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Female Disruptors: Maddy Cretella of Landmark Hospitality On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

The first piece of advice that has resonated with me is “measure once, cut twice.” S​​ometimes, we are too quick to make decisions or take action, and inevitably we have to use twice the time later to fix mistakes that could have been avoided.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maddy Cretella.

Maddy Cretella serves as Director of Marketing and Engagement with a strategic plan focused on continuing to grow the Landmark brand as both a leader in hospitality and in business. Today, under her guidance, Landmark Hospitality’s reach has grown exponentially through impactful social, digital, and print advertising, as well as email campaigns by utilizing technology platforms and analytics. Inspired by the amazing industry contributions of her parents, Jeanne and Frank, Cretella embraces the opportunity to continue the memory-making culture of Landmark Hospitality as the family-run multidisciplinary firm looks towards the future.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My parents have been in the hospitality industry their entire lives — their first jobs were helping my grandparents with their family businesses. I grew up in the industry, chasing our family’s dream, so it just felt like a natural progression to follow that path.

Since I was already passionate about the hospitality industry, I just needed to find my niche when it came time to decide on college. My father handled the building and development side of the business while my mother was customer-facing, dealing with the day-to-day operations at the properties. I always loved marketing, and, at the time, the world of social media was exploding. This led me to complete my college education at Monmouth University, where I graduated with a double major in business management and public relations.

My lifelong fondness for events and celebrations led to my first industry role: designing wedding cakes. Shortly after, I found my niche in hospitality marketing, which involved embracing the excitement and creative side of the industry. Since my start with Landmark Hospitality in 2015, my role has continued to grow. I’ve learned that being part of a family-run business means wearing many hats and jumping in whenever and wherever needed.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Landmark Hospitality is a woman-steered organization, making me incredibly proud as we continue to increase our presence in the industry. I feel as if we’re paving the way, not only for companies in this industry but for businesses in general. It’s incredibly important to have women in leading positions to set the tone and act as examples for generations to come. Currently, Landmark Hospitality employs 214 women and counting! We’re proud to invest in the futures of female leaders in this industry by providing resources and giving opportunities to women, which allows them to hone their skills and create success in the future.

I am also the founder of Morgan Stillhouse, a distillery coming soon to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The distillery will produce original spirits under the iconic Stork Club label. The liquor industry, much like the hospitality industry, has been male-dominated for too long. I’m ready to bring my skills and expertise to this new venture and create space for more female leaders in another market.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first thing that comes to mind is when I posted a photo of my dog, Enzo, that was meant for my personal Instagram account to our main business account for Landmark Hospitality. I didn’t realize for a few minutes until I saw that people were commenting on the post. I was so confused! After that, we deemed Enzo the Landmark mascot — who doesn’t love a golden retriever puppy?!

From this, I learned that accidents could turn into a great storyline. It’s all about what you make of them. Experiencing something and learning from it is always beneficial in the long run. Now, I triple check my work before posting it on the internet!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My parents have undoubtedly been my mentors throughout my life. When I was a young girl, we fell into some hard times. I was so excited that my parents and I were moving in with my grandparents, too young to understand why we couldn’t live in our own home anymore. We stayed with my grandparents for three years, and it was in that timeframe that I saw just how dedicated my parents were to achieving the American dream. Hospitality ran through their blood, and they were determined to become a success story.

My weekends as a child were filled with learning the ins and outs of the business. On Saturday mornings, I’d be at our latest construction site besides my father, learning how to read plans. I would watch as a simple plot of land transformed into a magnificent structure. Saturday nights were spent by my mother’s side, trailing her through the restaurant. My first memories are from the Boathouse in Central Park, NYC and Lundy’s Brother’s Restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I was deemed the “hostess in training” at the mere age of six, as I’d follow behind my mother each time she sat guests. There is so much excitement in the air during service on a jam-packed weekend, which I quickly became obsessed with; witnessing a wedding was just as exciting — seeing the room transform from a blank space to an event in full swing, providing guests with an incredible experience.

In 2001, they started Landmark Hospitality with the opening of Liberty House in Jersey City, New Jersey. A whirlwind after that, fast forward 20 years, and here we are — multiple venues, restaurants, and boutique hotels. Their continuous hard work and dedication are the reason they are where they are today. They are an inspiration, and I hope one day I make them as proud as they make me.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I believe that it’s important to identify areas of industries that need improvement to enhance the field overall. If we don’t make a conscious effort towards change, industries and people will never evolve and improve. For example, at Landmark Hospitality, we pride ourselves on investing in the professional development of our employees. We want to invest in their futures, whether they decide to pursue the hospitality industry long-term or not. So many of these skills are transferable to a wide variety of career paths. Time management, communication, leadership — all of those attributes contribute to career development. We strive to provide our employees with an environment where honing these skills is encouraged and possible. This is our form of disruption. We stray from the “norm” of the endless hustle seen in the restaurant and hospitality industries, and rather seek to transform it into an experience that contributes to the larger picture of someone’s life.

