Johnattan Diaz is a superstar at creating teams. In the last year he has revamped the entire food and beverage department at Garza Blanca Puerto Vallarta, hiring new chefs and managers in every area. I caught up with Johnattan and his assistant, Cristobal, to hear about the new and improved F&B teams at Garza Blanca. Here is what they had to say.
Why have you hired so many new team members from all over Mexico this past year?
Johnattan Diaz: Residence Club members always ask for new options of Mexican cuisine in our restaurants here at Garza Blanca. They say, “We want real Mexican food!” So that’s why we recruited our new chef, Ovidio Perez, who is a specialist in Mexican cuisine.
We are also starting a new program at Garza Blanca Los Cabos to incorporate more Mexican contemporary cuisine. The menu will be 30% chef’s creation, 30% cuisine from Puerto Vallarta, 30% local cuisine from Los Cabos, and 10% local dishes or regional dishes.
In the last year we have really begun to “grow up” with a whole new crew, including the new bar manager who created the new menu of signature drinks for Blanca Blue.
Cristobal and myself will work on the pool and beach menu for Aqua Azul to create and add more variety of dishes for lunch and dinner, because I think the people are looking for a relaxed place where they can come and enjoy an easy dinner, not too formal, not fine dining with a dress code.
How do you manage quality control in all the restaurants at Garza Blanca?
Cristobal Perez: We are really on top of everything and all the products that we are using inside the restaurants, and we have very good quality control. First of all, we challenge our suppliers to bring us the best quality ingredients they have. We buy local as much possible, and we have a commissary kitchen where we prepare everything fresh for all of the other restaurants on the property. We bake our own breads, we make our own salsas and sauces, we do some of our own butchering, we make as much as possible fresh in our own kitchens as opposed to buying pre-made.
We have two internal audit programs at the corporate level to ensure quality control in all the restaurants. The first one is called “Perfect Restaurant.” In this audit, we check the building, the structure of the restaurant, the furniture, how it’s organized, the menus, the store, the maintenance of equipment, procedures, quality, stock, how the restaurant manages the product, and we make sure everything in the restaurant is working properly, or improve it if needed.
The second audit program is called “Perfect Plate. This audit is is about the presentation of the food. It starts with the purchasing department. We specify at the corporate level what kind of quality we are looking for in the ingredients we purchase, for example we describe the beef tenderloin we want to purchase by color and by weight. We specify quality for all of the ingredients that we buy, and how they should be prepared by our commissary kitchen and by the chefs in all of our restaurants. Chef Refugio Silva is in charge of the commissary kitchen and delivery of all the products made there to all the restaurants on the property – everything from salsa to short ribs cooked for 8 hours. Chef Silva knows the Perfect Restaurant and Perfect Plate standards very well and he makes sure that all of the restaurants are adhering to the standards. His job is the behind the scenes but it really impacts the guests and the hotel operations.
Johnattan, tell me about yourself and your background.
Johnattan Diaz: I was born in Guadalajara in 1988. I’m 30 years old. I studied in Aguascalientes at Universidad Polytechnica de Aguascalientes. I’ve been working in food and beverage since I was 8 years old, starting with my grandparents’ restaurants. My first formal job was in Aguascalientes. There I worked in bars in restaurants, then I worked at Fiesta Americana in Aguascalientes, and later at Applebees in Aguascalientes. I moved to Cancun in 2010 and started working at Melody Maker for Melia. I participated in the openings of the Paradisos in Playa del Carmen and Melia in the Bahamas. After that I moved to Garza Blanca in 2012 or 2013 and started working here in food and beverage. After 6 months they changed my position to Food and Beverage Manager, and I stayed for 2 years.
Then I went to Melia in Cabo for 1 year, I opened 2 restaurants for someone in Guadalajara, and then I moved to Playa del Carmen to open the Carmen Hotel in downtown Playa del Carmen and stayed there for about a year and a half.
Garza Blanca called me again to come back in February of 2018. My previous travels gave me the opportunity to meet some of the best chefs from all over Mexico, and when I came back to Garza Blanca, I had the chance to recruit some of them to come here.
