Hoyas in Hospitality

Hoyas in hospitality featured alumni

Meet four Hoyas succeeding in the booming hospitality trade, most of whom didn't intend to go into the service industry initially. Find out how they ended up there and why they love their jobs.

Susan Holt

Susan Holt (MA'85)
Principal, CulinAerie
After finishing her Master's in English Literature, Susan Holt planned to work for a couple of years and then attend law school like many of her family members had; however, when that option didn't pan out, she began to think about other career choices. More

As she was exploring the things she really loved to do—cooking, eating and traveling, Holt came across L'Academie de Cuisine, one of the top culinary arts schools in the country and decided to enroll.

After completing her culinary studies, she worked at the Georgetown restaurant 1789. She enjoyed her job, but was extremely busy and soon longed to have more time with her family. Soon, Holt started working at L'Academie as an instructor, and began consulting on her own as well.

It wasn't until she ran into former classmate Susan Watterson at an alumni event for L'Academie that she considered doing something else. The chefs, both English majors with no prior business experience, are now partners and principal chefs of CulinAerie, a Washington, D.C. recreational cooking school that offers cooking classes to persons of all skill levels.

Holt believes in her area of hospitality, the focus should be on the customer, not the chef. For her, the best part of the job is being able to make her clients feel both accomplished and well served. Whether hosting amateur cooking competitions, individual classes or corporate team building events, at the end of each session all participants sit down to a communal meal.

"Even those competing with one another during the class get to enjoy the fruits of their labor together," she said.

Although she attended Georgetown with other career goals in mind, her time as a Hoya remains a great influence on her career. The strong culture of entreprepreneurs, she said, helped shaped her confidence to pursue doing what she loves for a living.

Ben Bleiman

Ben Bleiman (C'03)
Co-owner, Tonic Nightlife Group
Seeking to support himself while a scholarship student at Georgetown, Benjamin Bleiman got his first restaurant job at historic D.C. watering hole Clyde’s. More

With no experience, he started as a food runner and went on to work nearly every position in the restaurant. After graduation, Bleiman decided to become a writer and moved to San Francisco. To supplement his new-graduate budget, he also continued to work as a bartender at popular San Francisco hangout Harry’s Bar.

After a short time, he became the bar’s general manager. “The owners [of Harry’s bar] were very smart and knew how to run a bar very well,” said Bleiman. “They were the best and at 23 it made me realize I wanted to own my own business.”

When he asked his bosses, who owned multiple businesses, for advice they unanimously suggested buying a bar, since he already knew how to run one.

After taking a few years to get some corporate sales experience at a tech consulting company, he started his own bar, Tonic.

Since then, that single bar has blossomed into seven, and Tonic Nightlife Group, his company, now owns two commercial real estate properties, an event company and a music festival ranch in Mendocino County, California.

Bleiman really enjoys the work that he does now. “For many people who come into my bars, it is the best time of their day. Even the worst work I have to do is still around people who are happy. We chose a business that is inherently fun,” he said.

Bleiman credited one of his most important skills to his Hoya education as an English major. “The fact that I can write—and write well—gives me a huge advantage with my business,” he said. “Whether I am lobbying at city hall, writing a business plan or coming up with booklets for staff, I am always using my writing skills.”

He especially appreciates his time with Professor Norma J. Tilden, visiting assistant professor in the Department of English, “She taught me so much, and she set the bar really high,” he said.

Besides the influence of his professors, Bleiman also found inspiration from his fellow Hoyas. “What I found at Georgetown was a bunch of extremely smart people who were used to figuring out how to succeed. I learned that success is inevitable if you follow the winning formula,” he said.

This formula, it seems, works quite well. “I can’t think of a single friend of mine from Georgetown who isn’t wildly successful now,” he added. “That’s an amazing thing.”

Mariana Cotlear

Mariana Cotlear (F'07)
Marketing Strategist, Chipotle Mexican Grill
Mariana Cotlear first became interested in food from a creative perspective as a teenager, teaching herself to cook in high school. More

At the same time, she was very interested in politics and policy and saw herself as someone who, like many Georgetown students, wanted to address some sort of social issue.

