Legacy Series: Reich’s Life of Serendipity Brings Him to Hospitality’s Door

Posted: Monday, May 8th 2017 at 4:52 AM

Indirectly finding his passion

Over time, Allen Reich discovered he loved teaching. But stepping from construction to manufacturing to the restaurant business to teaching at Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management took several twists and turns.

“When I graduated from college, I had no idea that I would be going into the restaurant business. I was in the construction business, a general contractor for a homebuilder,” said Reich.

Because of unstable economic times and a slowdown in construction, he took a job as a Production Coordinator for Westinghouse helping to build gas turbine engines for power plants. One day everyone was called into a meeting and were told that because the demand for the turbine engines was slowing down, that the plant would close for two years to retool to prepare it for switching to heavy duty electric motors. Because of his experience in construction and a management degree, Reich and a friend who was a chef put together a business plan to build and open a restaurant. While they were looking for investors, to get experience in the field, he got a job cooking at Lakeway World of Tennis, which was owned by H. L. Hunt (known as the richest man in the world at that time and the inspiration for J. R. Ewing and the show Dallas).

Reich jokes that luckily no one gave the two 25-years olds the money to open the restaurant, but he found something much better—a love of cooking and the restaurant business. Over a brief period of time, with hard work, the knowledge gained from studying Julia Child’s seminal book—Mastering the Art of French Cooking—the mentorship of a skilled and kind European chef, management skills and degree, he progressed to being named Sous Chef at Green Pastures in Austin, Texas (Green Pastures was on James Beard’s list of the 100 best restaurants in the world). The restaurant was owned by the family of John Henry Faulk, a humorist, writer, and civil rights proponent that was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. While at Green Pastures, he was called on to cook for Lady Bird Johnson at the LBJ Library, the Texas Governor, and many dignitaries such as Helen Hayes, Kirk Douglas, astronaut Alan Sheppard, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, and many others.

After management stints with the Night Hawk Steakhouse (the highest volume steakhouse in Texas and the first major restaurant to hire African-Americans in front-of-the-house and management positions), and as General Manager of company-owned restaurants for Schlotzsky’s Sandwich Shops Corporate Headquarters, he opened a chain of restaurants called Purdy’s Hamburger Market & Bakery. The restaurants were successful, however his partner, whom he later found had the nickname of “Rip-off Ralph,” had a few ethical challenges, such as trying to hide the business’s profits. With the proceeds from a successful lawsuit against Rip-off Ralph in hand, Reich began consulting for restaurants.

After consulting for a number of restaurants, he sent the manual he used to help operators to two publishers to see if it they were interested. To his surprise, both wanted to publish it, so he negotiated a contract with one of them. This book led to his meeting the Dean of the Conrad Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, which led to his being offered a teaching job at the College. As he began teaching, he realized that he had already been teaching for many years. The difference was that in the restaurant industry it was called training and mentorship. After five years at the Hilton College and earning a Masters degree, he left for Virginia Tech to complete a Doctorate in Hospitality and Tourism Management. Two of Reich’s graduate students at the Hilton College that were teaching at Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Marja Verbetten and Bert Van Hoof, told him of an open faculty position, so he applied and was hired.

Reich teaches human resource management, marketing, and the senior seminar (capstone) course. To make sure that each student learns the key concepts from the courses he teaches, every student, along with other assignments, prepares a human resources, marketing, or business plan for the company of their choosing. These plans require a thorough analysis of the firm and its environment, and the establishment of objectives, strategies, and tactics for the main topics addressed in each course. This teaching strategy helps students learn foundational aspects of management for each course and is as close as a student can get to learning the practices of quality managers without actual implementation.

Finding himself as a manager, then leader

In most business and civic organizations that Reich has been a member of since his late 20s, he would find himself as either a manager or leader.

“Early in my business management life, I thought that I could manage people, but I was hesitant to consider myself a leader. What I found was that if you respect people, have strong personal values, work hard to establish strong values for the firm, and find people to hire with similar values, then amazing things begin to happen. When people realize that they have the opportunity to live their dreams and passion, and to be part of something greater than themselves, their level of motivation increases exponentially. Fortunately, I was recognized for my efforts at instilling strong values at several opportune times in my career. I call it ‘getting tapped on the shoulder,’ because I was often asked to take on additional responsibilities at the same business or organization, or to help lead a different business or organization.

“As far as leadership goes, the first thing that I try to do is find out what the culture of the organization is and to be very respectful of the culture and people. The next thing is to plan for the future, and to do so in a collaborative manner—let everyone help to chart the company’s and therefore their own course.

