Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Hospitality Management Program Coordinator, Stephen Fries, lives by the mantra “follow your dreams.”  He's been teaching since 1986, and over the years, his love of the industry led to his work as a food columnist for the New Haven Register and after 10 years, he never seems to be at a loss for fresh inspiration for his weekly writing. 

Although he has a vast knowledge of food and has judged at cooking contests, Steve admits that he isn’t a trained chef and never set out to be a writer when he started his career.  Growing up near large resort hotels in the Catskill Mountains, he was fascinated by the glamour and excitement of the hospitality field.  During high school, he gained exposure to the inner workings of the hotel and restaurant business, working in the kitchen, dining room and front desk of a few of the hotels.  Steve quickly realized that he wanted to develop an understanding of the complexities of the business from the ground up.    


Steve received his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany.  His first exposure to teaching came during graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst when he was a hotel accounting instructor.  After completing his master’s in Hotel, Restaurant & Travel Administration, Steve was hired as director of rooms at a 400-room resort in the Catskills, where he had worked for several summers and vacations while in college.  He moved on to director of sales and marketing for a corporate-owned Quality Inn Hotel and Resort in Albany, New York, and saw the fruits of his labor as the hotel became more profitable.  At the same time, Steve was covering the travel and tour markets as a salesperson for the 42 corporate-owned hotels within the chain. 


As an adjunct instructor at Sullivan County Community College in New York, Steve taught hospitality sales and marketing and front office management. While he enjoyed teaching part-time, Steve felt that he should accumulate substantial industry experience before taking on fulltime teaching, so he continued to build his career by moving to Connecticut as director of sales and marketing at the Sheraton Hotel in Waterbury. He went on to become the national director of sales and marketing for the Sheraton Tara Hotels where he oversaw 12 properties.  When he saw an ad for a job teaching hospitality classes at Manchester Community College, Steve knew immediately that the time was right to make a career shift. He followed his calling to teach and after a semester at Manchester, joined the faculty at South Central Community College, now Gateway Community College.  

Steve remains committed to his belief in staying current in the industry, and through the American Society of Association Executives, he took part in programs at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, the Sheraton at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii and at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida.  As Hospitality Management Program Coordinator, Steve sets up internships and stays current in the hospitality industry.  He also teaches accounting courses.  


Steve has had a formidable impact on his students. He enjoys reconnecting with students who continue to seek his advice after they leave GCC and are looking towards their next step in their career.  The best part of teaching, Steve said, “is when I see a student progress in the industry, to see them accomplish their goals.”  

GCC grad, Deborah Mele was a floral designer before deciding at age 39 to change careers.  Now group sales manager at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, Mele said Steve’s technique of bringing storytelling to his teaching made the material come to life.  She noted that he spoke about his experiences in the industry, using concrete examples, making the topics presented in class relevant.  

“He goes one step further,” said Mele, who went to the University of New Haven to complete her bachelor’s and taught at GCC as an adjunct before moving to Florida.  “He works with every student to get an internship.  He really puts his heart and soul into helping students achieve.”     

Hospitality Management students learn all about operating “the front of the house,” including why some businesses fail, and how to avoid those pitfalls.  "Marketing, staffing and legalities all come in to play," he said.  "Most of the students enter the hospitality industry as guest service agents, restaurant hosts and hostesses, supervisors, banquet sales positions at catering facilities, trade show organizers, hotel sales, or in various positions in restaurant kitchens."   
Steve is on the board of the Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau, the state’s destination marketing organization charged with bringing meetings, incentives, conventions, expositions, and sporting events to the state.  The bureau collaborates with communities in the state to drive economic growth, new tax revenue and jobs.  He is also a board member of the New Haven Festivals, Inc. (NHFI), the nonprofit arm of the City of New Haven Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism.  Steve is an active member in the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and works with the GCC Foundation to organize the Chefs Of Our Kitchen (C.O.O.K.) Series arranging for local and national cookbook authors, and area and celebrity chefs who come to GCC to provide cooking demonstrations, giving culinary students the chance to work side-by-side with the featured guest chefs/authors. 

Steve's own experiences provides real-world experience for his students. For years, he enjoyed reading “You Asked For It,” a column by Suzanne Jones that appeared regularly in the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Florida.  His parents, who live in Florida, saved the clippings for him.  When proposed writing a similar column for the New Haven Register, he had no idea how successful it would be when it was accepted.   The column has amassed a sizable following and is now syndicated by Hearst Media publications throughout the state and in the Houston Chronicle.  Steve is now co-director of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ), an international association whose goal is to preserve and perpetuate responsible journalism across media platforms.  

During a quick trip to the supermarket, Steve said that he often gets recognized by his resemblance to the picture in the newspaper column as he passes through the aisles. "It's an easy dialogue" he says, when his readers engage him to talk about food.