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Opulence and Prestige Are Not Enough: 10 SECRETS TO RUNNING AMERICA’S BEST HOTEL
By Kimberly Goad |


Moments in which the best version of ourselves-the movie version-emerges like a flash of light on an otherwise pitch-black night. Moments during which our symphonies crescendo, every word is right, our aim is true.

Moments of excellence.

True excellence. for most of us, is a destination. If we ever actually got there, we couldn’t possibly stay. The welcome mat is large and inviting, but to cross it is to enter a demanding club of very few members. And then, of course, there is the return journey. To ordinary.

For the dedicated, the pursuit of excellence is a way of life. Achieving excellence, arriving on the top of that steep mountain, is usually a transitory experience. But for some the top is merely a plateau on the way to an even higher goal. These very few have somehow found a way to breed excellence into their very bones. Schools may teach it. politicians may talk about it, businesses may look for ways to manufacture it. And by trying to distill it, or preach it, or mass-produce it, they miss or misunderstand its essence. Excellence is the back end of an equation. Few figure out how to take all its variables and affect a result.

Among the few in the world: The Mansion on Turtle Creek.

If achievement is characterized by an ability to plug in an “x” and a “y” to yield a consistently predictable result, excellence is characterized by an ability to take the same variables, yet yield a consistently superior result. Achievement can produce good profit margins, but it also often yields arrogance or complacency or pride-all enemies of excellence.

Excellence can’t be trained, it can’t be quantified, and it can’t be forced. It is a cumulative experience of always looking upward to the next plateau.

And while achievement can be measured-in a business, on the football field, in publishing, in the arts-excellence can’t be. There are only clues to its presence.

The most obvious? The seeming ease. Yo Yo Ma tricks the listener into wanting to reach for a cello and try it himself. Michael Jordan glides where others run, with a grace as natural as a sunset. Excellence truly attained looks easy.

We know better.

Excellence is daily, and it is hard. A detail here, more practice there, more work, and then more work on top of that. That may be the commonplace stuff of any accomplishment. The difference is that excellence performs all that-every day-with eyes fixed on a higher goal.

True excellence does not reach a standard; True excellence constantly changes the standard, lifting it upward just out of reach.

Nowhere more in Dallas than at the Mansion, ranked in survey after survey as America’s best hotel.

The secrets of its success? There are 10.

Cindy Crawford Slept Here

Secret #1: Attract the top tier, and all the rest will follow.

THE MANSION MARKETS ITSELF TO ONLY TWO TYPES OF people: Those Who Belong and Those Who Wish to Belong.

The former group, disproportionately powerful and vocal, is made up of assorted movers and shakers who feel that fame is good, money is good, and living well is especially good, inasmuch as it provides the framework for fame and money to coexist.

The second group, much larger, but by its nature far more silent, consists of those who have not yet been to the Mansion. Their knowledge limited to Alan Peppard’s column in The Dallas Morning News, they believe when they do actually step into The Mansion on Turtle Creek one day, they’re sure to cross paths with Cindy Crawford, Brad Pitt, assorted Dallas power brokers, and eventually, over time, assume their rightful place in the upper reaches of Dallas society. These are the people who keep tortilla soup, lobster tacos, and crème brulée on the menu, buy the Dean Fearing cookbooks on display in the restaurant’s foyer, and book a suite to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.

Caroline Rose Hunt knew this. By virtue of her own station in life. Hunt established the Mansion’s position when she geared the place to her circle of friends. In the beginning, the Mansion did not have the awards. The hotel and restaurant didn’t have the prestigious Mobil Five-Star Award or the American Automobile Association Five-Diamond Award. Zagat hadn’t voted the Mansion “Best Hotel in the United States.” The Robb Report hadn’t named it “Best U.S. Restaurant.” In the beginning, the Mansion was simply a Place to Be. the geographic center of the Dallas social world.

Predictably, those on the periphery of that world wanted to be seen at the Mansion. Seeking to measure their worth in the crucible of the Mansion dining room, they’d make dinner reservations for their special occasion two months out and still, somehow, get seated in the far comer of the Verandah (the Mesquite of the Mansion restaurant), far. far from the glitterati. They were paying the price of a first-class ticket and still getting seated in coach.

It’s never been enough to simply dine at the Mansion. Those Who Belong are seated in the main dining room-those who really belong, at table 14 and tables one through four-while the anonymous have always been left to dine anonymously in the Library or the Verandah. And yet, rather than angering or alienating those perched on the periphery, the social order at the Mansion worked to its advantage. Within months of the restaurant’s opening, what developed was the kind of mind-set that makes people stand in line at the hot new nightclub as they wait for a doorman to tell them if and when they might enter. Something to work toward. They couldn’t expect to be seated in the main dining room on this visit, but maybe next time, or the next.

The Mansion was, above all, a product of perfect timing.

“We wanted the people of Dallas to feel like it was their restaurant,” says Caroline Hunt. ’The timing was fortuitous because the city adopted the Mansion as its club in a New York sort of way. But it was all subconscious. I realized that, by 1980, most people had lost their household servants. Back when I grew up, everyone had a cook, and when we all sat down to eat at 6 every night, the cook served dinner. I realized that wasn’t available with most of my friends anymore. I feel when people go out to dinner, they want the luxury of being beautifully served. 1 also think people want to be recognized-not only by the staff; a lot of people want to be seated so that they can be seen.”

