Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Honing in on Hospitality

By: Wendy Waren, LRA VP of Communications

At the edge of the mighty Mississippi River, at the point where it takes its shape as a crescent, sits the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, the largest hotel in Louisiana, and where Tony Abadie found his place in the world of New Orleans’ most notable industry—hospitality. As this year’s Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Chair of its Board of Directors, his career ascension began three decades ago when he became an assistant beverage manager there.

Abadie grew up in a restaurant family. His grandfather Jerome “Mena” Maiorana was the general manager at the original Acme Oyster House in New Orleans in the early 1950s through the mid-1960s, before opening his own restaurant—Mena’s Place. It was there Abadie got his start in the restaurant industry as his grandfather’s busser and deliveryman, visiting businesses throughout the French Quarter.

“My grandfather was a special person,” Abadie reminisces. “He never met a stranger and everyone loved him. If someone didn’t have enough to pay for some of his heartwarming New Orleans comfort food, he’d tell them to pay for it next time.”

Mena was so generous that those people “down on their luck” sometimes felt compelled to leave a possession behind to let him know they were good for it. It’s that compassionate and caring nature that shaped a young Abadie into the man he is today. 

“I learned how to be a nice guy from my grandfather, and how to make a Sazerac,” Abadie laughs. “My whole family worked in that restaurant: my grandfather, my mother and her sister, my father and his sister, my brothers…it was the epitome of a typical family restaurant business.”

More restaurant and bar jobs would follow as he paid his way through Louisiana State University while studying mechanical engineering. His first and only internship led him to discover that the career path of engineering wasn’t meant to be.

He returned home in 1982 to New Orleans for the first of many jobs with the Hilton. After moving up through eight management positions, he currently holds the title of Director of Catering and Events, where he oversees a division that produces hundreds of annual events and more than 450,000 meals for hotel event attendees.

“Our job is to make those magical moments come to life for our clients,” shared Abadie. “Everyone has different expectations and listening is the key to delivering what they want.”

The enjoyment of meeting and serving people is the fundamental tie between his early days at Mena’s Place to his ladder climb to his current position. How does a young man so successfully transition from a family-run restaurant in the French Quarter to the largest hotel in the state? Abadie explains that the difference is you don’t have regular customers in a hotel in the same way you do in a restaurant. His hotel “regulars” may hold their annual Carnival ball or their conference every three years, whereas your restaurant customer may come in once a month or more frequently. Regardless of the venue, strong interpersonal skills are necessary.

“In order to survive in this business you have to be a people person. It’s a people business,” said Abadie. “Your truly get out of it what you put into it. I often tell younger people, ‘If you enjoy meeting people and making people happy, a rewarding career awaits’.”

A New Orleans native and Jesuit graduate, Abadie has been a member of the LRA for 32 years and was elected to the state board in 2006. He served as the Greater New Orleans Chapter President in 2005.

“Tony is proof that passion and hard work equals career advancement in our industry,” said Stan Harris, President and CEO of the LRA. “It is important to the future of our industry, that Tony’s story, and others like his, are proudly shared, particularly among lawmakers and young people, to advance the reputation and stature of restaurants in Louisiana and across the nation.”

Abadie has volunteered his time to numerous LRA state board committees and, in addition to his role at the association, has served on the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board and the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience board of directors. Abadie is also a co-founder and current Vice President of the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, which is an annual sponsor of the LRA Education Foundation and its ProStart program.

“I am truly honored and humbled by the opportunity to chair such a well-respected association,” said Abadie. “This year will be a truly rewarding experience and I consider it a privilege to further the restaurant industry’s identity and reputation.” 

In this capacity as LRA Chair, Abadie will serve as the ambassador of Louisiana’s world-renowned restaurant industry. He will travel the state attending chapter meetings and philanthropic events throughout the year and foster the engagement of one of the state’s largest business trade associations.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Tony’s background serve as our chair, as he gives so much of his time to ensuring that the restaurant industry thrives in Louisiana. Tony is an affable and selfless leader and we look forward to his guiding the LRA’s mission and goals this year,” said Harris.

Abadie will celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary this year to wife to Deborah and has two children: a daughter, Julie and son, Stephen. 

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