Meet n’ Greet with Pfister Staff. Do you know your Cafe Barista’s?

It’s time for Meet n’ Greets with the Pfister Staff again. We took a little break but we are back with a great crew this time.  Do you know your Café at the Pfister Baristas? Please meet Natalie,Roy, and Sam, this great group gets in extra early to make sure that you get your morning fix of java.

How long have you worked at the Pfister?  Natalie-4 months, Roy-6 months, Sam-6 months

Why do you like best about working at the Pfister Hotel?

 Natalie: The people I work with are a lot of fun and all of the interesting guests.
: Everyone who works here is really nice.  I get to meet a lot of people and its great working downtown.
Sam: I love that everyone is so friendly and helpful with everything.

What is your favorite Pfister memory or experience?

Natalie: Working downtown during all the festivals.        
Roy: Working during the big dance competition.                   
Sam: New memories are created all the time, I can’t just pick one.

Tell us something we may not know about you?

Natalie: I actually worked as a barista at the Grand Geneva Resort before coming here.
Roy: I won a limbo contest this summer in Las Vegasat the Palms, I won a great prize and felt special.
Sam: I used to have a pet pig named Duke, he once ate a pair of my glasses.

 What is the oddest/weirdest request that you have ever received from a guest?

All together: Extra Dry-Decaf-Half Soy-Half Ski-Four Shot Cappuccino

Thank you so much Natalie, Roy, and Sam for participating in our Meet n’ Greet sessions.  Look forward to hearing from more Pfister Staff on the Pfister Blog.

Natalie, Roy, and Sam

May I Suggest…

Coffee and a Market Fresh Fruit Tart

The art of the recommendation. It’s a skill born of the preternatural ability to read people and an intimate knowledge of available options. It’s why you go to your local bookstore or record store: the clerks who enthusiastically love what they stock and sell are guaranteed to connect you to what you want – even if you didn’t know what it was you wanted when you walked in the door.

The woman who walked over to the pastry case at the Cafe at the Pfister didn’t know what she wanted.  Tailed, on the other side of the counter, by a smiling barista in a striped shirt and carrying a plate, she stared hungrily at all the options.  He waited patiently, while the other baristas busied around him, plucking treats and making cappucinos.  Finally, she spoke, to nobody in particular but in the general direction of her personal gentleman barista – “should I have the lemon tart  or a chocolate cupcake?”  Without missing a beat, another barista chimed in with cheery gusto, “Oh, the lemon tart!  These are amazing – and they’re made by our own in-house pastry chefs.”  The customer didn’t bat a lash or take a breath before replying, “Lemon tart, it is!”

It’s easy to see why the barista so eagerly suggested one of these exquisite desserts.  They are prepared by finely trained chefs with not only an eye for how beautiful these pastries should be, but have the mathematical eating of them down to precise perfection.  The Market Fresh Fruit tart has just the exact number of fruit slices necessary in order for each graham cracker-packed, creamy custard-filled bite to include one piece – no more, no less.  The magic of its lustrous sheen is in the apricot glaze brushed over the top.  Hostess Sandy confirmed that while the colorful treat was, indeed, heavenly, the lemon one was also her personal favorite – “Not too sweet, just the right amount of tartness.”  (no pun intended)

At the next table over sits a gentleman with his laptop, plugged in, cell phone in hand.  Whatever he’s trying to do isn’t working and he decides to call the workday quits.  He asks for directions to the fitness club (downstairs, not by the pool on the 23rd floor as I initially thought, though I encouraged a visit to the pool if only for the view of the city and the lake) and then for a recommendation on where to eat dinner.  This is a tough one.  There’s a lot of good eating in Milwaukee – some incredible eateries have arisen or gained a stellar reputation in recent years.  “What kind of food do you like?” I ask.  He waves a hand dismissively, “whatever, doesn’t matter,” but in a way that gives me the impression he just wants to have a good time.  I go with my first instinct and suggest the Safe House, explaining that it’s really about the experience, not the food.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a spy-themed restaurant that can be tricky to find and get into, but well worth the effort.