“Then comes probably the most important task—once you have the plan in place, a good leader will get out of the way because whether you are managing 5 people or 500 people, you cannot do everything or even micro-manage everything. The reason you’re the leader is to create an environment where everyone in the organization sees no difference between personal goals and those of the organization. Perhaps as important is to give credit where credit is due—the people that do the work. I worked in two organizations where the leaders took credit for everything, creating a hostile and uncomfortable environment—people felt disrespected and unappreciated. In both cases, the previously successful businesses closed-down—simply because of someone’s need for attention and the jealousy of others that received any recognition. One was aforementioned, Rip-off Ralph.

“A leader who has inspired me and that has been instrumental to our hotel and restaurant program for three decades is Dr. Galen Collins. Galen has been executive director, associate dean, and interim dean for most of my time here. His philosophy of helping others to achieve their potential and of letting others shine always created an environment where all faculty and staff, as the old adage goes, would ‘row in the same direction’—and do so happily. Galen was the one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked for,” Reich said

Moving forward, looking back

For his recent sabbatical, Reich looked forward to a break after commitments to dozens of committees inside and outside of the university, including being on the Faculty Senate Executive Committee for seven years, president of the Faculty Senate for two years, chair of the Arizona Faculties Council, holding the faculty seat on the Arizona Board of Regents, and more. So far his sabbatical research has resulted in the publication of an article on tip credit law, presentations for the 2017 International Hospitality Educators Conference on the topics of minimizing bias in the assessment of human resources departmental performance and the creation of an effective learning outcomes process for hospitality programs. He is also gathering research for an article on one of his areas of interest in his work as an expert witness—the prevention of slip, trip and falls.

Reich keeps current with the hospitality field. A few years ago, he created a web site to help independent restaurant operators with free information on how to prepare missions statements, marketing, human resources, and business plans, and even free advice. The last two years averaged 3,700 hits each. Currently, Collins is joining Reich in updating the site.

His work as an expert witness in preparing 20- to 50-page reports for legal cases has been rewarding for Reich because it allows him to utilize his 50+ years of experience to help attorneys find key facts that non-hospitality people have missed. As the lead restaurant expert on the 1.6 billion dollar Boston Market lawsuit, he found information that helped his clients, Boston Market executives, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank, to avoid financial penalties. In the last few years Reich participated in five externships, mainly with hotels, to broaden his experience beyond the restaurant business. He even went through the new employee orientation program with the JW Marriott hotels in Phoenix.  

He relates to Marriott’s management style as it harmonizes with what he teaches in his human resources classes, in particular with one of the ten topics that he covers, Values, Morale, and Motivation. “If the employees aren’t happy, if they don’t feel like they are participating in something that’s meaningful, then they’re not going to carefully listen to management, and they’re not going to be motivated to help customers or to follow the leader.”

“Our School’s main leadership teacher for many years has been Dr. Frances (Frannie) Hill. She inspirationally teaches our students about having strong ethical beliefs, about treating people the way they want to be treated, to be considerate of others as decisions are made, and to do so in a way that benefits all stakeholders in the organization—you do good by doing good. Every HRM alumni survey that was taken produced the same result. Frannie’s leadership class was viewed as the most beneficial course in their time here. Because of Frannie’s effort and that of others in our program, we have been graduating students that have adopted strong values and an earnest consideration for the feelings of others in their personal leadership and management philosophies and practices. The thing that I am most proud of in my years at NAU is that fact that we teach our students about the importance of strong ethical values and treating each other with kindness, and that we do so by exemplifying the same or similar philosophies to those of Dr. Hill,” said Reich.

When not working on classes and research, Reich enjoys playing guitar (mainly blues) and woodworking. He plays regularly with the NAU Cabaret Group that performs at Firecreek Coffee Company, for residents of the Peaks, and at other venues. At local schools and the Murdoch Center (African-American Community Center), he teaches the history of the blues and how the genre was created by slaves and their use of music to make their lives a little more bearable. He frequently provides harmonicas to school kids and sometimes adults, then teaches them how to play the blues. Some semesters, he also plays for students in his human resources course to teach them the importance of learning their employees’ beliefs and attitudes, and how to empathize with them. Another hobby of Reich’s is residential construction and building shaker style furniture. As the general contractor, Reich built his home (Prairie Castle) that was designed by Charles Montooth (1920–2014) of Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the last active architect to be trained by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Reich’s efforts on campus were recognized in 2013 with a special award for Service Leadership from former University president John Haeger. Current President Rita Cheng honored him with the NAU President’s award (Faculty-of-the-Year) for 2015-2016.

Reich looks forward to continuing his work with other HRM faculty to prepare students to get tapped on the shoulder many times in their career.

Learn more about Reich in his biography HERE.

Categories: allen reich legacy series faculty spring 2017 2017