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You are here: Home  September 2009  People Veteran bartender’s advice don’t mix alcohol and work

Veteran bartender’s advice don’t mix alcohol and work

TORONTO—Back in 1959 when Joe Gomes started work at the Park Hyatt hotel, the average price of a house was $12,400, the average annual wage was $5,000 per year, gas was 25 cents a gallon, a stamp cost just 4 cents, and the Royal York Hotel and one insurance tower were the only really tall buildings on the Toronto skyline.

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Joe Gomes, left, receives a cartoon likeness from cartoonist Andy Donato and food author James Chatto.
Through all the changes that have taken place since then, Gomes has stayed at the Park Hyatt, becoming a well-loved fixture at the Rooftop Lounge, a loyal employee who was honoured for his 50 years of service at a reception at the hotel on July 22.

“Joe came to Canada from Madeira [an island belonging to Portugal] on August 13, 1959, and started working at the Park Hyatt on the 24th,” said Park Hyatt GM Paul Verciglio to an audience of dignitaries, hotel colleagues, family and friends at the reception.

“He started as a busboy in the rooftop dining room at 75 cents per hour. Later he worked in banquets and as a roof lounge barback. It took him over 48 years to use his first sick day—and we questioned it!” Verciglio quipped.

“Joe is still a constant at the hotel,” added Nick Vesely, who was Park Hyatt GM from 1990-95 and is now GM at Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto.

The Rooftop Lounge has the longest surviving cocktail licence in the city of Toronto, Verciglio said, referring to the days when gentlemen couldn’t get in without a jacket and tie, and elevator attendants wore white gloves.

The Lounge has been a favourite of Mordecai Richler, Margaret Atwood, Lester B. Pearson and Joe Clark. These people have been honoured by having cartoon likenesses by renowned Toronto cartoonist Andy Donato mounted on the wall.

Now Gomes too will have his cartoon on the wall. Donato presented Gomes with two copies of the cartoon — one for the lounge and one for his home — at the July 22 reception.

Gomes also received two tickets to Madeira from the Park Hyatt, and a book and Portuguese flag from the Consul General of Portugal.

Gomes ended up in the hospitality business by happenstance rather than design.

“When I came to Canada, I didn’t know how to speak English,” he told CLN at the reception. “I was looking for a job and whatever came along, I took it. I started in the hotel business and I stayed. I was very lucky that I started in the Rooftop Lounge.”

In terms of customers’ drinking preferences, gin and vodka martinis are the only constant over the past 50 years, Gomes noted. Back in 1959, guests drank Tom Collins, Singapore Slings, Daiquiris, Gimlets, Manhattans and Planter’s Punch.

“The people that I meet make the job interesting and exciting. It’s like having a party every day with wonderful conversation. They’re happy, I’m happy, and they keep coming back,” he said.

At 67, Gomes has no plans to retire. “I will keep going of course. I enjoy it and everything in my body works. I feel like a 19-year old.” He credits his health to walking, taking care of himself and good genes too!

His advice to young people joining the hospitality industry is this. “Stay away from alcohol, don’t drink and work, and don’t mix business and pleasure. It can ruin your life and you won’t last very long. Take your job seriously, look after your guests well and you will be compensated later.”

Working in the Rooftop Lounge, a favourite haunt of celebrities, particularly during the Toronto International Film Festival, Gomes has met many notable individuals. Which celebrity made the greatest impression on him? The answer: actress Jane Russell, who performed opposite Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He met her when he was just 17.

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