Last Fall, Todd Stacy had the fanciest War Eagle moment ever.
While on a business trip to New York City in December, Stacy, then serving as former Alabama Governor Bob Riley’s press secretary, stayed at the Setai Fifth Avenue, a 60-story luxury hotel in midtown Manhattan renowned for its customer service.
“They have a big focus on service and part of that is just being nice and greeting folks,” says Stacy, who now works as Communications Director for Alabama House Speaker (and Auburn Network president) Mike Hubbard. “We were there at the kiosk waiting to meet up with our dinner party and we started talking with someone who worked there, and I’m not sure how Auburn came up, but he said ‘I know Auburn very well. We send our staff down there to train.'”
So the next day — he wanted to see what would happen — Stacy walked into the hotel’s lobby and shouted “War Eagle”… and heard immediate echoes from three staff members.
Chances are Magda Kruzyck, the hotel’s room service assistant food and beverage manager, was one of them.
Kruzyck is one of several Setai employees to have either trained or taught in Auburn University’s Hotel and Restaurant Management Program (HRMP), which was established in 1987 as a partnership between Auburn University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science and West Paces Hotel Group.
Teaching HRMP practicum courses was part of her responsibility as banquet manager for the Hotel at Auburn University, which West Paces manages.
Started by Horst Schulze, the co-founder (and former president and COO) of The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, West Paces has helped make Auburn’s HRMP one of the most respected hospitality training programs in the world.
“It’s a great place to start a career in hospitality,” Kruzyck says. “The Hotel at Auburn University is like the root-hotel of the [West Paces Hotel Group] and can be ‘the door to the big world. Once you are there, you can get the opportunity to help out in openings or move on to [West Pace’s] other properties.”
One of those properties — the newest — is the Setai, which seems to recruit more heavily from The Plains than other West Paces hotels under the company’s Capella brand.
Hans van der Reijden, the Hotel at Auburn University’s managing director of hotel operations and educational initiatives, says at least 10 Setai employees, many of them internationals —Kruzyck is originally from Germany— have come through Auburn’s program.
“I’d say that’s a high concentration,” van der Reijden says.
And it means that an Auburn fan will likely feel a bit more at home at the Setai than oh, say, a Bama fan or an Oregon fan (just ask the green-shirted group who had to endure Auburn cheers from the formerly demure fraulein in charge of room service while watching the BCS national championship game at the hotel bar).
Van der Reijden says that participants in Auburn’s program are encouraged to soak up the spirit of the town as a way to hone their hospitality. But he says that many develop a genuine affection for the university — and for Auburn football; at the Setai’s grand opening, the staff received orange polo shirts from Hotel Manager Francois Luiggi, who chose the color as a nod to Auburn. Kruzyck calls that her first “War Eagle moment” at the hotel.
There have been many more.
“I personally have shared a lot of ‘War Eagles’ with guests, especially when we had a group of alums and professors staying here,” Kruzyk said. “There was a [football] game on during their stay, so I went and watched that game with some of our guests who I knew from my time at Auburn at the Auburn alumni bar here in New York.”
She also thinks she recalls a man shouting “War Eagle” in the lobby one time.
Todd Stacy says he was just keeping the staff on its toes.
“I just wanted to see if their Auburn training included the proper way to greet members of the Auburn family,” Stacy says. “It must have. The three of them didn’t hesitate.”
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