Therein lies the first key to the Mansion’s success: Establish a core following through quality, service, and preferential treatment, and the rest can be counted on to follow. In other words: Reserve the banquette in the bar for VIPs not with “Reserved” signs (too obvious), but with full-to-semi-full martinis and glasses of wine. Designate “extreme VIP” calls with an asterisk by the caller ID. Add managing director Jeff Trigger to the list of inspectors for VIP guest rooms. Send the limo to the airport for the European aristocrat. Custom-create a fried-chicken-and-mashed-potatoes-with-gravy menu for a lunch hosted by socialite Gloria Godat.

And never discount the power of snob appeal.

Over the years, the Mansion’s positioning has worked both to its advantage and disadvantage. In Dallas, it has always been alternately in and out of vogue to love/hate the Mansion because it represented all that was right/wrong with the Dallas social world. As the Mansion’s early cachet slowly succumbed to the city’s economy, the restaurant and bar became a moldering relic, full of tourists in search of what used to be a good time. With Dallas on the rebound, the Mansion is-once again-a Place to Be among the born-again revisiting their big-spending glory days at the Mansion. Saturday night at the Mansion bar, now, is part anachronism, part tourist attraction, and part theater. Those Who Belong and Those Who Wish to Belong take turns in the spectacle. Each considers the other its audience.

“There’s a strategy behind everything,” says Betsy Field, the Mansion’s director of marketing. “It’s not just ’Open and they shall come.’ The strategy is about image and positioning. We’re fortunate because the product speaks for itself, and publicity just continues to happen. We win these awards, the awards generate publicity, and the publicity generates interest.”

One thing is clear as the Mansion inches near its 20lh anniversary: The Mansion’s original customers are aging. As the hotel seeks to attract the next generation, the Mansion’s PR machine- careful to keep the hotel’s image intact through prudent dissemination of information-peddles not the clever anecdote surrounding the aging actor who stayed at the Mansion while he was in town on a Dallas Summer Musicals tour, but, instead, the news of Mansion guest Rod Stewart kicking a soccer ball on the baseball field of Highland Park High School-thanks to concierge Mary Stamm, who made the arrangements. Stewart in the society columns is a way of targeting the next generation.

“We can’t have a consumer base that’s dying,” says Field. “It’s all about staying in front of the cultural attitude. What does a 30-year-old want? We know what a 60-year-old wants, and we know they can afford it. So how do we make ourselves acceptable to a 30-year-old?”

It begins with an introduction. Five years ago, the Mansion began positioning itself as an urban escape. By offering special weekend rates, the hotel was able to not only build its occupancy, but also introduce the Mansion to a younger segment of the local market. Now, an estimated 75 percent of the hotel’s weekend business is made up of guests celebrating an anniversary, birthday, or wedding night. As part of an overall $6 million renovation last year, 40 of the Mansion’s 141 guest rooms were gutted and redesigned with the younger customer in mind.

The Mansion, too. has built a virtual cottage industry around the reputation of its restaurant and celebrity chef. The Mansion on Turtle Creek gourmet foods and gift baskets are sold across the country. The culinary calendar offers monthly events (like the $1,500 “Chef for a Day” package for a day in the kitchen with Dean Fearing).

“’Dean is a tremendous asset on so many levels,” says Field. “He’s a huge culinary talent, but just like Mrs. Hunt, he’s the real thing. He’s a country boy from Kentucky who loves to cook-and that sells. He is in demand. And Mrs. Hunt is as down-home as Dean, So the two of them are absolutely invaluable to me in what I can do marketing this place.”

The trick is to position the Mansion without overpositioning it. The carefully cultivated image of the Mansion as elegant, refined, and slightly snobby can work against building a new customer base.

“This is where the awards can work against you,” says Field. “It’s ’The Mansion has all these awards, it’s the best, we’ll never be able to afford it.’ So we don’t even get the phone call. Or when the meeting planner reads Alan Peppard’s column one too many times and sees the glamour factor they think, The Mansion probably doesn’t know what audio-visual is.’ We want our backyard to fully understand who we are, that we’re not just a celebrity social glamour factory. We’re not just Dean Fearing and a fabulous restaurant. We also have a director of conference services. And we’ve been awarded for the way we conduct our meetings here.”

To make sure the Mansion isn’t intimidating to what Field calls “the ordinary consumer,” (aka Those Who Wish to Belong), Field spreads word of the Mansion’s less prestigious awards. When Travel & Leisure recently named the Mansion “World’s Best Hotel Value” and Romantic Hideaway Report named the Mansion “Most Romantic Urban Hideaway,” the news was sent to targeted ZIP codes, and both awards were used as a positioning statement in an advertising campaign last summer.

“We don’t ever want to be in a position to not win awards, because there will always be a market for the best,” says Field. “What’s challenging is to make sure the broadest possible public can experience that.”

The Case of The Missing Robe

Secret #2: The customer is always right (but the customer always pays).

