Keepers of the Keys
by Laura Kusnyer and Jonathan Zeller, 02/23/2009
Name: Maria Wittorp-DeJonge
Title: Chef Concierge, St. Regis
Background: Born in Sweden; moved to NYC in 1991
Current home: New Jersey
On hospitality: "The answer is yes, to anything. That's why we're the people pleasers."
How long have you been with St. Regis?
I'm part of the furniture. [Laughs] I started in '91. It was my first job after school, and I never left. It was a love affair that still continues.
Why is it so great to be in this business in New York City?
It has so much to offer—an unending well of opportunities. A guest comes to you and says, "Okay, surprise me," and you get excited because you know New York can do that. It has everything, and you can see that in all the movies that have been shot about New York. We try to give guests that feeling—that they're part of the movie.
What's the most outrageous request a guest has asked of you? Were you able to pull it off?
One time, a guest wanted a puppy—a rottweiler—and they wanted it at a certain time to take back to Kuwait. We found a breeder that had rottweilers and got them to ship it. There are so many things that we've done. Once someone said, "I forgot my ring in the room. I'm in Chicago. How fast can you get it here?" We actually went with the ring on the plane because the ring was worth so much.
How do you determine where to send your guests when they want to go out?
I listen to them and try to make them excited. That's the way we are—human radar. I do a lot of research, and I'm very lucky to be in contact with some private shoppers who give me ideas. For our guests, it's usually Madison Avenue. We love Bergdorf, Barneys and Bloomingdale's. Also, Jeffrey in the Meatpacking District. It depends on each guest. You have to tailor your recommendations. And we try to get guests who have been here many times to visit other boroughs. Have you ever been to Staten Island? There's Historic Richmond Town. Or you send them to Brooklyn, which is so booming.
Has the current economic situation affected where you send guests?
To a certain degree, yes. That's when the human radar comes in. You know right away if money is important to your guests and if they don't want to spend as much this time as they did last time—so you kind of downscale the choices. Restaurants like Scarpetta and Allegretti are reasonably priced. We have favorites right around the corner, and a lot of times we know the maître d'. If I send a guest down there, it'll be open arms. That's what you want. It's all about creating that magical experience. It has to be bespoke, each time.