Cheryse Carter, winner of the this year’s $5,000 NEWH Women’s Leaders Scholarship, touches on a variety of topics including her hopes of opening an environmentally sustainable bed and breakfast; social issues such as gendered pay inequality; and her impressions of the hospitality industry abroad in an interview with Boutique Design assistant editor Sarah Chaplin.
A Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality major at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, Carter will be honored during the “Boutique Design Power Players: Women Leaders in Hospitality Breakfast and Panel Discussion,” Thursday, April 5, at the Los Angeles Convention Center during the Boutique Design West (BDwest) trade fair.
When did you first decide you wanted to study hospitality and what drew you to the industry?
I enrolled in college at the age of 25 and am the first member of my family to hold a collegiate degree. I had been a waitress for 10 years and found myself wondering what else I wanted to do with my life. Ironically, I enrolled in school thinking that I was going to be entering an entirely new industry only to later discover the truly vast array of career opportunities that the hospitality industry has to offer. I enjoy working with and around people. There’s never a dull moment in this industry, it’s ever-changing, fast-paced and there is abundant room for personal and professional growth.
You’re juggling a Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality major. Why is taking such a multidisciplinary approach important to you, and how do you see this impacting your management style and on-property skill set?
I secured two associate degrees prior to my transfer into the Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality program at Kennesaw. It was the multidisciplinary structure of the program that piqued my interest, as it truly covers the most relevant facets of such an expansive industry. This is especially important to me because I have a deep passion for exquisite food, the environment and exemplary customer service. By creating a bridge of knowledge that both encompasses and connects these disciplines, I’m setting myself up for success in terms of enhancing my ability to effectively communicate with different departments, understanding the intricacies of various operations and ensuring a cohesive work environment within my organization.
How did you first become involved with NEWH? What prompted you to apply for the scholarship? What was your reaction when you were notified you’d won?
I learned of NEWH through my program and was encouraged to apply for this scholarship by my program director, Dr. Christian Hardigree. When I received the phone call, I was in complete shock. It was a cloudy day, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the clouds literally parted. Words can’t possibly express the depths of my gratitude for being bestowed with such an honor.
Tell us about your career plans. What companies would you like to work for and why?
Currently, I’m considering attending graduate school where I would earn a master’s degree in Hospitality Management from Georgia State University. I’ve also considered applying for Ritz- Carlton’s Voyage Global Leadership Development Program. In addition, I have a newly deepened interest in becoming a master sommelier. I’m taking a course on Exploring the World of Wines during my last semester in college and upon learning that the Master Sommelier exam is considered the hardest in the world, I’m compelled to take the challenge. I enjoy traveling, botany, geography, sustainability and wine, and thus believe that it’d be a perfect career path to pursue. Becoming the 25th woman to ever hold the most exclusive job title in the world is extremely appealing because I know I could do it.
You mention in your essay for the scholarship that it’s your dream to open an eco-friendly bed and breakfast. How do you plan to make your future B&B environmentally sustainable, and why is that mission important to you?
Indeed, my dream is to own and operate bed and breakfast that offers the luxuries of an upscale lodging facility but with a unique and sustainable design. I envision a property in the mountains, close to a body of water. If I were to build the establishment from the ground-up, I’d procure all building materials from sustainable sources, including recycled and upcycled material, while simultaneously keeping in mind quality, visual appeal and longevity.
If I were to purchase an already existing property, I’d invest in renovating the building to meet LEED and Green Globe certification standards. I’d utilize energy-efficient lighting; large and small appliances; water heaters; and shower, sink, and toilet fixtures. I’d also implement gray-water irrigation and the use of rain barrels. I would be mindful of window and foliage placement, establish an organic edible garden and design a vegetative parking lot and driveway. I’d be sure that every room has a recycling receptacle in addition to a trash can and I would have an intricate composting system on the property. Menu items would be as locally sourced as possible so as to support nearby businesses as well as lessen the facility’s ecological footprint.
The hospitality industry is a huge contributor to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and to the astronomical amount of waste that is buried in landfills and polluting our waterways. I want to help change that. I want to show people that you can still have luxury without it being at the expense of the environment.
How has the time you’ve spent abroad in Italy and Iceland changed the way you view the industry? In your view, what could U.S. hoteliers learn from their European counterparts and vice versa?
Sustainability seems to be an underlying theme in the Old World, while American culture seems to focus more on mass production and profitability. In the Icelandic ecovillage, Solheimar, where I completed my internship, the water is heated by geothermal energy, which was an entirely foreign concept to me. There were also water and wind turbines that helped to generate the village’s electricity and all of their vegetables are organically grown in a greenhouse. Sugar is used less in their recipes and meat is not the staple of every dish.
I learned how to make bread and pizza dough from scratch, how to make my own marmalade and spaghetti sauce, and even how to make almond milk. Experimenting in the kitchen became a therapeutic outlet for me and I learned a lot about different cuisines and culture from my housemates, as well. I lived with people from Belgium, Scotland, Denmark, France, Poland, Romania, Germany, Iceland, Chile and even different regions of the U.S. (Washington D.C., California and Chicago). It was wonderful to get to experience such a wide array of customs and rituals across so many boundaries all under one roof!
Italy, too, was incredible beyond words. I traveled to Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Sorrento, Capri, Siena and Perugia, while living in the hills of Tuscany in a town called Montepulciano. I floated through the canals of Venice on a gondola and got to attend the World Art Expo. I walked through the cobblestone alleys down to the local grocery every other day and cooked regularly, growing a deeper appreciation for the authenticity and freshness of the Italian cuisine.
What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for the hospitality industry? What are you on a mission to change in your career?
I believe that some of the biggest challenges that lie ahead for the hospitality industry include breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling in terms of gender equality and finding solutions for environmental sustainability, specifically in terms of food waste, water pollution and trash disposal. I have an acute interest in making an environmental difference.
What do you think the hospitality industry could do to give back? Are there any specific causes you feel strongly about?
Corporate social responsibility is at the heart of the hospitality industry; people are our business. From collaborating with local communities and encouraging volunteerism, to advocating for special interests and engaging in philanthropic endeavors, the hospitality industry is a business titan that has the ability to make life-changing impacts on a global scale. I encourage our industry to continue to give back as much as possible. This could include education incentives and workshops for both employees and community members, charitable donations and conservation efforts.
What’s the first thing you want to see at the BDwest trade fair in April?
Is there anything else you hope to see or do while you’re in Los Angeles?
I actually have family throughout California and Oregon, many of whom I have never met before but have long been connected with through social media. Three of my cousins are flying down from Oregon and I am very excited to finally get to meet them. I am so incredibly blessed and am very much looking forward to exploring a little bit of the West Coast for the first time in my life; I have a feeling that my southern accent will be magnified immensely in Southern California!