Meanwhile, at the Lobby Lounge bar, the very outgoing Randy is making friends with all the guests, including one man (Peter) who sits with his pink tie tucked neatly into the lower portion of his shirt, one button undone in order to hide away the silky fabric so as not to spill anything on it (brilliant!).  They are discussing beer.  Particularly, the joys of being a selective beer drinker.  They are lobbing around terms like “black IPA” and gushing over Belgian trippels.  Randy offers up the recommendation of visiting Sugar Maple in Bay View as they have 60+ American craft beers on tap – on tap! – as well as Cafe Centraal where Dutch “biers” are carefully selected to include “rarities, oddities” and exclusive options.

Peter is visibly excited and intrigued, writes this down, then proceeds to share the details of a recent trip to Europe that included a visit to the last operational family brewery in Bruges, De Halve Maan, a stop in Strasbourg for Cantillon Lambic, and was capped with the Zythos Bier Festival in Belgium.  It was practically a pilgrimage.  Of course, he’s now looking forward to returning to Milwaukee, staying at the Pfister again, and checking out Randy’s recommendations.

Personally, I’m looking forward to a lemon tart, based on all the barista encouragement; tracking down a pint of Brugse Zot from De Halve Maan, based on Peter’s glowing reviews from his travels; and finding out what else the Pfister employees (and guests!) have to suggest, as they continue to prove this is an art they practice well.

YOUR TURN:  Do you have any suggestions or recommendations to share?

Scaling Forward

I’m a Libra. Some of you may have already guessed as much. One of our best qualities is indecision. Our symbol is the scales because we try to be fair and just.

I was happy to share indecision Thursday with my colleagues at the Pfister as we looked at the six finalists for the Narrator position to begin in May.

Choosing your replacement is a difficult task. Many of us would choose…well, medicine us.

But I’ve heard, and believe it’s true, that “if you’re not replaceable, you’re not promotable.” But of course, this is where our debate formed. Who is promotable? All of the candidates were writers, storytellers and engaging people, illness in a word, all could narrate. Who should get promoted to Narrator, however, was the big question.

There were so many amazing things to see and read. I loved the videos of the candidates, not just for their film quality (thanks April and Pete; and by the way candidates, they made you look fantastic) but because for weeks, we’ve only known these people on paper. We’ve conjured images of them in the lobby, we’ve envisioned them drinking one of Val’s bloody Marys, retelling (or trying to) her amazing recipe. We’ve seen them on the threshold of a summer wedding gala, documenting it all.

But we never saw them in person. Here they were, up close, chattering, nervous, excited and to their credit…bursting with ideas. That alone became a fantastic qualifier for each of them. Do we choose based on who is bringing profile-writing experience, literary experience or pure unadulterated energy to the position? Or should we evaluate based on how they talked about the hotel? Do they like the art, the history, the beauty or the things it houses?

I think the committee members should each be responsible for a blog too, or we should have been filmed (I’m cringing as I say this… unsure if I’ll keep my new friends when this gets published). Facial reactions, oohs and ahhs, “great idea” “I didn’t think of that” “oh, I like her” and more resonated from our select corner of the newly remodeled café where Starbucks flowed among us but the really energy came from drinking in the vibrant options before us.

We just couldn’t choose.

That’s a compliment, candidates.

For me, listening to their plans and ideas was rejuvenating and hard—there’s so much left to tell and my time is growing short. That’s the beauty of it though, there’s no shortage of stories. The Pfister provides: in every guest a novel, in every event a sense of scene.

We did choose. We chose well; and we considered the charming smile, the great colors, the wonderfully themed sample piece, the pictures, the youth, the wisdom, the experience, the salesmanship, the recommendations, the effervescence, the technology, the reading list, the Pfister favorites, the drive, the energy…the embodiment of a Narrator.

This Libra is proud to say her scales of indecision, out of balance all afternoon, finally teetered into agreement. Soon, you too will meet our Narrator and see just how decisively she will compliment the hotel and document its story.

