Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!

 

“During my training workshops about creating a Hospitality Culture I always always share my Walt Disney World Story to illustrate how engaged customer experiences result in Raving Fans.” – Chris Katon, Dine Write Hospitality

 

When the kids were young we made it our tradition to take a yearly vacation to Walt Disney World.

For two years in a row we had stayed inside the resort at Port Orleans and were afforded the royal treatment. About a month before leaving on our now third annual family vacation, that a friend-of-a-friend offered us his condo in Orlando.

“It’s a great place, located about 10 minutes outside the gate,” he said. “It’ll save you a bunch of money that you can spend on the kids.”

And so for about a month I was a hero. My CPA wife was excited about all the money we would be saving. I was simply exhausted after a long season and was looking forward to margarita’s by the pool.

The five hour drive from our home in Bluffton, SC was spent singing songs and eating snacks and playing the license plate game.

A busy tourist season had just a month earlier smashed headlong into the 2008 Banking Crisis and the start of the Recession. That, on top of the stress from her most recent Quarter Close had been weighing heavily on Karla.

We arrived at the condo in Orlando ready to relax.

I was still holding an armload of suitcases when chaos ensued.

“There is a bug in the sink,” squeeled Amanda. “This bed looks slept in,” said Karla. “I’m not moving,” said Sarah.

A quick look around and the bathroom was filthy, there were cobwebs on the windowsill and the sheets looked slept in. I’m not going to lie, we were completely grossed out. Amanda wouldn’t sit on the toilet. Sarah started crying.

“Grab your bags, we’re outta here,” I said. Karla looked at me sideways, knowing I was winging it and didn’t have a plan.

But I did, my plan was simple: We would throw ourselves at the mercy of the staff at Walt Disney World and trust that they would take care of us.

Karla was not impressed. She thought it would be too expensive to stay inside the resort and I didn’t think we could afford not to. I arrived at the front gate and met John from Arkansas.

“How ya’ll doin’ this fine day,” he said.

“Well, actually…” And so it was that I gushed our story of a family vacation gone wrong and shared our plight. I held my breathe for a minute waiting to learn how our fate would unfold.

He simply said, “Welcome Home!”

Welcome home? – Karla was stunned. Heck, I was stunned.

But John from Arkansas was as sincere as could be. He asked for my name and reached forward and shook my hand. “Ya’ll just drive up ahead about a mile to Registration, my friends will be waiting to take good care of you.”

I gave a silent fist pump,”I knew I could count on Disney,” I said.

The Assistant Reservation Manager spotted me with eye contact from across a crowded room and met us 10 feet from the door. Extending her hand and smiling warmly Emily from Texas said, “We’re so excited to have you back at Walt Disney World. Please follow me and we’ll take great care of you.”

That bottomless pit feeling of ruining your family vacation by trying to save you a few bucks was quickly fading into distant memory. And then Emily from Texas turned our experience from Good to Great and transformed me into a Raving Fan.

“I’m pulling up your reservation history on the computer and I see that you enjoyed your last stay at Port Orleans Riverside, is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Karla said. “We tried the French Quarter our first year, but I think Riverside has more activities for the kids.”

“It’s settled then,” Emily from Texas said. “I’m upgrading you to a suite in the same location for the same price that you paid last year.”

Neither Karla or I could believe it.

I’d thought we were going to be begging for a room. Karla thought that they would see we were desperate and charge us through the roof. Instead we were getting upgraded for the same price as we paid last year? Seriously?

That my friends, is Raving Fan Hospitality!

I have learned first hand about that warm, peaceful feeling when a complete stranger goes above and beyond to ensure that my average guest experience is elevated into Return of Guest Service.

“Welcome Home,” such a simple, warm, genuine, feel good response and the #1 reason that I’ll never consider staying off property at Walt Disney World again.

A Taste of Gullah Culture

A Taste of Gullah Culture

 

“A TASTE OF GULLAH CULTURE”
BY CHRIS KATON | PHOTO BY ROB KAUFMAN

Published HILTON HEAD MONTHLY | 29 JANUARY 2014

 

World famous Lowcountry cuisine consists of everything fresh and local
In the Gullah culture, storytellers have the important function of reciting and remembering genealogy and historical information for their village.

These islanders, former slaves from the West African coastal countries of Senegal and Sierra Leone, have inhabited the Sea Islands for generations, and their unique traditions remain largely intact. Equally important to local culture are the recipes they preserved.

“Growing up Gullah means that you learn to make do with what you’ve got,” said chef David Young, owner of Roastfish & Cornbread restaurant on Hilton Head Island.
Young is a locally famous island ambassador and institution to Gullah cooking. He invited us into his kitchen to experience the flavors of the Lowcountry.