THE COUPLE CHECKED IN ON A SATURDAY FOR THE NIGHT. It was their first visit to the hotel, but there was nothing to indicate they weren’t what employees at the Mansion like to call “our kind of people.” Well-mannered, appropriately dressed-and typical of the kind of guests the hotel attracts on weekends. Since the Mansion began promoting itself as an urban escape, its weekend occupancy has jumped considerably: 85 percent of the hotel’s weekend business is made up of Dallas-Fort Worth area residents. The couple booked a room on the first floor, one of 14 that opens onto a small patio. As they prepared to check out on Sunday, the} apparently decided they wanted to claim a couple of mementos of their night at the Mansion-specifically, two white, hooded terry cloth bathrobes inscribed with The Mansion on Turtle Creek. There was just one problem: The thick robes were virtually impossible to pack. So the couple came up with a plan. They would hang the robes across the fence enclosing their patio-which backs up to the parking lot-and, on their way out, they would simply pick them up off the fence from the other side.

As the couple carefully took their robes out onto the patio and placed them on the fence, a security guard watched on one of 20 television monitors in an office near the back of the hotel. The Mansion’s security system was designed to protect the heads of slate, CEOs, and celebrities who regularly stay there, but that’s not to say the system can’t pick up random instances of petty theft. Twenty-eight hidden cameras keep watch over hall ways, entrances and exits, the fitness studio, parking areas-and patios.

When the security guard noticed activity outside a first-floor room adjacent to the parking lot, he called the front desk. “We’re not sure what’s going on here,” he said, “but we have guests who are putting what looks to be bathrobes across the top of the fence surrounding their patio.” The receptionist explained that the couple had just called and would be checking out any minute. “Don’t say anything,” the security guard said. “Let’s see what happens.”

Upon checkout, the couple paid their bill, which did not include two $100 white, hooded terry cloth bathrobes; after all, they weren’t theirs->w. They left the hotel, drove around to the parking lot off Gillespie Street, pulled up to the back side of the patio, grabbed the robes off the top of the fence, and drove away. Having captured the heist on videotape, the security guard then called the front desk. The attendant promptly added the $200 charge to the couple’s credit card. Not a word was ever heard.

Against the civilized backdrop of Jacuzzi baths, king-size down feather pillows, toasted-almond-waffles-with-rum-raisin-syrup breakfasts for two, and thick white terry cloth bathrobes, the Mansion collected its money without any unsavory discussion of dollars and cents-much less dollars and cents for items about to be stolen. It is the Mansion’s nonconfrontational approach to confrontation. Its staff is practiced in the finer points of dealing with issues that bedevil every business but are unsuitable for mention in polite society. And the Mansion is a polite society. Here, the dishonest or disgruntled guest is considered an aberration. Acts of petty theft or unruly customers are looked upon as surprising little disturbances in an otherwise splendid, white-linen world.

Like every other hotel managed by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts Inc., Caroline Rose Hunt’s hotel development and management company, the Mansion follows a system of checks and balances to make sure every complaint is heard. Comment cards go directly to Atef Mankarios, president and CEO of Rosewood; copies are made and then sent to the managing director of the offending hotel. With most complaints, Mankarios writes a letter to the guest acknowledging the complaint and informing him that the managing director is looking into the matter. VIP complaints are handled differently. With those, Mankarios contacts the guest himself.

When a recent first-time guest complained about phone charges at the Mansion, Mankarios called him directly. The businessman was paying $350 a night for his room and wanted to know why he was then charged an additional 50 cents per phone call.

“Most people just want to be acknowledged, to know that they are important to the opération,” says Mankarios. “They are forgiving if you take the time and energy to get back to them. The worst thing you can do is ignore a complaint or be defensive: ’Nobody ever complained about our soup; you’re the only one.’ How is that supposed to make the guest feel?”

So when Mankarios called the businessman, the first thing he said was, “You are absolutely right. If this happened to me, it would annoy me. too. Let me tell you why we do it.”

He explained that the Mansion had just installed a new switchboard that is covered by two operators 24 hours a day, and that he is simply a businessman who is trying to be cost-effective. The surcharge is meant to offset some of the cost.

Mankarios never offered reimbursement for the charges. He also didn’t hang up until the guest agreed to return to the Mansion the next time he was in Dallas.

“I’ll come back,” the guest said, finally. “But I won’t use the phone.”

The Spy at Table No.2

Secret #3: Constantly test your product.

THEY CHECK IN UNDER A FALSE IDENTITY. TWO BUSInessman claiming to be on a first-time visit to The Mansion on Turtle Creek. One has booked a room; the other, a suite. Their reservations are for four nights- more than twice the average Mansion stay-but the discrepancy does nothing to sabotage their alias. After all. they look like Mansion guests. One is dressed in a conservative business suit; the other looks as if he’s spent the morning on the golf course. Inside their suitcases are Polaroid cameras, stopwatches, dozens of notepads. Never in the 17 years they or their colleagues have conducted this semiannual charade have they or their purpose for checking into the Mansion been discovered. Only upon checkout do they reveal their true identities.