Hustle and Bustle and Herb

The café has been remodeled. Its doors reopened this week. I tentatively crossed its threshold, hospital into my favorite spot in the hotel. I have to say my worries about change were eased when I ventured in the first day to find the buzz of the space was the same.

            The changes are amazing though…Starbucks (enough said) and pastries (the red velvet cupcakes, after so carefully deposited in the conundrum of a to-go box were devoured and praised by my office mates—thanks, Roy) add motion to the café.

            When I walked in, people were shopping in the gift nook, someone was in line for coffee and I honestly overheard chocolate covered somethings-or-other whisper my name. The new additions to the café actually harness a worldly feel. It’s all the hopefulness, motion and adventure of an airport with none of the expense, delay, rough crowd or anonymity. You can’t be anonymous in the café if you’ve ever once been seated by Annette.

            Annette, long time hostess of the café, actually looked relieved, bright and more than ready to slide right back into her role in the new-again space. When I chatted with her about how the changes were taking—granted, it had only been a day—she immediately let me know that right away that morning, people flocked to the comfy made-for-laptop-users corner and rode the waves of industry and Facebook into morning, clicking away at their keys. I had forgotten we were adding a television to the well-connected lounge space and had to smile at the very Pfister-esque touch of a gilded frame surrounding the flat screen. Remarking on this, Annette said, in perfect dry humor, “Ah, yes… I really thought they’d play The Young and the Restless at 11 o’clock, but they just left it on this.” She gestured toward the Headline News silently flickering above us. Perfect. The nook, complete with an Annette, is perfect.

            The servers have new aprons, still creased from their fresh folds, and there are different banquettes available. The business hasn’t changed—the suits still dominate the discussion and meetings and progress still charge forward over Senator Kohl’s Tuna sandwiches. Time is short, people hustle, mergers happen and talking with your mouth full is required. (Yes, I was watching you through the mirrors…).

            And if I worried at all that any of this change would be bad or unsettling, I was comforted by the fresh flowers that still remain on the tables. One of my first glimpses of the behind the scenes workings of the hotel, they’re my landmark that everything runs smoothly, things are fine and everything old is new again.

“Like”ing Breakfast

I’m sure it’s clear to you by now, I love breakfast at the Pfister. I love breakfast food in general, of course, and can never make up my mind—breakfast anywhere for me includes multitudes of plate envy, but (as you also know) add coffee and I’m usually satiated.

I’m pretty sure my love of breakfast comes from some working class, Irish Catholic roots and a culinary (to a degree) dad. We had lots of “breakfasts for dinner” type meals during lent because they were filling sans meat (ah, the superb quality of pancakes!). Plus, breakfast food was always dad’s fallback when we were left in his care and hungry. Best French toast in the world came out of a cast iron skillet, flipped by one C.A. Ferris.

But it goes beyond food. When I was a little girl and out with my dad to go fishing, he indoctrinated me the entire routine—including the 5:00 a.m. gatherings at the local diner. Caps, camo and well-worn hands bullying forkfulls of crispy hashbrowns into moustached mouths surrounded me and waitresses who were used to the honey-baby-sugar pie calls of their regulars grinned at my ridiculously curly hair. Suffice it to say, breakfast at the Pfister doesn’t quite look like that, especially while it’s temporarily located in the Rouge Room.

But this morning, as I share the space with a businessman we’ll call Joe talk with his partner, I realized, it may not be all that different. Sure, the dress code ups the ante a bit (no one wore a cap), but the buzz and vibration of the day’s work about to begin was the same. The graceful familiarity of coffee pots swirling around the room and platefuls of crispy hashbrowns seated before regular patrons all feels very familiar.

Joe, a handsome gentleman, seems to be of an age of retirement, yet his crisp grey suit jacket tells a different story. He is working this morning, laughs so hard that his shoulders rattle upwards with every chuckle. His eyes are happy slits directed closed when the corners of his mouth turn up. He’s talking business, profits and partners, but it’s early, he’s still in good spirits.

