Ask those in the local hospitality sector what they look for in building successful teams and you’ll get a pretty consistent answer across the board – motivated, hard-working, personable and creative individuals. After a challenging pandemic year, Happy Valley’s hospitality industry is on the rebound, and hoping to rebuild a workforce that possesses those very traits.
Hospitality businesses look to rebuild workforce
At the height of the pandemic, nearly 1,600 Centre County hospitality workers were out of work. With the lifting of COVID restrictions, restaurants, bars and hotels are now facing another challenge – a shortage of employees to meet growing customer demands, not to mention the welcome return of 107,000 strong on football weekends this fall. With restaurants and hotels -- including several new establishments that are set to soon open their doors this summer – hiring at all levels, it’s the perfect time to explore employment in the industry.
Local chefs, restaurant owners and hoteliers are up front in saying that hospitality is not always the easiest industry, but they agree that it is extremely gratifying, and can take those who work in it places where their creative energy leads. The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau asked a few industry standouts to weigh in on their own career path, the value of working in hospitality and what they personally look for in their workforce. They are all currently hiring positions at all levels.
“Servers, mixologists, cooks are professional craftspeople, just like an electrician, automobile technician or mason. They are integral parts of this nation’s backbone.”
Michael Marx, Chef/Owner, Creekside at The Gamble Mill
Creekside at the Gamble Mill & The Republic
Michael Marx has 36 years in the restaurant/catering/motion picture catering/food truck business.
He has trained in Paris, with culinary stints in San Diego, CA, Santa Fe, NM, Philadelphia and Austin, TX.
Owner of Worlds Fare Catering, he will soon open Creekside at the Gamble Mill, featuring a locally sourced, global menu format.
“When I started in this industry, restaurant work was just a resume filler. It’s now a respected professional career,” Marx said. “Servers, mixologists, cooks are professional craftspeople, just like an electrician, automobile technician or mason. They are integral parts of this nation’s backbone.”
Marx said one key to his success in the industry is the knowledge gained from working in every restaurant position and all levels of management. He was also lucky enough to work for chefs who were willing to actually teach. Marx wants to share this same enthusiasm and knowledge with the team he is compiling for his eagerly anticipated Creekside restaurant. He is looking for energetic, passionate professionals with a desire for a culinary future, including bartenders, servers and bussers who want to take their service to the next level. Like the chefs who helped him early in his career, he is willing to do the same for those who want to learn.
Megan Marcaurelle-Jones has been in the service industry for almost 15 years, working in a wide range of different bars and restaurants, including a family-owned Italian restaurant; an Irish Pub; an elegant, traditional tea house; and a semi-corporate microbrewery.
She is about to realize the dream of owning her own establishment – The Republic cocktail bar in the historic Gamble Mill in Bellefonte -- along with husband Cody Jones and business partners Chris and Jonathan Virgilio.
“I just left my longest restaurant job of nine years, and when reflecting on my experience there, I realized just how special this industry can be,” she said. “It thrives on and teamwork.
“It creates a personal connection to people in a fast-paced setting that is constantly moving and changing,” said continued. “Choosing a career in hospitality is certainly rewarding, providing many useful skills that one can carry into every aspect of life.”
Marcaurelle-Jones said she is thankful to have chosen this career path, and looks forward to many more years of serving people in her community, and fostering connections and relationships.
Thoughtful, energetic, passionate team players with bartending or serving backgrounds, and who are committed to delivering consistent customer experiences, will find their fit at The Republic.
RE Farm Cafe, Axemann Brewery & Pine Grove Hall
Born out of deep care for the community and the local food system, RE Farm Café at Windswept combines Duke and Monica Gastiger’s commitment to offering opportunities for community connectedness. They believe connecting food, land and people around that table is a recipe for success.
Duke’s prior corporate life with Sheraton and Hyatt hotels embraced training with master chefs from around the world, learning the essence and nuances of each of their cuisines. With a strong entrepreneurial drive, Duke returned to his college town of State College, PA, and in 1987 opened Spats Café and Speakeasy, a themed “prohibition era” eatery. He operated Spats for 30 years prior to opening Re Farm Café.
His advice for those considering working in the service industry?
“There are many fulfilling aspects that drive all of our employees,” Gastiger said. “Growing food for a community that is interested in health and sourcing is a rewarding aspiration that is held by each of our employees.”
Led by a dedicated team of farm managers, Gastiger said every person working at the farm and cafe is involved in knowing how and where things are evolving and thriving.
“Preparing food with creativity and intentionality of highlighting freshness, flavor, and health is far more than following a recipe,” he said. “The unnamed ingredient is passion. Passion for the art of creating dishes combining all of these factors is what drives our composers.”
“Service staff are unique individuals who truly want the guest to have more than dinner; when people make plans to dine out at a place like RE Farm Cafe, they have expectations. Our service staff is the front line that shares the carefully planned and implemented dining experience."
Duke Gastiger, Owner/Lead Composer, RE Farm Cafe at Windswept
Gastiger’s service staff is eager to know the farming practices and food wonders so they can convey this information with knowledge and pride.
“Service staff are unique individuals who truly want the guest to have more than dinner; when people make plans to dine out at a place like RE Farm Cafe, they have expectations. Our service staff is the front line who shares the carefully planned and implemented dining experience,” he said.
Much like the award-winning – and fellow Central PA Tasting Trail member – Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, Axemann Brewery is the culmination of turning a hobby into a business for owners Rod and Dorothea Stahl.
Prior to opening Axemann Brewery in Bellefonte, Rod had already been brewing with his beer brewing partner Stephen Hirlinger, and had previously started an engineering firm. Dorothea worked in bars and restaurants during college.
“Between his beer making skills and my limited background in the service industry, we made it work,” Dorothea said. “And having a great marketing director from the engineering firm to collaborate with made the transition from brewing in the barn to opening a brewery fun, and made Axemann a success, despite the pandemic.”
Since Axemann was not open prior to COVID, the recent lifting of restrictions is new territory. As they look forward to seeing Axemann Brewery thrive in a fully opened Centre County community, they are looking for team members to support growth.
Rod said they look for “a good personality fit,” and said they can train those team members in the technical side, if necessary. In fact, Axemman has recently taken on several interns on the brewing side of the operation, which helps the business and helps them learn the brewing process from start to finish.
Opening its doors in the summer of 2020, Pine Grove Hall seeks “creative, motivated and hard-working individuals to help create their vision.”
Owner Liz Grove said while it’s not often thought about in this way, working in a restaurant can be a very creative outlet.
“Hiring people who share a passion about their particular area of expertise and giving them the tools and freedom to use that creativity is an incredibly powerful way to build a team to execute the vision of the restaurant,” she said. “We work hard to match a person’s natural skills and personality to the right job.”
Grove said doing so can be the difference between success and failure, not just for the employee but for the restaurant.
“It’s a difficult industry, but it can be extremely rewarding,” she stressed. “Get the right pieces to the puzzle, and let the magic happen!”
Looking to create magic? Hospitality businesses throughout Centre County want to hear from you.