At that point, they ask to see Jeff Trigger. The Mansion’s managing director meets them in the lobby and the two impostors introduce themselves. They are professional spotters with Richey International, a hotel management consulting firm. Agents with Richey check into the Mansion anonymously twice a year-once on behalf of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, an association of independent hotels, and again on behalf of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts Inc.-to survey every corner of the Mansion hotel and restaurant. They offer Trigger a brief oral summary of their findings, and then they compile the data-specific criteria with day-by-day, department-by-department comments and ratings-in 100-page binders that go to Trigger and Atef Mankurios.

Professional spotters are Trigger’s best hope of staying on top of his product. Luxury hoteliers catering to the top 5 percent of the market can’t afford to operate under a definition of quality that includes lesser establishments. Quality is like good taste; it’s elusive and entirely subjective. Even if Trigger operated within the confines of one conclusive standard of quality, he isn’t in a position to monitor it. He can’t experience the Mansion as a guest. He can’t be the out-of-towner calling to book a room. He can’t be the man in Room 805 calling room service during the breakfast rush. He can’t be the corporate meeting planner cold-calling Food & Beverage to find out information on the Mansion’s catering. He can’t be the guest double-checking his charges on checkout.

Instead, he pays Richey International $4,000 to send two agents to be his eyes and ears when his own eyes, ears, and voice are far too familiar to the staff at the Mansion.

As Trigger says, “If you’re constantly worried about whether the car runs, you’re not going to be concerned about whether it’s clean.”

Richey agents judge the Mansion against a set of standards compiled over 18 years of surveying the top hotels around the world. Their criteria are then customized by Trigger to suit the Mansion’s own set of expectations. Agents take Polaroid snapshots of the bathroom after Housekeeping’s gone. They sprinkle pepper underneath the bed, then look to see if it’s been vacuumed. They bum out a light bulb, then check to see if it’s replaced. They leave shoes unpaired to see if they’re re-paired upon return. They remove a piece of stationery to see if it’s replaced. They leave a sports jacket on the bed to see what Housekeeping does with it.

“We try to slay away from bizarre things,” says David Richey, managing director of Richey International. “Our clients are the hotels. Our work is highly confidential and not available to consumers. Unlike Mobil and Zagat, we don’t work for the public. Our job is to help the client get ready to serve the public. Asking for a peanut butter-and-bacon sandwich at 4 in the morning is not really instrumental to increasing service levels to most guests. We tend to emphasize things normal people are interested in.”

Not all sins of omission are considered equal. Points are subtracted for the front desk attendant who does not have an “attentive posture.” but more points are subtracted for the front desk attendant who miscalculates a guest’s bill. Points are subtracted for the room service operator who doesn’t answer the phone within three rings, but more points are subtracted for the room service operator who doesn’t “convey a professional demeanor.”

When the team of Richey agents made their last visit to the Mansion in June, they discovered a number of Haws: Sales & Catering did not adequately respond to a call seeking information for a small business meeting. The reservationist neglected to “up-sell” on one occasion. And Room Service failed to deliver two orders “within five minutes of estimated time.”

For example: Last June, the Mansion’s catering department received a call from a “corporate travel planner” interested in the availability of space fora small meeting in late September, early October involving 10 to 15 sleeping rooms. They would need meeting space all of Thursday and Friday with continental breakfast and a working lunch both days. The group would go off-site for one dinner and stay on-property for another. The catering representative offered to check on the Mansion’s availability and then follow up with a proposal. The “corporate travel planner” requested that the information be faxed to his office. When he received the proposal, prices for food and beverage were not included (a deduction of five points) and the proposal included information on only one of the two dates requested (a deduction of 10 points). Sales & Catering score: 89.1%

Over the course of one week last June, Room Service received six calls from two guests. Although the employee consistently answered the phone before the fourth ring, conveyed a professional demeanor, and made a point of suggesting beverages, points were deducted for two reasons: Even though the phone system is equipped with caller ID. the employee did not use the guest’s surname. And. on two occasions, the order was not “delivered within five minutes of estimated time.” One order arrived eight minutes late: the other, 12 minutes early. Room Service score: 86.4%

Last June, a guest visited the Salon at the Mansion for an unspecified service and had the charges billed to his room. The Salon failed to send the charges to accounting on a timely basis. Upon checkout, the guest paid what would turn out to be an incomplete bill; the delayed charge was added later. Checkout score: 87%.

“Our standards are beyond what any guest expects, so what needs to be understood is that we are talking about shades of good to excellent,” says Trigger. “We’re looking for ratings close to 100 percent and if the rating falls below 90 percent, we’re concerned.”

Sometimes when the rating merely drops below perfection corporate eyebrows are raised. When one of the Richey agents called to book a room for his four-night stay last June, the reservationist quoted only one rate. The score for Reservations (96%) was not exactly below the Mansion’s standards (as Trigger says, a little defensively, “If somebody books the reservation that’s a good sign they made a sale”), but it caught the attention of Mankarios.

