Our American Dream: Son of Poor Farmers Now Has Hippest Job in Hotel Industry

Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present “Our American Dream” – a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.

No one could have predicted Tito Rodríguez’s stellar hospitality career when he was a child.

“I was born in Guyama, Puerto Rico, and it is a very small town on the south side of the island,” says Rodríguez. “I grew up on farms in a small, Spanish, Catholic town. I was up planting coffee, working with farm animals.”

Today, Rodríguez has the enviable position of “vibe manager”—a position created exclusively for him—at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Beach, Fl. “In my work, you really have to look at the trends and think outside the box and experiment with new things," explains Rodríguez. “One of the things we’ve done in Palm Beach is really created a social scene. That comes a lot from where I come from, my Latin heritage, we want to make people feel at home. It comes naturally to me.”

Rodríguez is responsible for anything that relates to the hotel guests’ sensory experience—from the music played in the public space to the décor to the lighting to the cocktails served at the bar—and it is a challenge he adores, especially when it comes to food and sourcing the best-quality local ingredients for his chefs.

I was born in Guyama, Puerto Rico, and it is a very small town on the south side of the island. I grew up on farms in a small, Spanish, Catholic town. I was up planting coffee, working with farm animals.

— Tito

Tito Rodríguez first got interested in the food and beverage world when he started college in New Orleans, where he majored in communications. “I got a job at the Fairmont Hotel as a bartender, and was also working at the historic Sazerac Bar & Grill. I got to know and love the history of classic cocktails, especially the official New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac.”

When not working as a mixologist, the young Rodríguez did some more work that would later come in handy in his career: “I did a local TV show called Our Generation, with all teen correspondents. I did street beats—talked to people about New Orleans, and it really got me out of my shell. That’s one thing, regardless of how I am feeling, I really enjoy connecting with people and putting a smile on their faces.”

Then Rodríguez joined the staff of the Ritz Carlton, where he worked for five years. He then took a break and rejoined the company when the absolutely perfect position for him arose—his current one.

“The Ritz Carlton Palm Beach just got our 5-star, 5-diamond status, only the second hotel in Florida with that honor,” Rodríguez says, “We’re working on keeping that! We’re working on using more and more local products."

“It reminds me of how I grew up—people ask where our ingredients are from. Going back to my roots and that sense of nature, the sense of what’s seasonal, local—that’s what people are hungering for. We use line-caught fish…it’s sustainable; we work with farmers in our area to make sure our produce is top-notch.”

Another reason Rodríguez is so successful is that he is as warm and friendly to his employees as he is to his glittering guests.

“One thing that’s definitely helped me in my career is being bilingual, and having the ability to communicate to people from different cultures,” says Rodríguez. “When I have a new team member, I always ask people if they have the ability to change and to open their hearts to different cultures. I walk through the kitchen and shake their hands. That’s a treat for me. If I don't know their language, I ask them how to say hello in their native tongue.”

Ultimately, Rodríguez is in charge of creating the total atmosphere in the hotel—from the moment a guest walks in until they check out, but he is utterly up to the challenge. “You don’t hear Frank Sinatra in the lobby anymore; we have a DJ. We have a sushi bar. We have a special scent that we use in the hotel, and it hits you as you enter,” says a proud Rodríguez.

“We look at the total package,” he says of his “vibe” and guest services. “We want to keep our culinary aspect fresh. We actually went to the farm where we source our vegetables and hosted a dinner. We have a commitment to the community.”

Laura Vogel is a freelance writer based in California.

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