A director of catering never forgets a compliment from the president’s chef — and Lauren Shawcross remembers like it was yesterday.
Shawcross is director of catering at DoubleTree by Hilton Colorado Springs, and she was there the night President Obama stayed in June last year.
“I got to meet his chef, who complimented us on the organization and the cleanliness of our kitchen. Being the director of catering — even though our wonderful executive chef is in charge of that — it still had a huge, personal feeling,” she recalled. “He told us that out of all of the properties they had visited this term, we have the cleanest and most organized kitchen. It was wonderful.”
Shawcross has seen a lot since she started at the DoubleTree in 2014, and even more after a decade in hospitality. She took time to talk to the Business Journal about the Springs’ unique hospitality market, the importance of building relationships and how she stays on her toes.
Are you from the Springs?
We’re transplants — we moved here in 2013 from Fargo, N.D. … I previously worked for National Hospitality Services in hotel management, and they had a property down here — a Holiday Inn Express — where they needed someone to manage their sales department. I was on the acquisition team when we acquired that property, so I was familiar with it, and it was a perfect fit. It was nice to be able to come to a new opportunity but still be familiar with the people and the place. I was director of sales at the Holiday Inn Express, then I decided to take a position with DoubleTree. I came in as a catering sales manager and was promoted to the director of catering.
What does your job encompass?
In a big picture, [this is the] largest full-service Hilton Hotel in the city of Colorado Springs, with over 30,000 square feet of meeting and event space, so my primary job is to make sure that meeting space is occupied. … The team I oversee focuses primarily on the meeting space but I still have the great responsibility of making sure for the banquet side and the convention side, that the hotel is profitable on all ends. We have a great staff; everybody has individual clients they work with and build relationships with, so we’re really getting out there and securing the business, bringing people into the hotel and making sure it’s a success for the client and the hotel. We have long-term relationships where clients come back year after year. … I primarily work with the government, the military and collegiate level for education. So I do anything from military balls to graduations to breakfasts, as well as government meetings, whether it be on the state level or city level. It’s about finding those contacts and building those relationships.
I started off when I was in college working a front desk at a hotel, moved up to guest service manager there, and then did some odd jobs. Then my best friend’s mother, who worked for National Hospitality Service, asked me if I would come and assist her with some projects. I started as her assistant, worked my way up to executive assistant to the president of the company, and spent a good amount of time on the corporate aspect. Within that, I branched off to working with investors. The president of National Hospitality Service had started a fund to buy distressed hotels, so I started working primarily with him, and with the investors, collecting the funds so we could purchase hotels throughout the nation. It branched off from there and I just wanted to work in the hotels, because our office was located in one of their properties and I was seeing the day in and day out of the staff and the sales department. It was a nice climb in the hospitality industry… A lot of people transition from working in the hotels then work their way up to corporate, but for me it was good to do it in reverse and see both aspects of it.
What’s it like doing business in the Springs?
With Colorado Springs, it’s definitely a different market — you may hear that among the hoteliers. Unlike Denver, which is a huge city … there aren’t as many larger hotels in Colorado Springs that are able to accommodate the larger needs of the clients coming in. I love that we are basically one of five hotels that can do larger-scale conventions, larger-scale conferences and really adhere to the clients in town that are having the larger events. A lot of properties can accommodate 150-300 [maximum], but we’re able to do the 500, 700, 800 people, and still do the smaller meetings too. So I feel like we’re really an inclusive property and this city is really an inclusive city, which I love.
What do you like best about your work?
The event planning, because each event is different … whether it be a nonprofit holding a fundraising gala, or the military balls that come in, each event is different. It’s nice to be able to work with the client, see their vision and have that vision come to fruition.
Is this where President Obama stayed? Were you here?
It is where the president stayed! I was here — that was an amazing experience. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I was fortunate because a lot of the non-essential staff in the hotel had to leave for the evening but I was able to stay. I didn’t personally meet him, but my boss — the director of sales — as well as our general manager, and the director of engineering, and our director of rooms at the time, they did get to meet him. It was a really cool experience. … The hotel was very secure. When you walked in the front door it was a lot like coming into an airport: You had to pass through security, you had to go through the metal detector, and the outside of the building was like a fortress. You know those cement blocks they use during construction? Those were all lined along Lake Avenue here. So much went into it. …We found out after, too, that we were chosen. It wasn’t just a luck-of-the-draw or random selection; our property was chosen for that. It was huge kudos for us and spoke volumes about our sales team and being able to secure that business and move forward — with the president.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a full-time parent, full-time wife, and I’ve become very active in different organizations in the city — [Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International], Military Affairs Council and Springs Equality, to name a few. … The hospitality industry is not one that ever closes, so it is a nice, flexible environment but it’s one that keeps you on your toes, because things are forever changing.
What are your goals?
I have lots of goals. I absolutely love Colorado Springs and this is our home until our son graduates from high school. I’d like to continue in the hospitality industry and find my way down to Florida, eventually. The company that owns and manages our hotel, GF Management, has over 100 hotels that they manage throughout the United States. They have several in Florida, and my hope is [by] staying with the company and staying loyal, eventually I can transition to a Florida property and continue my career there. I love this industry, it is one that’s ever-changing. Industry trends change, your clientele changes and even the overall economics can change the industry. It’s forever changing. And I feel like I’m a chameleon, and I change with it.