“If the customer is calling and you sense from the conversation that he is a suite customer and you only sell him a room-you’ve lost money,” he says. “It’s yield management training. If you don’t apply yield management you will end up underselling and leaving money on the table, It’s the other side of the glamour-how you manage your business. You have to focus on the business side: Selling reservations, up-selling, selling banquets, your salespeople’s performance. How do they contact the customer? How do they follow up on a contact? It’s a great concern because if you don’t get back promptly, the customer will call someone else.”

After Mankarios gets a copy of a Richey survey, he highlights his areas of concern and then sends it to Trigger with a note requesting a course of action. Trigger, in turn, highlights his own areas of concern and gives a copy to each division head with a note request-ing a response.

“Our standards are pretty exacting, so a lot of times it’s just a matter of reviewing,” says Trigger, who had requested in advance of the last Richey survey that the agents take a close look at the catering division. “I knew it was a weak area, but it’s difficult to test. It’s easy to hire people who know how to sell and present themselves well, but the actual follow-through is important.”

Elizabeth Taylor and the Art of Infinite Possibility

Secret #4: Never say no (and never say yes).

A Mansion regular is in the restaurant for din-ner. She peruses the menu for her favorite appetizer-blackberry hoisin duck wrapped in a Hour tortilla-but can’t find the item. She motions for maitre d’ Wayne Broadwell. She had ordered blackberry hoisin duck wrapped in a flour tortilla the last time she had lunch at the Mansion. Would it be possible for the kitchen to prepare it for her? Broadwell knows the dish is not on the dinner menu. He doesn’t tell the guest no, but he’s careful not to say yes. Instead, he relays the request to the captain of the table who ventures back to the kitchen and explains to Dean Fearing that a Mansion regular is requesting the appetizer. The kitchen isn’t prepared to make the special, but manages to pull together a single serving from the lunch leftovers. Voila. Blackberry hoisin duck wrapped in a flour tortilla.

A guest calls down to the front desk with a problem, He is trying to prepare a cup of hot tea in his room and can’t get the microwave oven sitting on a shelf in his closet to work. The receptionist knows there are no microwave ovens in the rooms of The Mansion on Turtle Creek. Finally, she realizes the “microwave oven” the guest is trying to use to heat a cup of water is actually the safe. Rather than tell the guest the safe is not a microwave, she tells him, “We’ll send someone up with a pot of hot water.”

A guest decides on a Thursday he wants to attend the opening weekend of NASCAR. He phones Mary Stamm at the concierge desk: Could she locate a helicopter to transport him to the Texas Motor Speedway? Before Stamm, a member of the prestigious international association of concierges known as Les Clefs d’Or, takes into consideration the improbability of finding a helicopter on such short notice, she tells the guest she’ll look into it right away. She doesn’t say no. Nor does she say yes. She begins calling helicopter leasing companies in the five-state area, finally locating one in St. Louis, for a price tag of S 10,000. She presents her findings to the guest. The onus off Stamm, the guest is the one who must say no. He does.

Mansion employees operate in that vast, gray realm known as infinite possibility. “No” is unacceptable, but because “Yes” can be confining-and ultimately a setup for not delivering on a promise-neither is spoken at the Mansion. Everything is possible. Nothing is a problem.

The entire staff-from the guest room waiter to Jeff Trigger- is so adept at this practice of using neither the affirmative nor the negative that guests never even realize they’ve been denied a straight answer. The guest sitting in the main dining room for Sunday brunch asks the waiter to take a picture of his entourage, unaware that he has just asked the waiter to break restaurant policy. The waiter responds with neither a “Yes” nor a “No,” but an offer to take the photo-“A better shot, sir”-outside by the flowers. The guest gets his picture, and the waiter never has to explain to the customer that photography isn’t allowed in the dining room because that woman sitting with that man at the next table may not be that man’s wife.

Call it Mansionspeak.

For every problem, there is a solution. For every question, there is an answer-an A answer, a B answer, and a C answer. “A” is the easy answer, the true yes, the response that spills off the tongue like a genuine compliment when, for instance. Margaret Thatcher stays at the Mansion and requests daily delivery of The Times of London (the Mansion has a reliable source). “B” is the uncertain yes, the affirmative response laced with doubt when, for instance, a cold front blows through late Saturday night leaving Elizabeth Taylor-in town to toss the coin at the Cowboys’ season opener-in need of a fur coat by noon the following day. Stores arc closed, but the concierge discovers that the owner of Koslow Furs is dining in the Mansion restaurant that night. He agrees to send over a selection of fur coats early Sunday. “C,” meanwhile, is no in disguise, the “Let me refer you to the Yellow Pages” when the internationally prominent businessman asks for the name of :i local escort service.

When a real. honest-to-God “No” is in order, the question i;. kicked up to Trigger, the only Mansion employee allowed to use the word.

“Unless it’s illegal or infringes on the ability of someone else to have an enjoyable stay, there’s almost nothing we can’t do,’ says Trigger. “Some things take a little longer to accomplish, some things cost a little more money. But if somebody wanted to give their kid a Rolls-Royce and wanted us to pick it out, we’d have it done in a second.”

The easy yes. Answer “A.”

