Although college is considered a time of personal discovery, it is often only once you have graduated and embarked on a career path that you start to learn the depth of your professional strengths and passions. For Meryl Davis, SHA ’07, AOS ’06 her path has led her to the field of training, service management, and ultimately, education. As first Cornell graduate of the formalized collaborative degree program, in 2006 Meryl went to work for Hillstone Restaurant Group in Napa Valley then moved to Los Angeles. There she experienced all the benefits of a multi-unit operation. The corporate environment provided consistency and structure, with an intensive training program for new recruits, well established policies and detailed training guidelines. Here Meryl was able to hone her management skills and start to develop her style of leadership.
After several years Meryl realized she was ready to branch out, so when she had the opportunity to help a fellow Cornell alum, Mike Simms ’00, open a new concept she decided to embark on a new adventure. Meryl was able to be a part of the planning in opening two new restaurants, “Simmzy’s” and “Tin Roof Bistro” and at this point all her previous experiences began to gel. In the excitement of recruiting new staff and beginning to train them, she found she had a gift for creating cohesive groups of co-workers. Meryl put all of her talents to work to create employee programs that would not only develop and retain staff, but create an environment where employees were promoted from within the organization, focusing on how people could grow as the company grew. As the assistant manager and then general manager, Meryl found she had a lot of leeway in developing her staff policies so she could experiment to see what worked best in keeping staff motivated and energized by their work.
Meryl’s experiences to date have culminated in a career path she is truly passionate about. As the Director of Training and Service at the Aurora Inn in Aurora, NY (a picturesque community best known for Wells College and the Mackenzie-Childs brand which has its roots there), Meryl has redefined the employee training program and service guidelines. Her focus is developing innovative education and retention programs that allow for employee growth and promotion from within. She notes that unlike traditional hiring practices that stress previous job specific experience, she looks to hire employees with a certain disposition and then trains them in the specific skills necessary. The ability to cross train and develop people laterally is especially important as it she has a limited applicant pool to draw from in this rural community. “When you invest your staff members, you create an energy and an excitement. People are happy to come to work every day and are enthusiastic about learning new skills. This is what gives my job meaning” comments Meryl. The Aurora Inn, Inc. includes a number of properties, including The Fargo Bar and Grill, Dorrie’s Sandwich and Ice Cream Parlor, the Village Market, and the EB Morgan House. Meryl focuses primarily on the front of house staff training, both for the hotel and foodservice operations but she works closely with the Executive Chef, who provides training to the back of house staff, to ensure they are communicating a uniform vision. Always striving for new challenges, Meryl is now in the process of developing the curriculum for a culinary school at the Aurora Inn, with a focus on culinary immersion classes and recreational courses for guests and visitors.
And Meryl notes the lasting benefit s of having both degrees. Her studies at the CIA and Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration have helped her navigate group dynamics (as both curriculums stress team environments) and have created an expectation among her subordinates and co-workers. “Not only do I have the management and culinary arts education of both programs, but these two well respected institutions are known in the industry and they have given me credibility and empowered me to set the highest standards as I work to lead others” she concludes.