280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Two years ago, during a stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, James Schuster told a hostess how much he missed his new German Shepherd puppy and showed off a picture of him.
A few days later, when he and his wife, Jessica, were getting ready to leave the resort, he found a big dog bone wrapped in a big red bow, left in his room.
“We got home and took a picture of the dog with that Ritz-Carlton bone,” he recalls. “We sent the picture back to them.”
The Schusters were surprised and overwhelmed again when they visited the resort a year later and found the photo he’d sent of his dog framed and sitting on a nightstand when they walked into their room.
“You can’t even imagine that people are that thoughtful and so dedicated to going above and beyond exceptional customer service,” said Schuster, a radiologist from Rochester, N.Y.
As The Ritz-Carlton Naples celebrates its 25th birthday on Saturday, the employees are credited with creating its legacy.
The Gulf-front resort off Vanderbilt Beach Road in Naples is world-renowned. It’s considered a flagship resort for the Ritz-Carlton brand, setting new trends and standards that are emulated around the world. In 2002, a second Ritz-Carlton opened off Vanderbilt Beach Road at Tiburon in North Naples, offering guests of both resorts an opulent private golf club, with a championship course designed by Greg Norman.
Bruce Seigel, director of sales and marketing at The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, said the key to the success of any Ritz is its “ladies and gentlemen,” which is what its employees are called.
“You can try anything you want. But if you don’t have the right people, you can’t get it done,” Seigel said.
Today, the two Ritz-Carltons in Naples employ more than 1,500 people in the height of the busy winter season. The annual payroll is more than $30 million, plus benefits.
There are many long-time employees working for the Ritz in Naples.
“We’ve had employees who have been with us 23 or 25 years, who have put kids through college and grown with us and around us,” Seigel said.
Frank Gumpper, 51, has worked at the waterfront resort nearly 25 years. He started out helping with banquet set-up. Now he’s in charge of it.
“I won’t be going anywhere else,” said Gumpper, who lives in Fort Myers. “I will retire here.”
He moved to Southwest Florida from New Jersey in January 1985. Much has changed since then. “It was a little quiet town,” he recalls. “Then the Ritz got here and it seemed to grow and grow.”
He said the Ritz is a great place to work for many reasons. Employees are treated to a buffet every day. The benefits are good and the managers are loyal to their employees. “They listen to you,” Gumpper said. “They have an open door policy. You can talk to anybody.”
He said with so many long-time employees it’s easier to offer exceptional service.
“Obviously, your consistency goes up and up,” Gumpper said. “It makes it easier when somebody knows what they are doing and enjoys what they are doing.”
Other Ritz employees who have moved on have been highly successful in their careers, including several of its chefs.
In September, 31-year-old Kevin Sbraga of Willingboro, N.J., was named the winner of the “Top Chef” culinary competition on Bravo TV. He worked at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples from 2000 to 2003 as a line cook.
He wasn’t the first “Top Chef” to work at the Naples resort. The winners of the third and sixth seasons of the show worked there, too.
Many former employees have started their own businesses, using the principles and standards they learned while working at the Ritz.
Renowned chocolatier Norman Love, founder of Norman Love Confections in Fort Myers, worked for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for more than 12 years. In 1991, he was transferred from Missouri to Naples. He worked his way up from a pastry chef to the director of pastry operations worldwide.
He said the training he received while working at the Ritz has helped him identify, understand and listen to his customers. His company is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
His primary business is selling chocolates to the hospitality industry, including resorts and casinos. He has a store in Fort Myers and is about to add another in Naples.
“The Ritz certainly made an impact in my life personally and professionally,” Love said. “It directed me to where my company is today.”
The resort has been recognized with countless awards. For 22 years, it has held AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star ratings.
James and Jessica Schuster save up their money so they can come back to The Ritz-Carlton Naples every year. They describe themselves as “normal working people.”
They have vacationed at the resort every year for the last six years, coming here for her birthday or their wedding anniversary. “We have no intention of stopping,” he said.
They say they’re always amazed by their experience and the exceptional service they get, year after year. They have many memorable stories to tell.
One year, when they were visiting for their anniversary, a chilled bottle of wine, chocolate-covered strawberries and a gift card awaited them when they walked into their room. “We walked on the deck,” he recalls. “We saw dolphins swimming at the beach. We had to pinch ourselves. It was so incredibly beautiful, special and wonderful.”
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.