General manager, Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront
Luis Aloma joined the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront hotel in September as general manager of the 951-room, 19-story facility that employs at least 400 people. A Chicago native, he worked his way up within Hyatt over 35 years. His four adult children also are with Hyatt.
I was fortunate to get here Sept. 2 and we had Hurricane Irma on the 11th, so that was quite a greeting. But I worked in Miami for six years. Having gone through hurricanes, you know how to prepare for them and get the building and your associates in the right mindset. Even though it was very uneasy, I had plenty of practice.
We lost the entire first floor, front drive, lobby, Morton’s The Steakhouse restaurant, front desk, behind the front desk, gift shop, human resources, housekeeping, purchasing storeroom, total main kitchen, and the loading dock looked like a swimming pool. We moved our front-desk operation upstairs; we moved our restaurant operations into two of our meeting spaces. We reopened Oct. 14 and we had a group of 300 rooms. The staff here is amazing — great spirit, great attitudes — and that helped get us back on our feet.
The toughest part was getting the lobby floor in. They were large pieces of Italian marble. Once we got that done we were able to get all the other pieces together. But there are a lot more decorative pieces that need to go in. We have three restaurant concepts that we are going to open. The main focus now is getting that lobby (which reopened Feb. 14) to where it needs to be. There’s going to be nothing like it in Jacksonville.
My father was in the business and I said I would never get into it because I saw the sacrifice and the time that he put in and sure enough, I got into it. I have four kids and they all said, “We’d never get into it because we saw how Dad sacrifices and how much time he spends at work.” Now all four of my kids are in the hotel business. It gets in your blood. It’s part of your DNA, and we all love what we do.
Both of my parents are from Cuba. My father (Luis Aloma) came over here when he was 17 to play professional baseball and played for 16 years. He was with the (Chicago) White Sox.
He did a couple of ventures by himself, a couple of bars, and he did a famous restaurant in Chicago called La Havana Madrid. It was first Latin social nightclub. They did a play on it in Chicago, which I saw a couple of times. It was a supper club with live music and salsa. It was way ahead of its time. Then he got out of that and went to work for Americana Hotels in Chicago.
He got me in as a trainee and I left there because I saw this beautiful building being built on Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive and walked into it, and that was our Hyatt hotel. That was a 1,000-room hotel – now it’s a 2,000-room hotel. I said, “Oh my God, I gotta work for this company.”
We have 43 countries represented in my hotel. When you spend time and talk with your associates about their upbringing and their customs, and meeting customers every single day and finding out where they’re from and what they’re like, I find it fascinating to be able to be a part of that. You have so much in common with people once you start talking to them.
Jacksonville has tremendous potential. My observation is you need more density Downtown. More life Downtown, more things to do will really set this city apart because the people are friendly, you’re right on the river and it’s extremely affordable. It’s a great combination to be able to build something special here.