The Front Porch

Hermann’s hospitality tipping point

I’ve had some really good food and drink from the hospitality businesses in Hermann. I define “hospitality” as in “the experience.” This could mean getting a fast food breakfast sandwich on the way to a ballgame, an entertaining night out, starting at a restaurant or wine bar/distillery or doing the whole weekend stay in a B&B or the Hermann Motel. Obviously those “experiences” lie within a vacuum at that moment in time. The price points may be different, but the customer expectation is not. Was I greeted with a smile? Was my breakfast sandwich warm and fresh? Did I have a quick and friendly checkout? In short, when I left, did I have a smile on my face knowing my needs were taken care of—beyond my expectations? Human beings have great memories and if the experience was a good one, we’ll be back. 

I have worked in several facets of the hospitality business, from dishwasher to front desk clerk to food preparation, operations and marketing. If you’re in the restaurant business with table settings, you know how important clean plates, silverware and glassware breakage are to the business’s bottom line. One thing remains common throughout—hospitality is a people business and the expectations are high, whether it is for a cup of coffee or a three course meal with wine. 

There are only so many hospitality workers in a town the size of Hermann. Because of the seasonal nature of Hermann’s tourism, business owners have learned to adapt their cash flow and employment numbers. This is changing if the lodging taxes are to be believed. The winter months are now becoming more profitable collectively, than our celebrated events. That’s probably due to the City’s Tourism Department efforts, led by Tammy Bruckerhoff. Certainly the Chamber of Commerce plays a big part and both groups seem to coordinate well and they are to be commended.

But we have reached a tipping point. We have a finite number of workers, relying heavily on our high school kids and young adults that are supporting families in the area. Oktoberfest will no doubt show some cracks, taking nothing away from those hardworking teams that pull together within their own separate businesses to serve the masses. 

So today, I offer a solution, which is more of a vision—where all great successes begin. 

I knew a husband-wife team from Atlanta that started a small arts school in Savannah, GA., with a couple of other educators and they called it Savannah College of Art and Design or “SCAD” for short. Many have heard of it now, but back then it was just a tiny school with some grant money and a few good educators that taught art/design skills and counselors that focused on job placement. Quality education was paramount. Like many private schools, they have had their scandals over the years, but they started by providing a strong arts curriculum in an area where the arts didn’t exist and there was a demand. The first year, the school enrolled 71 students, and  now, it is around 14,000 students from all 50 states and 100 countries. They also have expanded in Atlanta, Lacoste, France and Sham Shui Po, in Hong Kong.

I have no doubt this could not have gotten off the ground without some strong private resources, taxpayer grant money and good timing. The school has trained hundreds of thousands of young adults in the arts, from gaming to film and documentary-making and production to illustration, fashion design, industrial design, etc.—all in off-the-beaten-path Savannah. Yes they have a major port and are located on the coast in the sun belt, but believe me—“you can’t get there from here.” 

Which brings me to Hermann, geographically challenged as well, but a future “Hub of Hospitality” in the making for those with a vision, grant-writing skills, a fat cell phone rolodex and educational/marketing experience.

I see no reason why this arts model cannot be duplicated at first glance. Internet job finder Monster.com says there are over 16 million hospitality workers in this country. Who has an idea similar to this that is actually doing something? 

One business model is the Los Angeles Hospitality Training Academy (HTA). Their mission is “to train low-income and underserved populations to obtain employment in the hospitality and food service industry and to move up the career ladder to the middle class.”

Their programs are for hospitality/airport workers, baristas, culinary apprenticeships, room attendant apprenticeships, bartenders and a vocational focus to get employed. 

Many of SCAD’s programs were for two-year associate degrees and jobs in the arts fields are not easy to get and often low paying. On the other hand, hospitality jobs are everywhere and though the pay is low for many, it doesn’t have to be. A two year program would be about right to learn all the aspects of the hospitality game, particularly when you include business classes, such as bookkeeping, restaurant inventory and plate pricing. What hotel wouldn’t hire a room attendant on the spot that knows what a tear-down is and how to make a bed like a U.S. Army Sgt.?

I realize Hermann has challenges, but we have built-in charm, (granted on a smaller scale than Savannah) and we have empty buildings, land and a wide variety of hospitality jobs. How does any school provide housing for students? It gets built with the school—baked in. The General Manager for Tin Mill Restaurant and Brewery, Eric Guthrie, tells me they would train the right people how to brew beer. Not only brew beer, but how to market and sell it. Who wants to manage a BBQ restaurant? I know people that are looking—without much luck. The interested people usually don’t have the skills.

We have so much opportunity here. We just need to ignite the “what-if?” thinking and studying the SCAD and  HTA models might be a place to get started.

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