May 7–13, 2023 is National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW), an annual tradition to celebrate the U.S. travel community and tourism’s essential role in stimulating economic growth, cultivating vibrant communities, creating quality job opportunities, inspiring new businesses and elevating the quality of life for Americans every day.
Tourism is essential to our region and plays an integral role in Norfolk’s economy. As the third largest economic driver for our city, the travel and tourism industry mobilized a $136.8 million impact in fiscal year 2022. With over 7,000 jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector, our industry attracts a multitude of talents and provides significant economic benefits to both local businesses and Norfolk residents.
To celebrate tourism in our city and to shine a light on the individuals and teams who make Norfolk such a welcoming city to experience, VisitNorfolk established in 2002 the Champion of Hospitality Awards. From March 13–April 7 we invited anyone who has had a positive hospitality experience in Norfolk to nominate an individual or an entire team for the Champion of Hospitality Awards. We are excited to share the winners of this year’s awards and encourage you to visit these Champions of Hospitality in person during your next Norfolk experience.
Peter G. Decker, Jr. Hospitality Associate of the Year
Ricky White, Front Desk Manager
“I’m nominating Ricky White as he has been an employee at Nauticus for over 20 years. Of the 370,000 guests Nauticus sees each year, Ricky is the first person to greet each and every one of them with a smiling face and welcoming attitude. Whether the guest is here to visit the Museum, go for a sail, participate in a military ceremony on the Battleship Wisconsin or head out on a cruise at the Half Moone, Ricky is ready to make their day at Nauticus the best one yet. We are so lucky to have such an amazing team member represent Nauticus.” —Rehn West, Director of Development & Marketing, Nauticus
Champion of Hospitality Winners
Brian Brinson, Owner
“Brian is such a good guy who is dedicated to providing fresh, quality fare to a steady stream of Downtown diners. Two employees total are responsible for running the Lizard Cafe, and they have made it into the little gem that it is today.” —Barbara Gullickson, Director of Visitor Experience, VisitNorfolk
Yvan Devulder, Owner
“I wanted to recognize Yvan because without him, La Brioche would not exist. He initiated this project, and today he carries out and does essential and colossal work for our company.
For over four years, Yvan has been personally creating, developing and perfecting all of our recipes completely on his own (including creams, pastries, doughs, homemade chocolates, cookies and more) with impressive precision and rigor. Customers see me at the front of the shop and regularly praise me for our products, but it is truly him who runs our entire production and ensures that we maintain the same quality since the beginning. He holds himself to a high standard and has unlimited curiosity and great creativity, and he is also someone who regularly questions himself and is very professionally humble.
He arrived in Norfolk without speaking English, but that didn’t stop him from moving forward. We have been a couple for 30 years, and I am really impressed and have great admiration for him and his work. He is an extremely talented pastry chef, chocolatier and baker who is also very passionate about food.
Il est évidemment très gourmand.
He is obviously a big sweet tooth.”
