While staying at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa last month, I had an opportunity to interview the resort’s chef concierge, Gordon Berry. Gordon (or Gordy as he is affectionately known) is one of the finest hotel concierges in the west, a man who’s care and attention to detail is truly one-of-a-kind. Find out what makes Gordon Berry so special and learn some of his insider San Diego tips on the best restaurants and things to do.
Interview with Gordon Berry
Full disclosure: I have known Gordy for ten years, so I know firsthand what an excellent concierge and considerate person he is. We first met Gordy at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, where my family spent a week every summer for nine years. We picked the Loews because they were dog friendly, but we came back year after year because of Gordy.
The first time I met Gordy, my husband inquired at the Loews concierge desk about surf lessons for himself and our son. Gordy sat with us, taking the time to explain the different types of lessons and surf schools in Coronado. We went with one of his recommendations, booked our lesson, and arrived the next morning at the predetermined beach location…but the surf instructor never showed up. When we got back to the hotel, we advised the concierge on duty that the surf instructor was a no-show and requested a refund. When Gordy found out, he called from home on his day off to talk to us, apologizing for the mistake. He also took the time to reschedule a new surf lesson with a new instructor, and personally confirmed the appointment the next morning before we arrived for the lesson. We were so impressed with his dedication and care, he became the only concierge we worked with at the Loews from that moment on. Gordy has assisted us with many dining reservations, boat rentals, activities, and numerous special requests over the years, but he has also become a family friend. Although he only sees us a few days each year, he always remembers our likes and dislikes, our favorite restaurants, and he makes our family feel like we are the most important guests at the resort, every single time. Plus, Gordy gives great hugs.
How did you get your start as a concierge?
I got my start…Julie, this is so funny…I have been thinking about this. I love hotels. I had the privilege of traveling with my family since I was very young. One of the things I loved that my parents always did for us (they had three children) was to teach us to make decisions. We would ask where breakfast was, they would make us find out. They would of course be there, but they would make us do it, so I learned really well how to do this. I knew…I would see these great people on the phone, smiling there and standing separate…I thought this was very interesting. I knew they had the answers. I learned very quickly. I then worked in different parts of hotel management, assistant management, and I just loved the idea of working directly with my guests and planning for the time to do that.
I wanted to get into a particular hotel. I said “I’ll do it, I’ll be a bellman.” I was the worst bellman in the history of the world! Other bellman hated me, I would only pick up nice pieces of luggage. I said “no, no, I’ll take the Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and you can take the little nylon one.” And they would complain and say he doesn’t want to lift anything…I said “Listen, can I pay you to take this?” to the other bellman. I was the worst! So, then, I was a bellman for ten days. They said “yeah, we are going to find something else for you.” They said I was really great with the guests and walked up with the luggage but I was there for thirty minutes because I are talking with them! They said I really needed to be lifting things and opening cab doors. So instead, they said “why don’t we have you do the wine service.” So, at 4 o’clock every afternoon, I would lay out the wine and they would come sit and talk and it was the perfect thing for me. And then they made me a greeter-and this was all in one month, and in the second month I won employee of the month! I thought “Oh this is going to be good.”
My home was in Hawaii, and the concierge at the Royal Hawaiian…and at the Halekulani…I have never seen a concierge staff like these people, ever in my life. Not only professional regarding their work…but they are treated…they are respected for their concierge position like European concierges..there is a different kind of hierarchy. And I thought to myself, I can do this. I speak several languages, which is really important. I had traveled, I knew a little bit about food. I cannot, to this day, cook anything, but I know how to make reservations. I was beholden to learn about food, learning about restaurants and chefs. I took a leap of faith, at the hotel, which was in downtown San Diego…as an assistant concierge. I went from there to the Loews and fell in love with it, then came here when the opportunity was offered. I’ve never picked up another piece of luggage. I love it, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
What is one thing you would like guests to know about concierge service?
Do not be afraid to ask us, there are no stupid questions. You know what I really love? I always tease people–if they know something that I do not know…oh, I am not having it! “Oh you know there is a great little coffee shop with beignets.” and I don’t know? I am out of my mind. I love that dialogue with guests. I also think of the concierge is the gatekeeper. You know of the man in the Wizard of Oz, that little guy…he’s a little cranky, but he was the one who invited everyone in. The concierge should be the one that when you walk through that door…know their names, share their names with someone else, and make them feel like they are family. I’ve always loved this, and I learned this from someone else…when your kids come in, get down on their eye level and talk to them. It’s exciting, it’s fun. I’ve some crazy things in this job.
What is one of the more unusual requests you have received as a concierge?
