Holiday Valley prides itself on giving its visitors the complete experience - extensive terrain, great snowmaking, fresh groomers every night, lift capacity - and these are such reasons why Ski Magazine ranked HV 3rd Overall for Eastern resorts in 2015. But one facet of the Valley that spans all four seasons is what we do every day - eat and drink. Since 2009, Center Plate (the international food service organization) has complimented Holiday Valley to create a dynamic dining experience for every visitor. (And guess what? Because of that dynamic dining experience, HV’s food service was voted #2 in the East by Ski Magazine.)
Throughout the early stages, the Valley’s food operation was a four-month swing that started in December and ended in March; a go-go-go concession mentality that catered to strictly skiers and snowboarders. But as the resort became more of a summer destination, that way of thinking changed. In 2013, Center Plate brought in Franco Brady, who boasts an expansive background in the food and beverage industry.
“I’ve been working for Center Plate for close to 25 years,” Brady said. “Before Holiday Valley, I spent time running food operations in stadiums and various ski resorts around the country. This place - Holiday Valley and Ellicottville - is unique in such a way where it draws a large crowd but still maintains that ski town, small town vibe.”
Under Brady’s leadership, Holiday Valley has continued its food service transformation from four-month to four-season. That requires a dedicated team of management, kitchen staff, waiters and bartenders to work in one of the toughest industries in the world. Keeping people fed is one thing - but making it into an experience is something totally different.
“What’s really neat about this place is the longevity of some of our employees,” Brady said. “Shirley (Roblee) has been here close to 35 years, Mark (Stark) close to 15, Dave Seitz, our chef over 12 and so on. We’re constantly evolving to make sure that our guests are getting the absolute best experience they can. We meet to discuss what tweaks should be made to the menu, specials we’re running and just the general vibe of the dining rooms and staff.”
Attention to every minute detail is what the staff at Center Plate prides themselves on. Brady stresses to his staff that the experience should make people want to come back again and again.
“When you go to a place and after two or three times, the smiling face behind the bar calls you by name, then you feel welcome,” he said. “That really appeals to people. We’ve got some really great people working here that make our guests feel right at home, and that’s important. It’s easy to just serve a meal, but what are the things that will make someone want to come back?”
Of all the places he’s worked, Brady said that Holiday Valley could be one of the best ones for an overall wedding venue experience. Between the three different lodges, the scenery, accommodations and ability to have the ceremony just a short chairlift ride to the top of the hill, it’s not just a wedding - it’s an event.
“We’ve grown our wedding business substantially in the last couple of years,” Brady said. “Recently, Katelyn Mueller was promoted to director of catering sales, which she is most deserving of. Much of our increased business has been her putting in the day-to-day leg work, and putting together different wedding packages and reaching out to people. We’re featured in the popular wedding site The Wedding Wire, which gives us a very favorable ranking and the Couples’ Choice Award.
Many of the staff working weddings have been there for multiple summers, and Brady said it makes the transition from winter much easier.
“We do what’s called ‘Banquet Boot Camp’ where we have all of our catering staff go through a series of exercises that simulates different scenarios. The intent is to prep our people for every situation so when it’s showtime, it will translate to the best possible experience for the guest.”
From where Holiday Valley’s food service was 10 or 15 years ago to where it’s at now is pretty impressive. There are two segments of the year - the high volume output of the winter and the (just as busy) catering/banquet output of the spring, summer and fall. Brady manages the madness with a calm demeanor found in any successful GM.
“We’ve evolved as an organization (Center Plate) and a resort to give our guests the best time possible,” he said. “Anymore, it’s about so much more than just the winter. We’ve got Sky High Adventure Park, golfing, the pool complex and weddings. I think weddings have been the most impressive - we’re now able to host close to 60 weddings a summer. When you do the math, logistically, that’s a true testament to the people in every department we have working here.”
In a winter such as this one, we must tip our hat to Brady and his staff - they’re 1st in sales across the rest of Center Plates’ Ski Area locations. That takes dedication from a team that loves what they do.