Mansionspeak is more than happy talk. It’s an effective sales tool, a way of repackaging any response that might otherwise reflect negatively on the Mansion. For instance: The Promenade- the informal restaurant linking the hotel with the bar and restaurant-always had trouble finding its niche. A popular spot for breakfast, it was chronically unsuccessful with its midday offering. The setting for casual lunch and afternoon tea, the Promenade was eventually used as a complement to the Pavilion, a banquet space to help attract larger groups. When the Promenade closed for lunch, the Mansion sales and marketing team never said, “The Promenade is no longer open for lunch.” Instead, it was “The Mansion is now accepting slightly larger groups.”

Mansionspeak: a sort of Zig Ziglar filtered through Emily Post.

The Mansion staff is trained to be positive, says Trigger. “If they think it can’t or shouldn’t be done, the right answer is, ’I’m sorry, I’m not sure how to do this for you, let me find out.’ What happens is it gets kicked to a person with more experience or more authority, typically both. By the time it gets to me I have contacts: I can get additional staff. If I don’t have them, I know someone who does. So what may seem like an outlandish request for the front desk clerk is easier for me.”

Take, for instance, the Dallas socialite who wanted to reserve a particular table in the main dining room for the New Year’s Eve party at the Mansion. The reservationist couldn’t guarantee the table, so the socialite demanded a meeting with Trigger. In his office, she sat across from him and began explaining to the managing director of the Mansion why it was that she and her husband-a prominent Dallas businessman-had to be guaranteed a certain table in the main dining room on New Year’s Eve. That particular table would allow them to sit at the front of the restaurant along the banquette with their back to the wall so (hat they could see everybody entering the restaurant (and everybody could see them). If Trigger could not guarantee the table, she told him, their lives would be in danger because there were people who were out to get her and her husband.

To see and be seen-a matter of I ire and death? At the Mansion, yes.

“My job isn’t to judge,” says Trigger. “My job is to deal with it. We’ve got some pretty high rollers here. This couple moves in some very fast circles, and they may have offended some people. She wanted to make sure she could see everything going on.”

Bypassing answers “A,” “B,” and “C,” Trigger declined outright to guarantee the woman the table. “We don’t reserve tables in the restaurant for the same reason we don’t guarantee favorite rooms,” he says. “’Say your favorite room is 608. Of course, we’re going to try and get you in 608. But what happens if the only suite we can accommodate the president in is 710, and his entourage requires the entire floor above and below? You think you ’re going to get Room 608?”

The answer, apparently, is an honest-to-God No.

The Sisters Who Learned To Live Together

Secret #5: Build partnerships, not rivalries.

Two sisters are born to a prosperous family. One is subdued; the other flashy. The older sister charms through nuance; the younger, through a sparkling array of accouterments.

Conceived by the same parents, they share the same values but possess disparate personalities which, in turn, provide entree to separate (though equal) worlds. The older sister develops a way with the quietly well-to-do; the younger attracts the hip and trendy. Had they been born in more certain economic times, they might have coexisted successfully.

But recession hits and their once faithful following suddenly lacks the means to visit at all. Soon the sisters are competing against each other as a means of survival.

The sibling rivalry grows bitter as the younger sister, the Hotel Crescent Court, begins to cannibalize the older sister, Rosewood’s firstborn. The Mansion on Turtle Creek.

IN THE LATE ’70s, SHE WAS NOT THE HUNT MAKING NEWS. Shy and soft-spoken, Caroline Rose Hunt was in those days Caroline Hunt Schoellkopf-sister of Bunker, wife of Buddy, mother of five, deacon of her church, charity fund-raiser. She was also a billionaire with vast holdings in oil, gas, cattle, and real estate. Her only experience in the hospitality business was as a guest. The daughter of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, she’d stayed in luxury hotels and dined in fine restaurants all over the world from the time she was a child. But the idea of opening her own hotel or restaurant had never occurred to her. Then she heard about plans to raze the old Sheppard King mansion north of downtown.

Hunt had an appreciation for preservation. Historical preservation mattered to her, and she didn’t like the idea of a fine building being demolished. Sheppard King had been a wealthy cotton baron who traveled Europe in the ’20s with his wife and architect in search of architectural elements and pieces of art for their 10,000-square-foot, Italian Renaissance-style home in Dallas. After the Kings lost their fortune in the Great Depression, they sold the mansion to oilman Freeman Burford and his wife, Carolyn Skelly, who lived there until the late ’40s. The Burfords sold the house to oilman Toddie Lee Wynne, who converted it into offices for his American Liberty Oil Company. By the ’70s, the estate had been sold to Republic Financial Services.

The preservationist in Hunt hated to see the salmon-colored mansion on Turtle Creek bulldozed, but that’s not why she bought it. She bought it on the recommendation of her oldest son, Stephen Sands, a real estate investor who believed it was a good investment. Sands had been following the success of entrepreneur John Coleman, who was renovating and running small hotels in Washington and Chicago. Sands liked the fact that Coleman’s two hotel-restaurants were managed by 21 Management Co., owner of the renowned 21 Club in New York City.

Sands had a plan: turn the existing King mansion into a bar and restaurant and then build an adjacent hotel of matching architecture. In 1979, he and his mother established Rosewood Hotels Inc. as the hotel development and operational company for the Caroline Rose Hunt Trust Estate and purchased the old King mansion for $1.6 million. An additional $19.4 million went toward renovating the historic old house into a bar and restaurant and adding the hotel.