Disruption can become negative when it manifests as an unanticipated obstacle — such as the pandemic. However, it’s about how you decide to tackle the challenge. Many throughout the field, including ourselves, had to quickly come up with solutions to survive. We quickly pivoted and highlighted our outdoor dining spaces as our main draw. We also created experiences for families during the holidays, providing them with fully prepared meals to take home and enjoy, expanding our grasp on the signature memory-making Landmark experience. We are constantly innovating and reevaluating our processes, including the continued integration of technology into our practices. Elements such as remote check-in and virtual keys cater to the sanitization of our facilities and eliminate the more mundane tasks in our practices. This allows us to spend more time on the guest experience and fine-tune our business to live up to our values.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first piece of advice that has resonated with me is “measure once, cut twice.” S​​ometimes, we are too quick to make decisions or take action, and inevitably we have to use twice the time later to fix mistakes that could have been avoided.

Secondly, something that I apply to my everyday work: “say yes and show up.” We miss 100% of the opportunities we don’t take a chance on. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, go to the networking event — you never know who you’ll meet, the ideas you’ll come up with, or the great things that could come from it.

Lastly, “when you know better, do better.” Never stop learning. It is imperative to continuously be open to learning from others with an open mind. Going off of my last point, you never know what opportunities you’re missing out on when you’re unwilling to hear different perspectives, learn from others, and have new experiences.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I believe it is critical to always stay relevant by continuing to learn about the industry. I constantly stay on top of trends in the industry and try to apply them to Landmark Hospitality as a means of exceeding guest expectations. Looking towards the future, I am eager to immerse myself further into the operations side of hospitality. As we grow our brand, we are becoming a lifestyle company, expanding our offerings beyond restaurants and events. I hope to continue this trend as we evolve our company to continuously innovate new ways to create our signature memory-making experiences for our guests.

I’m also excited to expand my real estate portfolio — 2018 marked my first entry into the field with the acquisition of The Farmhouse in Hampton, NJ, and, in turn, adding it to the iconic Landmark Hospitality Portfolio. This historic treasure will soon go under development and will grow to include a second event space, boutique hotel, and restaurant.

I also want to continue to develop the hospitality school we started, Art of Hospitality Workers Alliance. It is a well- respected Hospitality School that introduces the underemployed and unemployed to entry level positions in hospitality. This is all reinforced with the inclusion of life skill classes such as Financial Literacy, ESL (English Second Language) and GED offered to all who participate. Additionally, Art of Hospitality helps those already in the industry unveil their potential and grow their talents and business, thus being afforded the opportunity for advancement through higher-level classes and coaching. The mission of the foundation is to support the needs and dreams of hospitality workers by offering career paths, growth opportunities, and propelling career advancement while offering financial support. We are committed to acting as a safety net for hospitality workers in New Jersey and believe that the hospitality industry is one that provides endless opportunities for all. It is an industry in which an individual’s achievements are limitless so long as they possess a willingness to learn and have a passion for giving.”

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think the biggest challenge is being a woman in a male-dominated field. It’s so important to empower female leaders in these male-led sectors so that future generations have role models, someone’s footsteps to follow. Pioneering new ways of inclusion can be a rocky road at many points, but knowing that the work I do now can impact a young woman breaking into the industry years from now inspires me to continue moving the needle. It’s the same way in the liquor industry, and I hope to continue breaking into new industries to help set a larger precedent for generations of female leaders to come.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I recently started listening to the Hospitality Hangout podcast. It is an excellent resource to learn more about trends and technology advances in the field. The podcast hosts touch on so many different avenues, from guest retainage to improving online ordering. Across the board, it’s super informative. It’s always exciting to hear topics that they discuss and be able to relate something that we’re doing. For example, we implemented keyless check-in for our hotels — next thing I know, they’re talking about it on the podcast! I love listening to the show to learn more about how others are navigating the industry, and these different perspectives have been helpful as our company grows.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Landmark Hospitality started an initiative that facilitates schools for adults with Autism to come to our restaurants and learn basic hospitality skills. From polishing silverware, to folding napkins and cutting vegetables, program participants refine skills that we hope they can utilize to get a job in the field of hospitality. We aim for this program to give individuals experience that they can use to build a career for themselves through learning the ropes of hospitality firsthand. My hope is that one day all restaurants partake in a similar program, because you meet so many beautiful people and contribute directly to their success — nothing is better than watching them thrive. One story that we often think of is that of Angel, a line-cook at one of our restaurants, Liberty House; he started coming to Liberty House with his classmates as a part of the program. When he graduated, he was hired as a member of the back of the house team. Fast forward to today, Angel makes every pasta we serve to our guests — from linguine to raviolis and everything in between. It has been incredible to watch him grow and blossom into an integral part of, not only our internal team, but a major contributor to the experiences of our guests.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is, “Want blue skies? Grab a paintbrush.” It’s a saying that my father has been telling me since I was a little girl that I still carry with me today. It simply means that anything you put your mind to, you can achieve — only you are in control of your destiny. He instilled in me that everyone wants the best, but not everyone is willing to put in the work to get there. The only way to get to the top is to start climbing — the view is always worth the blood, sweat, and tears.

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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