I enjoy good food, yummy cocktails, and delicious wine. I appreciate ambiance, comfort, and good service. Who doesn't? But what I absolutely love most of all are the real life stories of the people behind these experiences. So after a perfect night at Ocean Prime in Beverly Hills--dinner al fresco accompanied by live music, watching the fire's flicker of flames dance along the walls of the restaurant, specialty cocktails (I started with a bubbly berry concoction mixed right at the table), perfectly paired wine, and a cascade of delectable dishes--from Sonoma goat cheese ravioli and ahi tuna tartare to Kansas City Strip steak (dry aged extra long so the flavor jumped out with each bite) and black truffle mac and cheese to a heavenly peanut butter pie (that propelled me well beyond my "I'll just have one bite" intention)--I was completely satiated and enormously grateful to have a moment to connect personally with Andrea Hoover, Cameron Mitchell Restaurant's (CMR) Beverage Operations Manager.
What I heard was an inspiring story of how she is making her mark as a woman in a male-dominated industry -- having risen the ranks from bartender to corporate leader -- and about a company that intentionally and enthusiastically nurtures, grows, and invests in their employees.
Hoover's journey in the hospitality industry began as a little girl--one of 6 daughters, in fact, a role that made her the "taking care kind of person," she is today. As early as 7 years old, her love of bartending and hosting was evident when she put on an apron just for fun and served her dad and his friends beers during their poker nights. And at 13 years old, Hoover's sister let her help host at a neighborhood restaurant. When she graduated high school and her parents bought an old school style steakhouse, her total love for creating a special mood and guest experience for people blossomed. In 2012, despite having a background in nursing and working part time as a yoga teacher, Hoover felt a burning desire to get back into the world of hospitality and joined the CMR restaurant group as a bartender and server.
My favorite part of Andrea's story is when Ryan Valentine, the Beverage Operations Director, sat her down after months of serving and bartending, looked her in the eye, and asked her: "what's your five year plan, kid?" with every intention of helping support and facilitate her vision. Hoover told him she was ready to grow with the company, and Valentine was ready to help make that happen.
It's not only music to my feminist ears to hear about Valentine's support of a young women in an industry dominated by men, but pretty incredible to see this kind of mentorship and investment.
Hoover tells me this is typical of CMR, a company that boasts one of the highest employee retention rates in the industry. The company recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and many of the employees have been with CMR for 15-20 of those years!
It's one thing to have an exquisitely perfect restaurant experience--from the first warm welcome to the impeccable service and tasty meal -- but it's another to know that behind the scenes is a community of people that are cared for, connected, and genuinely happy with their work life.
As an expert in all things beverage -- Hoover can spout out the hottest spirit trends, knows the international bar scene from Tokyo to the UK, and can explain -- in what sounded to me like Pig Latin -- the exact breakdown of the flavor profile of any drink, she tells me that the best part of bartending is simply taking great care of the people she serves.
Embracing the spirit that brought her into the hospitality industry in the first place, Hoover told me: "We can't get caught up in the science of cocktails," (though clearly she's a pro in that arena), "someone is sitting at your bar because they need an ear...or a strong cocktail. Or both!"
Hoover fits perfectly into a corporate culture whose motto she says is: "yes is the answer, now what is your question?" That's certainly the kind of experience I expect when I visit a restaurant of Ocean Prime's caliber -- and one I wholeheartedly received thanks to Hoover and the CMR team.