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As we celebrate our 35th Anniversary, it’s fitting to recognize and honor our ladies and gentlemen who opened the resort on August 27, 1984 and have been providing guests with extraordinary service and creating The Ritz-Carlton guests for life. We welcome you to read their personal stories about their history and legendary service at our iconic resort. Get to know each of them by clicking on their names.

Penni Garcia, Club Supervisor

What was your first position in the hotel?
I’ve worked on Club my entire career with The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. It’s my dream job; I can’t see myself ever doing anything else.
 
What makes you stay at the resort?
It never feels like work. The Club Lounge is my home and all of the ladies and gentlemen that I work with are my family.

You have received a lot of recognition over the years. Is there one acknowledgement that is most special?
In 2013, I was selected as a recipient of the Gold Standard Award. It was truly special because it recognizes exemplary service and a commitment to the company’s philosophies; and it is my goal every day to live the Gold Standards and provide exceptional service.

You receive countless thank you letters from guests. Is there one that stands out?
A very loyal Ritz-Carlton guest stayed with us for the first time and then sent a very nice note to the general manager saying, “I have stayed in over 20 Ritz-Carlton hotels in the world, but your Club level surpasses them all by the exceptional service provided by every single one of them, and especially by Penni Garcia who I believe is the diamond a top of The Ritz-Carlton tiara.” I thought the tiara reference was so sweet.

Is there a wow experience you’ve created for a guest that you would like to share?
I’ve created many wow experiences, but the one that will always stand out for me was an unforgettable surprise birthday party for a 12 year-old girl who was staying at the resort. My team and I arranged a special dinner in front of the fireplace that included all of the birthday girl’s favorite dishes. Each of us took part in the celebration. We baked her favorite cake, decorated her room with 12 balloons, and presented her with a beach shell jewelry box to remind her of her stay. I knew that she loved the Jonas Brothers so I bought hear a Jonas Brothers backpack and pillow. I’ll never forget her surprise and delight.  It was truly priceless.

Andrew Simler, Culinary

When you started, what position were you in?
I started as the assistant butcher. I prepared all of the fish and helped with other meats when needed. I eventually was promoted to head butcher.  I’ve had a wonderful culinary career at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel for the last 35 years.

What made you want to work at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel?
I had heard that the hotel was opening and the restaurant company that I was working for at the time was struggling so I decided it might be a good idea to start looking. The hotel had an assistant butcher position open, so I applied. I remember interviewing with the chef who was the opening chef of The Dining Room. It was great because after the hotel opened, we had the opportunity to work closely together.

What are some of your special memories?
Years ago, the hotel had a big event called World of Food and Wine. It was a weekend event where chefs and winemakers from all over the world would come to the hotel and offer different classes and programs with a grand tasting on Saturday night. It was always a great event and I had the opportunity to meet such amazing and interesting chefs. I was fortunate to meet such legends as Julia Child, Paul Bocuse, and Emeril Lagasse.

I also had the opportunity to meet Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He wasn’t here for World of Food & Wine; I think he was staying at the hotel. He asked to see the kitchen as he was remodeling his kitchen at home and wanted to see how ours was designed and what professional equipment we had. I remember he stopped in the butcher shop and we had a fun conversation about the Cowboys and the Redskins.  

What keeps you here?
The expectation when people visit a Ritz-Carlton is excellence. I truly enjoy the daily challenge of making every piece of meat and fish that is served in the hotel first class.

Any words of wisdom?
I think you need to work somewhere that makes you better every day; and I feel that I continue to learn and grow as a butcher and as a person in my role here at the hotel.

Dora Juarez, The Gift Shop

When you joined the resort, what department did you work in?
I started at the resort in the laundry department. I was there for almost 9 years. When I was working in the laundry department, I would also provide babysitting services in the evenings for guests who wanted to enjoy dinner without their children. It was a great way for me to make a little extra money. I saved the money I made from babysitting and used it toward college for my three children.

Over thirty-five years, what other departments did you work in?

While I worked in laundry, I provided lateral service to the banquet department. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed my experience, but I realized quickly that carrying the big trays was not really my expertise. I transferred into Resort Services and spent about a year there before I joined the team in The Gift Shop 20 years ago. 

What keeps you at the resort?
I enjoy meeting the people that travel from all over the world to visit our beautiful resort. It’s such a special place to visit. So many of our guests are repeat guests and it’s nice to see them year after year. I enjoy watching their children grow up and have been at the resort long enough that many of them are now coming back with their grandchildren. I also stay because it’s like home and the ladies and gentlemen that I work with are like my family.

Celebrating memories is a specialty of Ritz-Carlton ladies and gentlemen. Can you share a story?
A guest came in to the Gift Shop and was looking for a few sundry items. I escorted him to the sundries area and when he turned to walk back to the counter, I noticed that the seam in the back of his jacket was coming apart.  I mentioned it to him and explained that I was a seamstress and that I would be happy to repair it for him. He was so surprised that his jacket was torn and was grateful that I offered to fix it. He took the jacket off and I stitched up the seam while he waited. When I was finished, he put the jacket back on and purchased the sundry items that he originally came in for. It wasn’t until I was ringing up his items that I realized that he was the president of the organization that was holding their meeting at the resort. Later, I was told that he shared his experience with all of the attendees at his meeting and told them all that what he experienced was Ritz-Carlton service.