On the morning of our visit a delivery from a local farmer brings a bounty of fresh vegetables including collard greens, celery, parsnip, onions and carrots. Minutes later, the fish truck arrives. Today’s fresh catch is red fish and Young is all smiles.

“Traditional Gullah cooking is very vegetarian based, with lots of fresh vegetables, fish and shellfish Anything that’s local,” he said. “We were raised to live off the land, so we planted our vegetables and fished our waters and caught our shrimp and did the best we could with what we had.”

On the day of our visit, Young featured shrimp and grits with sides of collard greens, sweet potato cornbread and red rice that looked, smelled and tasted like a slice of heaven.

Other house favorites include heirloom tomato salad, roasted portabella mushrooms and shrimp gumbo, which includes local shrimp, diced peppers and stewed okra. Native treats include fruit cobbler, homemade meringues and sweet potato cheesecake pie.

Gullah-style grits are a staple in Young’s kitchen as a quick, easy and versatile side dish. In his recipe, Young uses four cups of water, half cup of butter, one cup of stone ground grits, half teaspoon of black pepper and half teaspoon of garlic.

The new Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s is located at 840 William Hilton Parkway in the Atrium Building on Hilton Head Island. Scott Rhodan is an outland Gullah, raised in Ridgeland. Her late father Nathaniel Scott was a skilled farmer. Her mother Earline is a master chef, perfecting recipes handed down from generation to generation. Scott-Rhodan uses those same recipies in her popular restaurant today.

“I often serve them Gullah-style with sautéed shrimp and onions, fresh tomato’s and basil,” Young said. “I also like to pair them with gumbo, bean dishes and fresh vegetables.”

Young is locally famous for his veganstyle Lowcountry red rice, which he serves with collard greens and ovenroasted fish “Slow roasting is a gentle cooking method that guarantees the fish remains moist and tender,” Young said.

He said the most versatile ingredient in his kitchen is homemade vegetable stock. He recommends simmering a hearty mixture of carrots, parsnips, leeks, onion, celery, mushroom, garlic and assorted herbs. The user-friendly stock is then added to flavor vegetarian style soups, stews, bean dishes and rice.

“My goal is to cook it real slow, so that I draw all of the flavor out of the vegetables,” he said.

Hilton Head Island native Elnora Aiken is chairperson of the 18th Annual “Taste of Gullah” to be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1 at the Arts Center.

Aiken’s favorite local dish is Conch Stew, with includes meat from the shellfish cooked with a ham hock and served over white rice. Some people serve the dish with a side of fresh collard greens.

“Either way you serve it, it tastes real good,” she said.

Visitors to the event should try her family recipe for Hoppin’ John, which is served with red field peas and rice. “It’s red in the package and after it’s combined with the rice some people put in a hog jowl or ham neck bone combined all in one pot,” she said.

Other local favorites to be featured are shrimp and okra gumbo, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, oysters and grits and stewed crab. “For us it’s a breakfast meal or dinner meal, depending on your mood,” she said.

Stewed crab and grits include the meat of crab, fried with bacon, then layered with gravy. “Today some people put green peppers in it, but back in the day it was only onion, salt and pepper,” she said.

We discussed the importance of oysters on local culture.

“My mother made a living out of opening oysters at the Oyster House,” Ms. Aiken said. “I remember the men would go out and pick the oysters and the ladies would be back in the oyster house opening them up, then we’d go home and make oysters and grits.”

Her mother’s recipe was fried oysters and rice with onions, bell pepper, celery and seasoning. A traditional Gullah dessert is bread pudding.

“As time passed on people used different flavors but traditionally we used peaches and sugar and real cream and butter,” she said.

Across the island, visitors and residents alike can enjoy homemade oldfashioned pound cakes including “Plucker up Lemon Delight” and “Butter Pecan — Coconut” courtesy of Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s.

“My father was a skilled farmer who was rich in something that money could not buy — the cultural heritage that was passed along from generation to generation,” said chef Dye Scott-Rhodan. “One of the skills he mastered was farming the fields My mom added perfection by preparing the dishes with recipes she got from her mother and grandmother and their mothers. That was passed to my sisters and I.”

Popular menu items include the shrimp burger, crab cakes, whole fried catfish and Lowcountry Boil of shrimp, seasoned with onion, peppers, country sausage, taters and special seasoning. A favorite dish is Grandma’s Pork Chop, served fried or soaked in whiskey sautéed onions with homemade butter sugarcane sauce.

Chef Dye Scott-Rhodan is proud of the rich tradition of the Gullah culture and is doing her best to keep the flavors of the Lowcountry alive. With recipes passed down through generations, she uses only the freshest ingredients from the land and sea.

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