work in so many different industries, including restaurants and casinos.

The program wastes no time introducing students to guest speakers. The first person to visit our class was Matthew Dempsey, the general manager at The Bowery House, a boutique hostel in a trendy location. Complemented by the robust and interesting history of the Bowery, the hostel is ideal for visitors who’d like an affordable place to stay in one of the most popular neighborhoods in New York City. One phrase Dempsey mentioned that stuck was the term “ECHO,” which stands for “Every Contact Has Opportunity.” His advice was to be ready—keep up with current events, be ready to have any sort of conversation, be hospitable, listen to the guests and anticipate their needs.

lecture - culinary management - kate edwards - steve zagor - classroom

On the other end of the spectrum, we met with the concierge and the senior catering director from the luxurious Palace Hotel. Their presentation gave our class a better understanding of the managerial aspects of hospitality: how to motivate your employees with the right incentives, maintain and create genuine professional relationships and develop a sense of teamwork within the workplace.

Just two months into the program, I know this is just a small taste of the interesting lectures that are to come. One theme that has remained with every speaker who has visited our class is that to work in this industry you must have a passion for what you do and you have to be willing to go above and beyond what is asked. It’s a steep road to becoming successful in hospitality—but if you enjoy your work, it’s a thoroughly rewarding journey to the top.

Click here to receive free information about ICE’s Hospitality Management program.

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