I like this company because this company moves fast. We have a saying, “Working for Tafer Resorts is like living your life in dog years, because 1 year here is equal to 7 years in another company.” What we mean by that is that the company moves fast and grows fast. There is good opportunity for the staff to grow quickly into their careers. There are lots of opportunities for young and talented people. The company pushes us to grow.
Tell me more about your Food and Beverage team.
Johnattan Diaz: Right now we have 145 people in the food & beverage team, including stewards, bar staff, service staff and kitchen staff.
The most important thing in our team is to have good communication and understand the expectations of our members and guests. This is the most relevant ideology that we have. Members are very important for the company because they are the ones who set the baseline standard; they tell us what they want and we adjust according to their desires.
We have cocktail parties for the members every week on Thursday for regular members & Friday for all members. We have a chance to interact with the members, to know how was their stay, what are their requirements, if they are happy, if they want to share anything with us. It’s easy for us to recognize the members because every year they come 2 or 3 times per year, so we know them and it’s easy to connect with them. When we talk with them, they tell us what they expect.
Cristobal, tell me about yourself and your background.
Cristobal Perez: I am the Assistant Operations Food & Beverage Manager here at Garza Blanca. My direct supervisor is Johnattan Diaz, who is the Food & Beverage Manager for all of Garza Blanca. I’m originally from Guadalajara. I have a degree in Tourism from Universidad de Valle de México. I also have a diploma from Universidad Autonomo Guadalajara in Food & Beverage Management. Additionally, I have a certificate in International Hotel Management certificate from Glion, Switzerland.
I decided to go to Switzerland because of the opportunity of being accepted in the Glion Institute, which was the second best hotel school in the world. I was really excited to be with the group of people who were taking classes at that moment. People totally focused on hotel management and F&B management. You get very good, inside information from different hotels and different countries. People from South America and Europe. Excitement mixed with different cultures. People really get connected and share information. Being a Glion alumni gets you connected with all the people so you keep sharing information even when you graduate.
I started my Food and Beverage career in Canada at an Italian chain in Vancouver, then I moved to Puerto Rico where I helped with the opening of a Mexican restaurant that now has 4 restaurants; it’s a Mexican chain in Puerto rico. After that, I went to the Bacard Lake in south Mexico, and there I was working in a marine doing buffets. From there, I went back to Guadalajara and started studying. I met my wife 10 years ago. We have been married for 7 years and have 2 sons. She is from Puerto Vallarta. I met her in Guadalajara. One of the reasons we moved to Puerto Vallarta is to raise our children here by the sea.
I have my own restaurant in Guadalajara. I’ve been managing it for 7 years. It’s a seafood restaurant. I have a partner there. I also have a sauce brand. It’s a black sauce, a seafood sauce. It’s called La Cruz Salsa Negra. We hope to soon distribute it in the United States, so look for it!
Tell me about your experience working at Garza Blanca.
Cristobal Perez: I started working at Garza Blanca about 8 months ago. The person previously in my position got promoted to Experience Manager at Hotel Mousai, so there was an immediate opening. Johnattan was picking his staff from the search he was doing, and then I joined the team.
Johnattan did his search and worked with supervisors that helped him build the structure of the Food & Beverage department here at Garza Blanca. He has fostered very good communication the new recruits, and we have good synergy and good communication in the F&B team, which is important because we have a lot of improvements and a lot of opportunities that we are managing right now.
We have a very good team. Everyone has really good energy. Everyone is really interested in their departments and in their areas, and working daily in their areas. Food and Beverage is day by day; challenges come out of nowhere. Restaurant managers right now at Garza Blanca are really taking into their own hands all the problems and all the situations that need to be improved in order to provide the absolute best top quality service to our members and guests. Good customer relationship management is key. When something happens in one restaurant, the other restaurants are informed immediately so we can solve the issue. For example if a guest has certain preferences or food allergies and he experiences a problem in one restaurant, we adjust in the other restaurants to according to his needs. In this way we try to anticipate the experience of the guest.