The Mansion on Turtle Creek, as it was christened, opened in 1981 with a two-day gala covered by the national press and attended by 270 couples who paid $ 1,000 each. Dallas society embraced the Mansion like a long-lost (wealthy) relative. The press gushed over what was then a 2-to-l ratio of staff to guest at Dallas’ new luxury hotel, the 32-foot-high marble rotunda, and the attention to detail as evidenced by the jardiniere in the lobby, which was replenished three times a week with gladiolas flown in from Holland. “What Delmonico’s was to New York at the turn of the century when Eastern industrial opulence was in full flower,” The New York Times wrote, “the Mansion aspires to be to Dallas and Texas in the 1980s.”

In an article entitled “Bunker Hum’s Savvy Sister”-the story that Caroline Hunt now says changed her life for good-Fortune magazine called The Mansion on Turtle Creek “the most elegant place to eat and sleep in Dallas.” The taste of success still so new she hadn’t digested it. Hunt spoke of Rosewood’s plan to duplicate the Mansion’s success in eight or 10 other cities, as well as her plans to build a $250 million office, hotel, and shopping complex near downtown Dallas, a mile away from the Mansion.

Hotel Crescent Court would be the centerpiece of the Philip Johnson-designed Crescent Court complex. Hunt envisioned a hotel with all the amenities expected of a luxury property, out geared to the corporate and business segment of the market.

If the Mansion was a product of the times, the Crescent was a victim of the times. By 1986, when the complex officially opened, the economy wasn’t healthy enough to sustain two Rosewood hotels in Dallas. The international price of crude oil had plunged to $12 a barrel, a drop of nearly $16 a barrel over six months; commercial and residential foreclosures for the year totaled 12,398; the Savings & Loan crisis loomed. Even as 3,500 guests celebrated the Versailles-like Crescent at a lavish, $2 million opening-night gala, many doubted whether Dallas would ever again witness such a hearty display of conspicuous consumption.

“Until 1986, the Mansion was profitable,” says Atef Mankarios, resident manager of the Mansion at the time. “Then we shot ourselves in the foot and built the Crescent. So we had another Rosewood hotel with the highest standards and the highest amenities; a newer, more hip, younger sister-sexier, cooler, shorter skirts. Inevitably, the one that had the hipper product and the bigger pre-opening budget started cannibalizing the older sister that was beginning to struggle.”

Rosewood encouraged management and the sales and marketing departments at each hotel to remain independent, but the strategy backfired repeatedly. A Mansion sales rep would pitch the hotel to a corporate travel planner in New York only to find out that a Crescent sales rep had pitched the same account the week before. Invariably, the Mansion would lose the business to the Crescent, but the Crescent had discounted its rates so deeply (just to get the business) that it lost money on the deal.

“So the Mansion lost the business, the Crescent wasn’t making any money, and we were standing there shaking our heads wondering what was going wrong,” says Mankarios. “I was running the Mansion, trying to streamline the operation, and I had the Crescent armed with this very aggressive sales staff trying to take away my business. When I complained to the corporate people they’d say, ’Well this is the Crescent, and we need to get it going.’ I said, ’You forget that yesterday you made a big investment here, too. We have to work together; we don’t need to kill each other.’”

The losses mounted. Finally, in 1992 both sides of the sibling rivalry surrendered. Rosewood merged the sales and marketing departments of the two hotels. Rather than competing against each other, the two hotels were now presented as pieces of one luxury hotel package. The typical sales pitch talked up Rosewood, emphasizing the Crescent’s location, meeting space, and spa and the Mansion’s five-star rating, residential feel, and nationally recognized restaurant, By cross-selling the properties, the Mansion was then able to attract slightly larger groups which had previously shied away from the hotel because of its lack of meeting space.

In a city known as a corporate and convention destination, the Mansion has always had difficulty attracting groups. Its meeting space is limited to the Pavilion {which can accommodate a seated dinner for 100) and four private dining rooms located above the restaurant (the Sheppard King Suite, the Trezevant Room, the Burford Room, and the Hunt Suite) which, combined, seat fewer than 100. Complicating the equation is the fact that city wide hotel occupancy in Dallas drops dramatically during the summer.

“How do you deal with thai when you’re running a multimillion-dollar business? You have to have a group base,” says Mankarios. “It upsets the balance between the customer who says. ’You asked me to pay a premium, and I paid a premium. 1 don’t want to see salesmen with name tags around me.’ But you can’t build a core occupancy that sustains you if you don’t have select meetings and groups.”

Key word: Select.

The convention segment of the market is especially difficult. The city’s appeal as a convention destination turns the hotel industry into a boiling pot. The pressure starts at the bottom, where less expensive hotels fill first. As the demand for available rooms increases, the pressure builds until, finally, the expensive hotels fill. The Mansion being the Mansion, it wants only a particular segment of the convention business. Of the 40 city wide conventions scheduled in Dallas for 1998, only eight-the American Heart Association among them-are expected to bring business to the Mansion.