How did that make you feel?
I was very proud to have made such an impression on him, especially since I was just doing what I could to help a guest.

Dean Thompson, Raya

Why did you want to work at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel?
It was the 80s and the Love Boat was my favorite show on television. I loved the character, Gopher, and what he did as a steward on the boat. It looked like he had the best job in the world. So when a friend said I should apply, I looked at all of the positions that were available and I saw “stewarding.” I was so excited; I filled out an application. When I went for my interview, I met with a gentleman in a white lab coat. I remember thinking it was a little odd, but the hotel was still under construction so maybe that was just what they wore. He took me on a tour and showed me the dishwashing machine. I thought “how nice for him to show me so much of the details.” It was then that I realized what stewarding really was. It didn’t matter; I still wanted to work at the hotel.

How long were you in stewarding?
I was there for seven months. At the time, Mr. Humler was the director of food & beverage and I transferred into The Café, which was our three meal a day restaurant. I have worked in almost every restaurant the hotel has had, including room service. I think the only restaurant I haven’t worked in is The Dana Pool Café.  

Many of our guests know you because of your signature personalization with a rose. Tell us how that came to be?
I was a server in The Club Grill, which was a dinner dance club that was extremely popular with guests and the local neighbors. There was a live band, a drum machine and even a disco ball. There were always large bouquets of fresh roses on display. They would put new roses out every night so they were always pristine. The roses that were being replaced were still beautiful and they used to sit in a bucket behind the restaurant. One day, I decided to hand them out. The restaurant was busy and sometimes guests had to wait for a table so I would present the lady with one of these roses and they would forget about the time. It just took off from there and became something I did every night. Thirty five years later and I am still presenting roses. It truly embodies what Ritz-Carlton is and provides guests with a signature moment. I hope that by doing this I have created a few guests for life.

What’s one of your signature moments?
When it was announced that The Club Grill was going to close, all of these long time guests came in for dinner so that I could wait on them one last time. It was so touching to know that I had made such an impression on so many people. One guest, a noteworthy music producer, even presented me with a plaque, thanking me for all that I had done over the years in making The Club Grill such a special place for him to visit.

What keeps you here?
Through our Gold Standards, I am empowered every day to create guests for life.

Guadalupe Mendoza, Public Area Attendant

What is your favorite part of working at the resort?
Seeing our guests is like seeing my family. I really enjoy engaging with them. We have so many guests that have been coming to the hotel for many years. I love seeing them each year and catching up.

What’s one of your best memories?
I was in the main lobby area and I saw a guest standing looking at the ocean. It looked like she was crying so I approached her to see if I could help her with anything. We spoke for a few minutes and I realized that she was here as a tribute to her husband who had recently passed away. She told me that the hotel was one of her husband’s favorite places and he loved coming for their vacation every year. I really didn’t know what to say, so I simply put my arm around her to comfort her. She turned and hugged me and we both cried together. It was a very touching moment.

What was your first position at the resort?
When I started at the resort, I was in the housekeeping department and I helped put the finishing touches on the guestrooms. It was my first job. I helped put the lamps in the rooms, made all of the beds with the new linens and made sure each room had things like television remotes, robes in the closet and towels in the bathrooms.

After the resort opened, what was your position?
I was still in housekeeping and I was a turndown attendant. My English wasn’t very good so it was really perfect for me because I didn’t see many guests. When I was performing turndown services in their room, they were out enjoying dinner or having cocktails.

When other positions have you held?
I spent a few years on day service in housekeeping and then more than 20 years ago I became a public area attendant. I can’t believe it’s been 35 years. I always know how long I’ve been at the hotel because my oldest child was born the year I started.

Byron Taliaferro, Banquets

When you joined the resort, what department did you work in and what did you do?

Byron: You have to remember over 35 years things have changed, but I started in The Lounge Bar as a bar back, helping the bartenders, keeping them supplied with glasses, fruit, liquor and breaks!

Over thirty-five years, what other departments did you work in?

Byron: I worked five years in The Lounge Bar and after that, I decided to transfer to banquet beverage where I’ve been for 30 years.

What keeps you at the resort and why do you enjoy working here?

Byron: I really like the people I work with. I always look forward to coming to work and having fun! And the view isn’t bad! Celebrating memories is a specialty of Ritz-Carlton ladies and gentlemen.

Can you share a memorable story working at the hotel…

Byron: I had a guest come up to me and ask if I worked here a long time. I said I had! She told me that she was here seven years ago and remembered because I was in their wedding video and every time they watch it, there I am.

What a memory to be part of! How did that make you feel?

Byron: I do so many events that sometimes I forget that really I am part of someone else’s special day!

What surprises you most that you’ve been at the resort for 35 years?

Byron: All the people that have come together over the years. If you really think about it, it’s in the thousands!