While a student in the School of Foreign Service, Cotlear, who majored in culture and politics, focused her studies on ways she could make a positive change in people’s lives. In her Media Gatekeeping class, she learned about how lack of access to nutrition info leaves consumers uninformed about what they should eat and fosters an increased consumption of unhealthy food.

“I learned that the best way to influence these issues was to change culture through media and marketing,” she said. After earning her Master’s degree in public health at Columbia University, she used her undergraduate experience and graduate student knowledge to help launch Food Corps, a nonprofit that strives to give youth an enduring relationship with healthy food. The company is now an official charity partner for Sweetgreen, co-founded by Georgetown alumni and Cotlear’s classmates Jonathan Neman (B'07), Nicolas Jammet (B'07) and Nathaniel Ru (B'07).

“I saw that food touches so many aspects of people—politics, money, food,” said Cotlear. “I realized that many of the social issues I care about in this country are directly related to food: obesity, diabetes, health disparities and economics issues can all relate back to food.”

It was through her work with Food Corps that Cotlear became familiar with Chipotle Mexican Grill and its “Food with Integrity” philosophy.

Now, she oversees and manages marketing efforts for Chipotle in the Greater New York City market, which includes all five boroughs, Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey. She also works to connect partnerships between Chipotle and local communities, working with nonprofits that promote access to fresh food or training on farming.

“We are in a pretty cool moment in the food space right now. There has always been a small segment of the population that is passionate about food quality and that segment is growing and it is much more common,” she explained. “People are seeing fresh and healthy as part of deliciousnes.”

More than anything, Cotlear enjoys working with people. “People who work in hospitality are generous people, they are gregarious people,” she said. “Hospitality is for people who care about the food but also about the passion it takes to get the food to the table.”

Luisa Santos

Luisa Santos (C'14)
Owner, Lulu's Ice Cream
Newly minted Georgetown alumna Luisa Santos knew from an early age that she wanted to create something that she could grow on her own. “I’ve always wanted to be able to leave an impact on people and on the world,” the Miami native explained. More

What she did not expect was that her love ice cream would lead to an opportunity to make that happen. “ I first discovered ice cream made with nitrogen when I went home for a visit,” she said. “It was amazing— the flavor and texture.” When she came back to the northeast, she was unable to find a similar product and a light bulb went off: she decided to create her own version, using only whole, natural ingredients.

“Food industries have spiraled out of control in the sense that a large portion of the food that is shipped around the world in large quantities has become very fake—either genetically modified or sweetened with high fructose corn syrup,” she said.

Her all-natural product has another distinct advantage. “It also tastes better,” laughed Santos.

Halfway through the fall semester of her senior year, she launched Lulu’s Nitrogen Ice Cream, hosting her ice cream pop-up shop at various events on and off campus and later hosting a weekly stand at the Georgetown Farmer’s Market.

Although she majored in political economy and not business, Santos said that if she weren’t a Hoya, she’s not sure this could have been a reality for her. Networking with other alumni small business owners through the Georgetown Scholarship Program taught her many useful tips in registering, managing and marketing her business. “My family gives me wonderful support and are my biggest cheerleaders, but for concrete, business-related guidance, I have relied heavily on my Georgetown family, ” Santos said.

Still a budding new venture, Lulu’s has already had some great wins. In November, Santos won The Startup Hoya Challenge Rocket Pitch, an elevator pitch competition held as part of Georgetown Entrepreneurship Day. Teams are selected to present a two-minute business pitch to a panel of esteemed alumni, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs for a cash prize of $2,500. Most recently, Lulu’s fared well at the spring Hoya Challenge at this year’s Entreprelooza, winning Santos first place for a commercial track business, a People’s Choice Award and Student Entrepreneur of the Year.

Now that she has completed her undergraduate studies, Santos plans to spend her summer growing sales for Lulu’s by making agreements with local bakeries and coffee shops. “It will be like a Lulu’s shop within the other shops,” said Santos. “This way we get to test different neighborhoods out and start to get feedback about what works and what doesn’t before we open our own shop.”