Oh man! Where do I begin! (done in a deep singing voice) I have taken a gentleman’s urine sample from a doctors office, from one clinic to another clinic. I recently assisted in the wedding of a lovely couple who had just come back from service. This is what makes me happy. We do lots of weddings here–this young woman came in and she touched the heart of not only myself but one of the sales people, and we said to ourselves that they don’t have the money to do this kind of thing, a big wedding–we had everything set up for a wedding that happened that morning, so we just left it up for them, and we planned the whole thing. I sang, I read a piece from Marianne Williamson, and they had someone do their legal stuff. It was just so dear. They were over the moon, not so much with my singing, but just the fact that we did that. I will never forget that.
I did another wedding–so–I don’t want to sound vain, but I have–I love these beautiful shoes from Prada. So this guy–he comes up to me like a deer in the headlights. He says “I packed everything for the wedding but my shoes!” I wanted my mouth not speak to, but I found myself looking down at my shoes and asking what size was he? 10 1/2? I looked down at my brand new 10 1/2 size Prada shoes and said “you can wear my shoes.” And he wore them the whole day. It saved him–he did so little time to get new shoes. That was a joy to do that.
I have taken, recently, we had a group of deaf people who were having challenges getting around, and I was allowed to go with them and interpret for them, and we went all around the city. Normally, those are services through an interpretive service you would have to pay for, but I just luckily was able to spend the day with this family and they were thrilled to do that.
(As a concierge) We are here to help. Do not be afraid to ask the concierge for help. If you have not worked with a concierge before, try it, because it will make your hotel experience that much better. We are trained to know the great little places, we are trained to know how to best spend your money when you are with your family. I want people to know we are not some lofty concierge–just come hang out and I think people will see we are here for them.
What should people know about the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa?
It is a deceptive resort because it looks like we just have the tower. I want everyone, before you check in, to just walk down to the bay and see how gorgeous it is–it is priceless, this view is absolutely priceless. The fact, also, that we are affiliated with Sea World as a Sea World hotel, and Old Town Trolley tours too, they come here at 9 a.m. for us. We have a Sea World shuttle that takes guests right over to Sea World–it only takes five minutes to get there. Old Town is right around the corner, so you have such a centrally located area. Twenty minutes to downtown (San Diego), 15 minutes to the airport, twenty minutes to La Jolla, 8 minutes to Old Town, and 5 minutes to Sea World, what could be better! Then you have the three beaches that are right here too, and you are still here by the property.
Another thing that I think is amazing is that this is an exceptional space because of our restaurant. Many times, and I am sure you know this more than I do–many times the hotel restaurants, I feel are just kind of called in–everything just dials it in, and maybe the attention is not put there (toward the restaurant) –this restaurant is amazing. It runs separately from the hotel and the chef is someone who really loves his product. He is from Austria and the food has an interesting take to it. His desserts are amazing too, but also you have this gorgeous bay–this glass fronted bay while you eat, and it’s really beautiful. I love that even if you are not staying at this hotel, know this restaurant. This is one of those hidden gems that I would go to without staying here. It’s that good.
What are the top restaurants that you love in San Diego right now?
I, of course love Aqua. I happen to be mad about a food truck called Kikos Place, which is Mexican seafood in University Heights. it is the most amazing place. I happen to love Mister. A’s very much.. It’s an exceptional rooftop restaurant. There’s a place I’ve really been passionate about for a very long time called the Smoking Goat, if you get a chance, go. There is a new place called Pop Pie Co. I mean, who is going to make chicken pot pie great, but it is divine. They do savory and they do sweet and they do this beef with chiles in it, with such an incredible flaky crust.
What are your favorite recommendations for someone who has never been to San Diego to do?
Definitely do the Old Town Trolley tour first, that is exceptional. I want people to see Coronado. I want people to see La Jolla. I am very proud that we have the USS Midway here. I also want people to get into our small little areas. The Gas Lamp is really fun but we have this new craft beer area called North Park, which is absolutely wonderful. It is one of these casual areas where you and I could go, and we’ve never been there before, and people will grab you and say “come with me”. It’s laid-back and chill, and kind of hipster, but it is an area that was not as popular before but now it is just burgeoning with new restaurants. I call them baby chefs because all the chefs look like they are twelve years old, but they are phenomenal. So, I love those places too, and also, I love the history of Old Town. I am a history buff, and I love–the reason why this is called Mission Bay, and Mission Beach, and Mission Boulevard and Mission Valley is because the first missionaries got off the boat here–Father Serra built a mission there and called it California. He started it all and I want people to know the history.
Note: If you stay at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, be sure to stop at the concierge desk and say hello to Gordy and tell him Julie sent you.