Exclusive Interivew With The CEO And Founder Of The Applewhite Hospitality Academy
Listen to Lamart Applewhite’s live interview on “Let Your Voice Be Heard! Radio above.
After two decades of working in the hospitality industry and in a host of five star hotels, Lamart Applewhite is ready to share the skills that helped him build his career with the rest of the world, starting within his community. Applewhite, the CEO and founder of the Applewhite Hospitality Academy (AHA) in New York City, is a seasoned hotel industry professional with a passion for helping others and customer service. He recently opened AHA on 2090 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd, in Harlem in order to help those displaced by the economy and looking for opportunities within the hospitality and hotel industry.
For six weeks, AHA students are taught the in’s and out’s of hospitality by Applewhite, his Vice President Leigh Russo and one other instructor who all have years of hands-on experience in the field. But unlike other schools in NY, AHA provides entry-level training. It also equips students with the know-how to fulfill up to 19 different positions and provides them with opportunities for student placement.
According to the AHA website, the “job-training program sets the standard for quality and affordable hospitality training.” In return, work benefits, upward mobility and great perks are just a few of the advantages that the industry has to offer, says Applewhite.
I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Applewhite about his school, his inspiration and how he see’s AHA contributing to Harlem. In an exclusive one-on-one interview, he shared his hopes and vision for AHA and what the school can do for you.
Question: What sparked your interests in opening your own hospitality academy?
Applewhite: I’ve been in hospitality for over 20 years and I have trained hundreds of people on how to get jobs or on-the-job-training. It’s a passion of mine, I love customer service. I noticed that throughout my career, [workers] are missing that part of customer service, because they normally don’t know what the hotel business has to offer. People don’t know that you can make it as a career…Some people think it’s just housekeeping, but it’s more than that. You can actually make a full career out it.
Q: What makes AHA different?
A: The program is unique because it’s the first of its kind, no one else is doing this in New York state. You can probably train to be a manager but nobody will teach you an entry-level position. [Plus,] our teachers that we hired have 15 years plus in the industry.
[AHA provides training for] 19 different positions. There’s no cutting corners with us. If you want to learn it, then we are going to teach you. This is very serious and I take it serious. It took me almost a year to find a Vice President. She hired me 20 years ago and it’s our passion–seeing people go through the process.
[AHA training is] good for the employer because you’re going to come to the employer with your resume, you’re going to come to the employer with two documents: one for AHA and one for the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association. It’s going to tell the employer that you have some type of experience. So that alone helps the employer because you’re going to know the customer service aspect. We’re going to bring that back to the community. I think we lost a generation of customer service.
“We’re going to bring that back to the community. I think we lost a generation of customer service.”
Q: Can entry-level skills be learned on the job in the hotel business?
A: Fundamental skills can be picked up on the job, but at the cost of the employer. But if you come there with the experience…then all the employer has to do is teach them their culture.
When you do go to the interview, you are enthusiastic about it because you’re not only going for one position, you know 18 different other positions which you can tell the employer.
Q: What are some of the benefits of working in the hospitality industry?
A: You can make anywhere from $15 per hour to start, up to $20 to start, it all depends on the position you’re in. Housekeeping normally will start you out at $12 to $13 per hour. Within a year you can reach up to $16 and going upwards. Some companies pay $10 per hour, but if you go into a luxury hotel, [it can] pay very well.
Q: What type of benefits does a career in the hospitality industry have to offer?
A: If you go to big, major hotels, even some small hotels…there are numerous opportunities. It all depends on where you work. [In] most hotels you get sick days, vacation days, 401k, medical benefits and perks.
Some hotels have perks where you get to stay at other resorts for free….I got free hotel rooms, all I did was pay to get there. It gives you the opportunity to see what it feels like to be on the other side.
“What I enjoy the most is helping people. That’s the most rewarding. There are a lot of experiences that I have gone through and it really changed my life.”
A: What I enjoy the most is helping people. That’s the most rewarding. There are a lot of experiences that I have gone through and it really changed my life.
…At the Four Seasons, I met numerous people. I’m not liberated to say names, but they were top movie stars. Mostly every movie star that you know, I have dealt with. I used to be in charge of the press junkets. I was in charge of the VIPs…that came to the Four Seasons. I was in charge of all the dignities.
Some [celebrities] had special preference. When I know they were coming in, I looked up what they may want, and I make sure that it’s in their room.
One guest came in and he wanted the concierge to buy him a new Rolls-Royce. The concierge called, got him the Rolls-Royce and he paid for it. My housekeeping now are trained to put little letters in your room If I see you like Coca-Cola, I might just go out and buy it [for a customer].
[Working with high-profile celebrities] can be intense if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why people need to be trained. Some people are used to people being at their beckon call because that’s why they come on vacation. Some people don’t want their sheets washed with everybody’s else’s, and we do it. Some people don’t want bleach, and we do it [for no extra charge].
Q: What is the rate in the hospitality industry?
A: That hospitality industry has over 23,000 employees. It’s the number 3 in the hiring process because hotels are constantly being built.
There are opportunities out there; you just have to get into it. I think AHA holds a little bit of edge because it puts you a little bit closer to getting hired.
Q: What is it like to become a teacher in the hospitality industry?
A: I’m doing the same thing, I’m helping people, but teaching is a different level because I have access to more people. Right now I’m at the Tribeca Blu Hotel [where] I had to train twelve people.
I have other teachers, too, and I’m looking at two others. To start out with, I’ll probably have about four including myself. Hopefully next year we get another two or three [teachers]. [By] middle next year or this year, I’ll probably have more in the Bronx and Brooklyn wherever there is a Work Force One. I’m [also] working on how to get approved for vouchers. The tuition is $2200 in total for six weeks, which includes the books and enrollment.
A typical day [at the school is from] 9 am to 4 pm with a break. It’s very intense. You have to be very focused if this is what you want to do. You have to have customer service skills and have the passion to help another person no matter what. It’s a win-win for everyone.
[We accept] 20 students at a time [and take new enrollments] every six [to] seven weeks.
Q: Who inspired you to work in this industry?
A: My parents who are both now deceased. I really thank God for them bringing me up the way they did. I got my passion from helping others while watching them do it.
The first class starts in February 2013 and each course starts every six weeks. Interested parties can call and find out how to enroll in the next session at: 212-222-5849.
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