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December Snap Shots

December 2016 

  Remembering Eric Hilton

He is the Eric of Eric's Restaurant, the namesake of Eric's Club, and one of the brothers responsible for convincing his father – Conrad N. Hilton – to bring the first hospitality school to Texas with the founding of the Conrad N. Hilton “School” of Hotel and Restaurant Management in 1969. On December 10, Hilton College lost a dear friend, advocate and benefactor with the passing of Eric Hilton. As his granddaughter Caitlin said, “We know how much Eric meant to the College and how much the College meant to Eric.” Eric’s lifetime career as a hotelier contributed significantly to the development, growth and operation of Hilton Hotels Corp., now Hilton Worldwide, that his father founded nearly 100 years ago. Throughout his storied career, he has been honored with numerous awards, including the Alumni President’s Award and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Houston. In 2006, he was inducted into the College’s Hospitality Industry Hall of Honor. This news release tells the story of his career, but it’s the stories from former students and long-tenured faculty and staff that paint a true picture of Eric’s charisma, zest for life and what he meant to the College. His generosity was legendary! Charles D. Dorn, CCM (’80), chairman of the Dean’s Advisory Board, remembers one of his many interactions with Eric when he was a student on the then Gourmet Night board of directors. “In 1979, at the tasting dinner for our New Orleans-themed Gourmet Night, Eric felt our planning for the event and its décor was not up to par and suggested – strongly – that we go to New Orleans to do some research. When our GM told him that it would be a financial hardship for us to go, Eric told us he would take care of the rooms,” Charles said. “As it happened, he put us up in the New Orleans Hilton Towers, sent us the largest fruit baskets we had ever seen, and had the hotel’s F&B director host us for a remarkable dinner that included cognac-dipped cigars! Not bad for bunch of 19-year-olds! When we went to check out, Eric had picked up all of our charges, including our daily meeting bill in the bar – alcohol and oysters!” That is the benevolence of Eric Hilton, who helped to build a lasting legacy that is Hilton College. We owe him a great deal. He will be missed. Thank you, Mr. Hilton.


  New Undergraduate Advisory Council Provides Valuable Input

If you want to be the BEST in hospitality, you have to listen to your customers. And who are the customers of Hilton College? Our students. To that end, Dean Dennis Reynolds held the first-ever Undergraduate Advisory Council meeting on Nov. 17. Its members, selected for their leadership and diverse representation of the student body, will help Dean Reynolds identify the strengths of the College, as well as areas for improvement. Inaugural chair Kaitlin Fear, along with vice-chair Adria Watson and council members Sameer Mehta, Fredy Romero, Ethan Campbell, Alli Bickett and Shining Wang met with Dean Reynolds for 90 minutes, although the Dean said, they could have continued talking all afternoon. “Our meeting was tremendous,” Dean Reynolds said. “The students were frank, not critical or negative, and were full of ideas to make our future even better. The agenda spanned numerous areas including the curriculum, our culture, our mission and our traditions.” Kaitlin, who graduated this month, is honored to have been able to help lay the foundation for open and honest communication with the Dean. “He wants to hear the good, the bad and the ugly and wants us to feel secure in telling him anything,” Kaitlin said. “Being able to have an open, transparent conversation with the Dean is incredible.” Going forward, the council will meet with Dean Reynolds twice a semester, and Kaitlin is sure of its success. “I know this council will thrive because of the passion of its members and the open-mindedness of our Dean,” Kaitlin said. “He is always willing to listen to our opinions and has amazing respect for our suggestions. The Dean’s desire to start this council shows that he truly cares about our experience as students and our inevitable transition from college to career. It’s exciting!” (Photo: Katie Guidroz)