—Jacqueline Devulder, Wife and Co-Owner, La Brioche
Ashtyn Greene, Founder
Virginia Cheese Company
“She greatly cares for her customers and is so knowledgeable about cheese. Every time I leave there I have learned something new!” —Hannah Christensen
Hampton Roads Transit Light Rail Operators
“Each day, operators of “The Tide” play an integral and important part of the region’s hospitality industry. During this transition into the post-pandemic era, while the number of visitors to the City of Norfolk continues to grow, the HRT Light Rail operators work tirelessly (often with a smile on their face!) to ensure that Norfolk’s visitors and residents alike can get around the city in a safe, efficient and relaxing manner. Thanks to our operators, guests staying at any of our Downtown hotels can easily hop on The Tide to check out a local restaurant, attend a festival in Town Point Park, visit the Norfolk State University Campus, see a show or sporting event at Scope or explore the nearby Elizabeth River Trail, all without needing a personal vehicle.” —Katie Fenimore, Marketing Communications Strategist, Hampton Roads Transit
Isiah Harrington, Restaurant Engineer
Hilton Norfolk The Main
“Isiah has been with our company since The Main opened. He is solely responsible for all food and beverage equipment and does an amazing job making sure we are able to keep everything running smoothly. We could not do it without the work he does behind the scenes.” —Theresa Kinkelaar, Director of Human Resources, Gold Key | PHR
Mary Kelly, Director of Sales and Marketing
Glass Light Hotel & Gallery
“Mary is such a delightful person to work with! She is incredibly talented, professional and joyful. She has a real sense of hospitality, which is getting rarer to find nowadays. I’m glad we have her on our team!” —Edouard Majoie, Food & Beverage Director, Glass Light Hotel & Gallery
Matthias Maihoefer, Executive Chef
Hilton Norfolk The Main
“Matthias joined the team in 2021 and has had a significant impact on the team. He has showcased his creative side through great menu additions and has led his team to success. He is a strong believer in supporting his team and will go out of his way to help anyone that needs it. He has taken money out of his own pocket to help an associate who was struggling. We are lucky to have a person of his talent on our team.” —Theresa Kinkelaar, Director of Human Resources, Gold Key | PHR
Norfolk Waterside Marriott
“Every time I go into the Marriott, Caroline Mann is always there with a smiling face and gives me all the information I need. When she interacts with the guests at the Marriott, she is very polite and welcoming! Definitely a standout in the world of hospitality.” —Valerie Mitchell, Marketing Coordinator, VisitNorfolk
Norfolk International Airport Volunteer Ambassadors
“The Norfolk International Airport Volunteer Ambassadors are responsible for greeting passengers traveling to and from Norfolk, assisting travelers with directions, providing visitor information about the region and more. Most of the individuals on this team are retired but choose to donate their time to make people feel welcome. Oftentimes, these volunteers are the first point of contact for visitors coming to Norfolk, and they truly strive to make the airport experience a happy and welcoming one.” —Sarah Hughes, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, VisitNorfolk
Kevin Ordonez, Owner
“During the pandemic, not only was payroll continued for months at Alkaline but so was health insurance for everyone on the company health plan. This remained in place even when 90% of the staff was no longer working in the restaurant anymore. In addition, I organized a program called “Feed 1500” which raised money to prepare, cook and distribute ready-to-eat meals for 1,500 hospital workers and first responders, 100% free of charge. During that time, the Feed 1500 project was picked up by World Central Kitchen, and I organized the preparation and delivery of over 5,000 more ready-to-eat meals to be donated to food-insecure communities. Still now, I take a wholehearted “people first” mentality when working with my team.” —Kevin Ordonez
Nancy Pearce, Sales Assistant
Sleep Inn at Lake Wright—Norfolk Airport
“Nancy has been with the property for 34 years and maintains the same attention to detail and sense of urgency with all of her clients. She is always looking for a winning situation for the company and the clients. She lends a helping hand to both the desk and catering sales. Nancy rarely makes anyone wait for a response and her clients love her and so do we!” —Alcina Phipps, General Manager, Sleep Inn at Lake Wright
Basil Reynolds, Gallery Host
Chrysler Museum of Art
“They go out of their way to make guests feel welcomed and answer questions.” —Jay Thomson, Museum Shop Manager, Chrysler Museum of Art
Anne Tauro, Catering Sales Manager
Sleep Inn at Lake Wright—Norfolk Airport
“Anne is more deserving of anyone I know for this award. She has been in the hospitality industry for over 40 years, but that isn’t why she has earned this award. It is because she takes time to pay attention to the details and listens to and implements the clients’ vision. Then she continues to grow the relationship with the client which turns into a repeat business for the property with little additional effort. She executes these amazing events with one other person with class and style.” —Alcina Phipps, General Manager, Sleep Inn at Lake Wright
John Vavrek, Server/Multiple Positions
Grain at Hilton Norfolk The Main
“John has been picking up extra shifts, sometimes working open to close, along with volunteering to work any position needed for the shift—whether it’s barback, host, serving and server assistant. He continuously moves on the floor without ever being told what needs to be done. He overall has helped us so much since getting hired, and the entire team absolutely loves his hard work!” —Theresa Kinkelaar, Director of Human Resources, Gold Key | PHR