HEE West 2023 Unveils the Magic!

Experience & Engagement: The Magic of Hospitality

By Jen Robinson, CEO/Duchess, The Pineapple Group LLC | November 09, 2023

Within every HEE program, the magic of conversation lies at its core, and this year’s theme, Experience & Engagement: The Magic of Hospitality, was on full display throughout the Hospitality Executive Exchange West coast program held October 23-26, 2023 at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, Indian Wells, CA.

Various forms of hospitality magic were reveled throughout the program as more than two hundred senior-level food and beverage professionals joined the conversation through engaging panel sessions, interactive happy hour activities, and the program’s fundamental peer-to-peer exchanging of ideas and industry insights.

The heart and soul of every HEE program includes our very engaging one-on-one meetings where beverage conversations come to life. Rachel Lowe, Levy Restaurants, chats while taking notes and snapping pictures with Carlo Barone, OneBar USA.

Aliya Kritzler, HEI Hotels, samples a new product during one of her one-on-one meetings. These meetings provide the perfect amount of time for individuals to focus on conversations surrounding beverage strategies and programming.

World-renowned industry pioneer and leading bar professional, Tony Abou-Ganim, served as this year’s opening HEE West keynote speaker. Paying tribute to the talented bartenders who make the magic happen behind the stick, Tony shared his insights on where the magic begins in industry strategies, championing the key role those behind the bar play in the overall success and execution of every beverage program.

Tony Abou-Ganim delivers the opening HEE West keynote speech, The Magic of Hospitality, as a special nod and tribute to bartenders who create the magic behind the stick.

Featured panelists of our welcome kick-off conversation and opening general session included: Jamie Carawan, Buffalo Wild Wings; Beth Borkosky, American Beverage Marketers; Dean Wendel, Concord Hospitality; Mike Tolley, Beverage by Design; Richard Schneider, Areas; Katherine Wojcik, IHG Hotels; Craig Richards, Fridays; and Randy Sharpe, Xperience Restaurant Group.

David Spirito, Dave & Buster’s Inc., engages in the opening kick-off session of HEE West – The Magic of Conversation where topics presented are requested by HEE participants. This allows everyone to exchange ideas, insights, and information.

Jordan Wente, Fifth Generation Winegrower, Wente Vineyards, hosted a wonderful lunch & learn during which she shared her family history, the Wente partnership with Blanchard Perez, and her expert insight into the trending heath craze surrounding Cava as a sought after option for both wine and cocktail low ABV offerings.

Jordan Wente, Fifth Generation Winemaker, Wente Vineyards, hosted a fun Mexican fiesta luncheon that featured the brands partnership with Cava.

Throughout the HEE West program, select supplier partners embodied various ‘themes of magic’ through incredible activations where they presented signature LTO offerings. Each magical supplier activation provided HEE participants with a unique, hands-on introduction to menu inspiration and ideation.

Cody Henson and Evan Traub, IMI Agency; Jeff Scott, House of Smith; April Tegge, Casa Lumbre Spirits, and Nik Kundra, Partender, catch up during the opening select supplier marketplace of HEE West -Cocktails & Dreams.

Our Royal Masquerade Select Supplier Marketplace did not disappoint. Our friends from J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines presented a mysterious offering of wine varietals along with a chance to pose on the red carpet.

Kate Crozier and Joe Brooke of Brown Forman helped create a unique experience featuring Fords Gin during our masquerade marketplace.

American Beverage Marketers took a Mad Hatter approach to flavor during the World of Whimsey lunch and select supplier marketplace. Erin Mertlbauer, American Beverage Marketers, as Alice, and Jason Asher, Barter & Shake, as the Mad Hatter, treated participants to a unique blend of flavored “tea.”

In an enriching, interactive happy hour session, Carolyn White, CMW Consulting, and Sharon Woschitz, SJC Wine, led us through ‘The Magic of Senses’ during which we embarked on a compelling journey to unleash the power of the palate with unique pairings and sensory play of sight, smell, taste, and touch.

Sharon Woschitz, SJC Wine, and Carolyn White, CMW Consulting, offered a sensory journey through taste, touch, smell, and sight during a deep dive conversation surrounding balance, awareness, and palate.

Of course, the magic carried over into our Beverage Bazaar Breakouts where both A.I. and LTOs reigned as the leading topics of conversation. HEE participants also shared insights and perspectives on discovering cross utilization of flavors for front and back of house with the selection of a custom HEE barrel from 1792.

Heather Baker, IMI Agency, shares insights during one of the hottest topics of the HEE West program – Mixing it Up: A.I. in Beverage and Bars.

Aliya Kritzler, HEI Hotels listens during one of the break-out sessions discussing cocktail trends and creative LTOs.

As a special nod to HEE’s 15th year celebration, Sazerac hosted a custom barrel pick from 1792 as well as a barrel naming competition. The winner, by only two votes, was barrel A. The winning name of the barrel, cHEErs M15chief, was submitted by Craig Richards, Fridays. The name makes a nod to HEE and the 15th HEE West Celebration with the inclusion of #15.

The final evening of HEE West was a celebration of the hospitality industry and the Exchange Award finalists and winners. The Exchange Awards are one of the few award programs in which the industry nominates their peers and colleagues across various categories. Nominations conclude and an industry vote is held to determine the finalists and winners. This year’s nominees, finalists and winners were all deserving of recognition.

During the Exchange Awards 2023, Tony Abou-Ganim was presented with the ICON Award from the 2022 ICON winner, Bill Hinkebein, American Beverage Marketers. For a complete list of Exchange Award winners and pictures, please visit www.theexchangeawards.com

Hospitality Executive Exchange is a small, dynamic program that focuses on conversations and relationships with a custom program that is carefully cultivated with all topics requested by participants. The unique format of HEE provides a very laid-back, comfortable yet extremely productive and valuable way for multi-unit operators and select supplier partners to gather together to exchange ideas, insights, and information. HEE hosts two programs each year in the Spring and Fall. 2024 planning is underway with dates and locations to be announced in early December. For more information, please visit www.hospitalityexecutiveexchange.com or contact Jen Robinson, jen@thepineapplegroup.net.

For more information and to see additional pictures from HEE West 2023 and past programs, please visit www.hospitalityexecutiveexchange.com.

hospitality executive exchange