You know someone is destined for a career in hospitality if she loves waiting tables.

Susan Keels, director of sales and marketing at Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, started her career as a waitress at Shield’s while studying accounting and merchandising in college. Soon she was offered a promotion to manager, and then joined Bill Robert’s highly respected group of restaurants (which includes Beverly Hills Grill).

“I loved the fine art of hospitality,” Keels says. “That’s really where I got my foundation, with Bill Roberts. He taught me to make people feel like they’re coming into your home, make them feel special.”

Keels says she discovered her true passion as she moved into leadership, helming sales and operations teams. “I’ve always gravitated to boutique-style restaurants, country clubs, hotels,” she says. “I like the fact that, within the leadership, when you’re working with the independents, you’re able to be very creative. You don’t have to go through so much red tape. I can get things done pretty fast and inspire people to get things done as well.”

Over her 30-year career in metro Detroit, Keels has worked as director of food and beverage outlets at the Townsend Hotel, managed venues including the Twin Lakes Golf and Swim club and co-owned her own hospitality recruiting company. She joined the Royal Park 12 years ago, after spotting the construction site on her way to work.

“I decided I wanted the director of catering position,” she says. “I pursued it aggressively for about four or five months, and I was the first employee they hired. I loved the fact that it was four-star, fourdiamond, and that it was independent. I fell in love with downtown Rochester. I just had a really good feeling about it.” 

Keels became the hotel’s sales and marketing director five years ago, a job she says has opened up the world to her; she’s traveled to Asia and Europe promoting the Royal Park.

Her commitment to the industry extends outside her job. Keels is active in the Rochester Downtown Development Authority, and is past vice president of the Greater Detroit Chapter of NACE (she served under Todd Lloyd).

In her free time, Keels says she loves to cook, entertain and dabble in making art (she has an Etsy shop). “I’m a big believer in having a creative life,” she says. “I feel very fortunate that I have a career where I can apply that creativity that’s inside me to everything I do. I don’t even really call it a job. For me, it’s a passion.”

Dorothy Hecht was just 16 years old in 1937 when she waited on her first table at what was then Fischer’s Restaurant in downtown Frankenmuth, and ecstatically earned her first 25-cent tip. When she met and eventually married William “Tiny” Zehnder, whose family owned Zehnder’s Restaurant across the street, her happiness continued, and a legacy began.

 

If you'd have told a young Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB), that he’d spend his career making memories, he wouldn’t have believed you. 

 

Tony Michaels is no stranger to navigating choppy waters. The CEO and executive director of The Parade Company, which puts on traditions like America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Ford Fireworks, took the helm of the Detroit nonprofit during tough times, at the height of the financial crisis. “2008, 2009, are you kidding me?” says Michaels.