Instead of a creaky old door and footfalls on the nearly rotted linoleum of my small town diner, eaters here descend into the Rouge like guests on a cruise ship. This breakfast is later too—these aren’t the 5:00 a.m. haymakers (then again, the sun isn’t shining yet as today spring has recoiled) of my small town. These are travelers. Work has changed. Hay doesn’t get made—trades and deals do. Market reports and scouting reports and quality reports are generated and housed in briefcases attached to attaches and carry-ons.

It doesn’t ruin my love for breakfast; the scene and Joe only remind me that it’s more universal than you think. Your first interactions of the morning set the tone for your day and the Flo of my hometown diner beckoned good fishing just as the service staff in the Rouge prep us for contemporary days in an urban place.

I’m eager for more breakfasts though, as the cafe renovations are slated to be finished this upcoming week. In fact, there’s a VIP event on Sunday, March 27 for cafe regulars and others to come and take a sneak peak at the new space before it officially opens on March 28. If you’re a regular, you’d better ask Lorena or any one of your favorite morning staffers to get you in past the velvet rope on Sunday.

As I finish my last swig of coffee, I remember it may be my last relocated cup of percolate in the Rouge and my next will be a Starbucks premium roast in the newly improved cafe, so I snap a quick picture. When the flash goes off, I hear Joe say to his tablemate, who is curious about my photographic endeavor, shrugging those gregarious shoulders of his, “Huh. Facebook.”

Brewing with Excitement

Off schedule, sure, but I think you can handle it.

First, the cafe renovations are in full swing. Then…there will be coffee (see other posts about how necessary this is in my world).

Now, I’ve just received a giant package of applications from those who’d like to continue this journey at the Pfister. It’s such a mix of emotions–it felt simultaneously like Christmas Day to click, click, click through the pages as well as utter doom as I thought about my tenure ending (not for months… I can still say that in the plural until April).

Frankly, I do not want to stop. I’m as addicted to these people and this place as I am to the coffee it’s soon to serve.

But, at the same time, I am probably MORE eager than the applicants think they are. I’m thrilled that the position continues, the talks resume, the writing develops. I can testify (and will again in a later blog) what this has done for my writing, my connection to the community and my own personal growth and knowing that–I cannot wait to unleash this opportunity on someone new.

I hope you’re watching, here comes a whole host of new voices (oh yeah, and soon, I can type this from the renovated cafe with a Starbucks coffee in hand. Ah, frenetic keystrokes, here we come!)

For Love of the Bean

I had no idea what my lead for this blog could be. I jolted my friends with “Guess what I got to do today?” To my boss I percolated “I need the afternoon off to take part in a very urgent experience.” To my steering wheel, to which I sang on my way over to the Pfister, I brewed “I’m walking on sunshine, whoa-oo-oo.”

But for you, I think I’ll pour it out with just the facts. I. Got. To. Go. To. A. Coffee. Tasting. Today. I don’t know if I’ve made it obvious or not, but I really love coffee, in a problematic please-don’t-speak-to-me-until-I’ve-had-some kind of way.

I walked into what seemed to most to be a conference room, but to me seemed some sort of torture cell. Before us was a beautiful table, pleasant staffers, even a tray full of tasting treats…but no coffee. I felt teased, like a mean, taunting version of Candid Camera. I was sure Ashton Kutcher was around the corner with decaf. You see, I had fasted all day for this. I was asleep on my feet and cranky in my caffeine withdrawals.

Then, Dave, the Starbucks rep started talking. I sat a little easier when one of his first sentences seemed to acknowledge my pain, right there in front of everyone. Some sort of sales mumbo jumbo about how to pick coffee for the new Starbucks at the Pfister and customers this and guests that, then he said “they’ll come to get their favorite fix.” I swear on “fix” he looked right at me. I might have been salivating.

First, as you know, the Pfister is remaking, reshaping its café. I love the café. It’s one of my favorite new morning routines. And, though I love the baristas at my Starbucks, I very much loved the coffee to go that I got at the café. To see it shrouded in protective plastic while it transforms makes me sad, but to hear that post-transformation, a triple grande white chocolate mocha will be part of the big reveal, I immediately came on board with the project.

