April 5, 2002

Hotel Ezra Cornell Kicks Off 77th Year

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Students in the School of Hotel Administration claim some serious roots in the hospitality industry. They attend the country’s first school to offer an undergraduate management degree in the field, and this weekend many are participating in a tradition of assuming control over a world-class institution, Hotel Ezra Cornell.

During years past, The Statler Hotel — which gives way to Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC) — has closed for the event, which takes place one weekend each year. This time around, the hotel will remain open as an operation separate from HEC. Several other changes were implemented by the undergraduate students representing the 77th HEC board, beginning with the guest list.

“It’s kind of out of place to say that the industry is our alumni,” said Josh Zeltmann ’02, HEC managing director.

That statement bore more truth in HEC’s earlier days when Cornell’s school was the only one placing executives with the industry’s elite hotels and restaurants.

“Now we are inviting industry leaders to the hotel school, and [we are] saying this is who we are,” Zeltmann said.

Zachary Conine ’03, HEC service director, credited the market research carried out by the HEC executive board — a first in the event’s history — for several new aspects of HEC.

Last year HEC opened on a Friday and concluded the next day, whereas the event now runs four days.

Before even beginning to plan the schedule of events for this weekend, the HEC board sought suggestions from their potential guests. It wasn’t until after the winter break that the students had a plan in place for the weekend, according to Annie Wickstrom ’03, HEC human resources director, but by then they learned that their participants wanted four specific things from HEC.

They wanted information that they couldn’t get anywhere else, to meet hotel students at Cornell, to share time with other guests and to enjoy what the Ithaca area has to offer, Wickstrom said. HEC is offering three of the four on the first full day, she added.

When Zeltmann and David Butler, dean of the School of Hotel Administration officially welcome their guests this morning, the greatest difference they notice about HEC ’77 may be its focus on education.

“We’re calling it a para-dig ’em shift,” Conine said.

In years past HEC took on a theme, such as “Panache” last year and “Once in a Lifetime” in 2000 to commemorate HEC’s 75th anniversary. This weekend HEC will offer more workshops than ever before.

Despite the significant changes, however, the student operation still features an elaborate menu. Eight groups have been busy preparing several functions each to cater top-quality food throughout the weekend.

“As the semester progressed we fleshed them out, and that is the basis for what we’re doing today,” said Josh Ronnebaum ’03, HEC executive chef.

The HEC staff ran a recipe test before beginning preparations for the weekend, which includes an awards banquet tonight for 220 guests.

“As long as the needs of our customers are met and our function managers have a chance to be creative with their ideas, then I am happy,” Ronnebaum said.

But Ronnebaum would not portray HEC in modesty.

“We always try to push the envelope a bit,” he added.

Approximately 450 people, mostly hotel school students, will serve as HEC staff for the weekend. Among that group are some prospective students in Cornell’s Class of 2006.

With about $70,000 in revenues for HEC, the board spared little expense to conduct the event — without any financial assistance from the hotel school. The students replaced every coaster, cup and pen that bore the Statler name with one that advertises HEC. They even imported 12-foot palm trees to decorate inside the hotel during the weekend.

In addition, several items were made available through donations, such as plates from Syracuse China, soaps and cosmetics from ADA Luxury Care, and uniforms, shirts, hats and other products sent from the Aramark Corporation.

“The banquet we do here for HEC is as nice as any banquet served at any hotel anywhere in the world,” said Craig Hartman, executive chef for The Statler Hotel.

Hartman, who attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) as a student, is working with students on his second HEC weekend. With Timothy Ryan, CIA president in attendance this weekend, Hartman will be serving his school’s highest officer for the first time in his career.

Several other influential industry executives will be on hand for HEC, but as event organizers were winding down their final preparations late last night, many were talking more about future hospitality leaders.

“HEC is about building relationships,” said Rohan Gopaldas ’02, HEC publicity and education director. “Only through a service-oriented school can you build these connections.”

Some of the most prestigious players in the hospitality industry will be represented this weekend in their own school, but for many of HEC’s planners, the world’s only hotel of note this weekend is Hotel Ezra Cornell.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch