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Hospitality expo not just a career fair but a lifetime’s worth of insight

Hope Brusstar, Copy Editor

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While trekking across campus, students, staff and faculty likely encountered the yard signs advertising UNO’s inaugural Hospitality Expo on Wednesday, Oct. 18. For those who attended, it was “an extremely successful event,” according to Dr. Yvette Green, undergraduate coordinator of UNO’s school of hotel, restaurant and tourism administration. The brainchild of Hospitality, Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism (HRT) faculty since April, the event pulled together 30 local vendors, many of them successful companies nationwide.

Famous New Orleans chef Leah Chase and hospitality CEO Joseph McInerney were invited to give some words of wisdom. Chase spoke of HRT students’ importance  to all of New Orleans and encouraged people to do their best immediately upon entering the industry, beginning with the first job. Afterwards, McInerney described the many aspects of the HRT industry, illustrating the many opportunities it has for growth.

Tables were spread out across the University Center ballroom for exhibitors to offer what Green called “a very interactive experience.” Diverting yet informational experiences, including a virtual reality device allowing participants to immerse themselves in a tourist destination, were scattered throughout the ballroom.

“[Guests could get] a 360-degree view of being in a Mardi Gras parade,” Green said.

Marriott International held ice- and fruit-carving demonstrations; Ralph Brennan Restaurants presented cooking demos and shared samples; Mardi Gras World held mask-making activities; and 12 Seasons Catering provided samples of its cuisine.

Other contributing vendors included Ritz Carlton, Harrah’s Casino, Chef John Besh Restaurants, Raising Canes, Community Coffee and dozens more.

Prospective students, current students, faculty and alumni came to enjoy the door prizes, giveaways, coffee bar, ice cream and free food. “When all was said and done, we had about 200 people,” Green said. The expo was a success, and UNO campus-goers can look forward to another one next year.

But the considerable turnout was not the biggest mark of triumph for Green — to her, the most important goal was to inform those interested in HRT about its plethora of opportunities. This event was not just a career fair.  “[We were] not just telling students about jobs, we were telling them about career opportunities,” she said. “It’s an industry awareness day. [We have] hopes that our high school students and prospective students will join our program.”

The Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration offers several degree programs, including a bachelor’s of science in hotel, restaurant and tourism; an on-campus master’s of science in hospitality and tourism management; and a fully online, one-year executive master’s in hospitality and tourism management. Green explained that the executive master’s “is geared towards industry leaders,” designed for the busy lives of those already deeply involved in HRT.

The Driftwood also had  a tête-à-tête with a few industry leaders: Omar Aziz, Jr., locally known as The Pie Man, and Mr. Felton Jones, Roastmaster of PJ’s. Both men had humble beginnings.

“I’m in charge of the futures market for PJ’s [and of] developing flavor profiles [for the coffee],” Jones said.  He described how Missouri-born owner Phyllis Jordan began the first coffee shop location on Maple Street in 1978. “It mushroomed into what it is today, and it’s all over the country now.”

PJ’s has more than 96 locations, with three in Vietnam, and “we just signed a deal over in Dubai,” Jones said.

Normally, PJ’s executives are looking for master franchisers – people who will open at least five stores at once. These people can come from all walks of life.

“We have some success stories about people who work as employees for the company who end up owning franchises,” Jones said. He wanted to stress that although there is a belief that people just step into executive positions and never have to do any hard work, people who get there have to do hard work, often starting at the bottom.

“That perception of ‘low’ and ‘above’ there’s no such thing.” Jones said. “You have to work hard from the very beginning.”

“You gotta be an infant before you can be an adult,” said Aziz, the locally famous proprietor of Omar’s Pies.

Aziz has fond memories of refusing to work for his father’s pie stand and subsequently discovering that he could make $3,000 in one weekend just by selling pies at Jazz Fest. Based on their experience, both gentlemen agreed that hard work and dedication were their loyal friends throughout their careers.

With remarkable vendors such as these in attendance, it is no wonder that Green felt that the event was worthwhile.

“It was wonderful, we had a great turnout,” Green said, smiling. “We hope to do it again next year.”

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Hospitality expo not just a career fair but a lifetime’s worth of insight