  Food Safety Innovators Win $50,000 I-FAST Grant

Combine food safety research with entrepreneurial immersion, and the result could be a product that will vastly enhance food handling practices in restaurants and grocery stores. That is the vision of Professor John Bowen, Assistant Professor Sujata Sirsat, and doctoral student Chandler Yu, winners of the Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Competition. They received $50,000 to further their work in creating and bringing to market food safety training tools that are behavior-based and easily accessed through a smartphone or tablet. “For example, you just place your smartphone on the food safety chart on the wall in the kitchen and it would be linked to a 10 to 15-second video on hand washing or how to sanitize the deli-slicer,” said Dr. Sirsat, principal investigator on the project. By using information that is mobile and instant, managers will have an easy and effective way to motivate employees to follow best practices when it comes to food safety. In addition to Hilton College, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lincoln University and Cornell University were also selected as winners of the competition, a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the National Science Foundation. Earlier this month, the winning teams converged on Washington, D.C., to present their findings. The reception was very positive and encouraging,” Dr. Sirsat said. “Moving forward, we will identify whether there are other areas within the foodservice ecosystem that could benefit from our proposed technology.” Congratulations to our innovative trio. We eagerly await the results of this promising venture! (Photo: Pearl Cajoles)



Kudos to a Familiar Face at Eric’s

He’s the new manager of Eric’s Restaurant, and Juirl Benjamin is definitely more than qualified for the job! In fact, this promotion has been a long time coming… Juirl has been with Eric’s since 1995 when he first came on as kitchen supervisor. Since then, we have seen him in many capacities both in the front and back of the house, and every position he’s had at Eric’s has led him to this point. Juirl has worked as restaurant supervisor and assistant manager, but we’ve also seen him behind the bar, at the host stand, waiting tables, and in any area of the restaurant that has needed his expertise. Through the years, he has been an all-around mentor to the scores of students who have worked at the restaurant. “Teaching is one of things I love about this job,” Juirl said. “Students who come to work for Eric’s come with various degrees of experience, and I enjoy showing them everything from how to hold a broom to all aspects of customer service.” This promotion he said, is a rejuvenating change in his career. “My dedication has always been there, and I look forward to the meetings, being in on the action of running a restaurant, and building my team.” When he’s not busy exceeding guest expectations and showing budding restaurateurs how the job is done, Juirl takes time for another passion – the written word. “I’ve always loved the idea of writing short stories, poems, even comics, and having people react to something you’ve created.” His genre of choice? Sci-Fi. A man of many talents, indeed. We wish Juirl all the best in all his endeavors! (Photo: Pearl Cajoles)



Remembering ‘Coach’ Don Smith

Our Hilton College family was saddened to learn of the passing of “Our Coach” Don Smith on Nov. 29.Coach was an all-conference guard from the University of Illinois, winning high school football coach, independent restaurateur and restaurant chain executive, distinguished professor, industry leader and a tireless educator. Though he only held the position of assistant professor at the College from 1975 to 1978, he had a profound influence on his students. Sitting in Coach Smith’s classroom was akin to being in a locker room. His spirited lectures were more like team pep talks, full of charisma, passion and energy. They were also infused with wisdom, humor and tough love. He motivated, challenged, inspired and prepared “his kids” for their own careers, staying on the sidelines for support long after they left his classroom. Dean’s Advisory Board Chairman and Eric’s Club Secretary Charles Dorn, CCM (’80), a former student of Coach and an adjunct professor at NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, said his decision to start teaching was a direct result of Coach’s suggestion. In a recent note to Coach, Charles wrote, “I know I am a far better educator today because of the hours we have spent through the years discussing teaching, styles, leadership and life.” Charles also credits his talks with Coach for making him a better father, husband, individual and leader. “In all my years, I’ve never met anyone who could build me up and knock me down in the same minute and leave me smiling,” Charles said. When Eric’s Club and other alumni donors raised funds to renovate Alumni Hall, Coach was one of only six of the College’s most iconic educators and leaders chosen by alums to be honored with portraits when the classroom reopened in November 2014. “The teacher who inspired me at 20 became my lifelong mentor and friend,” said Dean’s Advisory Board member and Eric’s Club Director Doug Brooks (‘75), who exchanged weekly emails with Coach until his last days. “He taught us to be a coach to others, because ‘the coach’ makes the difference. So we tried to emulate him in our own lives,” Doug said. “But at the end of the day, he was ‘The Coach’ who made all the difference. He was inspirational to so many people and will truly be missed.” A scholarship endowment to honor Coach Smith’s memory is being established. Contact Miguel Cabrera to learn more.