Then, he did it. Dave poured us our first tiny cup. Immediately the room smelled rich and full. And as I sat there, around a table with others, feeling very confessional about my problem with coffee and seeing the knowing nods of other lovers of bold flavors and dark roasted beans, I felt all warm and fuzzy (and only slightly jittery). I tasted the Breakfast Blend and Sumatrans and learned about where the coffee grows and how it’s roasted until it’s caramel-colored (Oh! To talk candy amid the coffee, this place was heaven). Dave took us on a coffee journey as he talked about the journey my dear beans had been on. I made up words like “roastier” and learned that to love coffee, you have to be a romantic.

The beans come from exotic sounding places in mountains and fields far away. Dave explains geography is a big part of the flavor and about how you fall in love. The roasting is done with care and watchfulness. He even describes how the Starbucks Company brings their product and service to communities through a variety of business models using descriptors like “we’re just dating you” to “oh, now we’re married.” You’re not just a coffee lover, you have to be a lovah to get into this stuff (says the Libra).

I’m a coffee lovah, for sure, and cannot wait to hear the grinding rumble of the espresso beans in the machine, the frothing buzz of the steamer and sit back and watch the amazing reaction on guests’ faces when they, too, get to meet my lover…right there in public, in front of everyone at the Pfister Café.

Coffee Tasting: A little slice of heaven.

As a side note, look to the Pfister Facebook page for some pictures of the experience and opportunities to vote on what the house blend should be!

What to Watch For

I like this job because I’m a people watcher. I earned a degree in Sociology simply because it meant “the study of people.” I have learned, ampoule too, that the best people to watch and study are those who do the same thing. I sat in the lobby bar and met Val– cosmopolitan wasn’t just her drink, it was her way. She had the most fantastic haircut and as I talked with her, I finally understood what “day-to-evening” wear meant. In a word, hospital she was fabulous.

She mentioned she was waiting for a traveling friend and generously added that he often was late. She was always prepared for his travel tardiness, however, and knowing he may be as much as an hour late (braving rush hour traffic through Chicago as he reached the city) she pointedly chose the Pfister for their reunion. “I told him to meet here because I knew I’d enjoy sitting here having a drink while I waited for him, purchase you see, I knew he’d be late.”

I laughed because I’m always that person people plan around. I had to reveal this to Val, but I don’t think it ruined our new friendship. What secured our bond is that Val, too, is a people watcher. In addition to the far too comfortable couches, Val chose the Pfister because, as she says, she likes to guess why everyone is there. “There are always so many things going on, I like to watch people and pair them up, see which group they might be with.” And that’s when I introduced myself as the Narrator, saying “Why, that’s my job!”

Val has had many an adventure. From the “Cruise from Hell” to lots of incredible dining recommendations, she’s who I’m hoping to be—someone well-versed in all Milwaukee has to offer.

As the applications are being accepted for the next Pfister Narrator, I can’t help but feel excited for the next people-watcher they recruit. Especially because they’ll get to be a part of the next phase in the Pfister’s life: The remodeled Pfister Café. Last week’s luncheon there when I ran into so many people I knew, was my last in the former space.

Last night, I gave up people watching for vision. Joe Kurth, the hotel’s manager, took me on a tour of the space mid-transformation. We were pointing at walls and walking out distances, swinging our arms and conjuring up what will be the future look of what I had formerly thought was one of the best people watching spaces in the hotel…and it came with a tuna sandwich named after our state senator and killer oatmeal. I rest assured, now, though, as I blinked into the future, that it can only get better.

I was people watching, but only as a gypsy fortune teller. I saw the line for coffee, I saw the pleasant barista who serves the business traveler, I saw the wedding party members, perhaps battling the remnants of a great party the night before, stopping in the gift area for a remembrance of their time in Milwaukee, I saw the laptops buzzing quietly on soft chairs in the café window. The best view in the whole house, and I can’t wait to take my seat.