“This is an extremely important facet of how we do our business,” says Betsy Field. “Anytime there is a lot of activity our job is to determine what share of that business is important to the Mansion and to make sure we capture that share. We know through the profile of the American Heart Association attendees thai the Mansion is a perfect fit. So we start working inside that profile.”

The American Heart Association is among the large conventions thai envelop the entire city. When its 28.000 attendees descend upon Dallas for the November 1998 convention, the Mansion will sell out as a result of demand for hotel rooms. The Mansion, in other words, is the last to boil. But that’s just the beginning of the Mansion’s sales strategy. Believing the American Heart Association attendee to be its kind of guest- sophisticated, wealthy, well-traveled-the Rosewood sales team then targets niche groups, such as pharmaceutical companies eager to entertain, and sells them on the Mansion restaurant or the private dining rooms.

“It’s our job to understand the profile of the convention attendee,” says Field. “When we understand, we can then strategically target niches to get the maximum share of the business.”

By cross-selling the properties, each hotel maintains its identity. The Crescent, especially, makes it possible for the Mansion to stay true to itself. Five years after the sales merger, the convention segment accounts for an estimated 10 percent of the Mansion’s overall revenue; the group segment accounts for 15 percent.

“There’s nothing like the Mansion,” says Field. “The Crescent is much more in the pack, It competes with the Adolphus. Four Seasons, and. at times, the Fairmont. The Mansion has a limited amount of meeting space. So when you think about why it is people come to Dallas-meetings-then that means the Mansion has a job to do. We have to get out there and tell the marketplace that yes. we have all these stars and diamonds, but we want your business. We want your meeting and here’s how we can do it.”

In other words: Let me introduce you to my younger sister.

This Way, Mr. Nasher

Secret #6: Excellence is not achieved by one great thing, but by 10,000 very small things.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT THE MANSION. NO LONGER THE weekend, not yet the week, Sunday is the black hole of the luxury hotel business.

Inside the Pavilion, five tables are set with Bauscher china, cut crystal, and elaborate centerpieces. Dallas developer/art collector Ray Nasher has just arranged a permanent home for a portion of his $200 million collection of 20th-century sculpture in Dallas; the city of Dallas, in turn, is host-ng a dinner for 52 in his honor, The guest list is made up of what Food & Beverage director John Langston likes to call “Friends of he Mansion.”

An hour before the guests arrive, managing director Jeff Trigger s standing at the base of the three-step passageway connecting the Promenade to the lobby, his eyes fixed on the middle step. Trigger, who lives on-site with his wife and two young daughters, is the and of managing director whose eye for detail has him obsessed with screws on light switches that don’t line up and telephone receivers that smell or look as if they’ve been used once too often. By the end of a regular work day, his coat pockets are filled with random bits of trash picked off the floor.

Right now, the expression on his face indicates something is terribly, terribly wrong. The middle step has somehow been graced with a chip the size of a hockey puck. Nasher and company must travel these marble steps to get from the hotel lobby to the Promenade which opens into the Pavilion. Trigger retreats to his office to place two calls: one to Engineering, another to Security. Minutes later, the managing director, the engineer, and the security guard are huddled around the missing piece of marble, contemplating their options.

“We could put a piece of plywood over it and paint it white,” suggests the security guard.

“No,” Trigger says. “Let’s get one of our brass signs that says ’Caution’ and someone with champagne can stand here and say, ’Please watch your step.’”

“1 can stand here,” offers the security guard, an imposing figure at 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds.

After a quick consideration of his size, Trigger decides instead that he and Langston will greet each guest at the hotel’s canopied entrance and personally escort them to the Pavilion.

Later, as planned, the two position themselves by the valet park-ers. What appears to the guest to be a personal greeting from management is actually a safety precaution against someone tripping on the missing marble. “The more I look at it the smaller it gets,” Trigger decides. “People are walking down the steps on either side of it.” Indeed, now something else is bothering him. “This is not good,” Trigger says to Langston. “Ray Nasher is one of the first ones here. Everyone else should already be here to say, ’Hey congratulations!”’

It’s just a minor detail. One of probably a billion that-over the course of a year-can irritate, chagrin, and send into a flurry of action the Mansion’s managing director.

To preside over The Mansion on Turtle Creek is to preside over what Atef Mankarios, Rosewood’s president and CEO, calls “hundreds of thousands of details-on a daily basis.” Some are tangible (all-cotton sheets of 200 thread count); some are not (what Caroline Hunt calls “Texas friendly” service). Some are obvious to the average eye (hard-boiled eggs served with blueberry compote and garnished with mint leaves); some are not (the size of the spoon served with coffee).

Not long after Mankarios became managing director of the Mansion in 1987, he put into effect what has become an institution not only al the Mansion, but all Rosewood hotels. At the morning “arrivals meeting,” all department heads review the day’s arrivals through a computerized dossier that includes a history of each guest: likes and dislikes, “last time visited,” “total visits,” “which rooms stayed,” “rates paid.” Names of international guests are spelled phonetically; a hyphen by the name indicates “Dr.”

The Mansion is only as good as its collection of details. The trivial is transformed into gold when the Mansion staff is able to greet a guest by name and engage in small talk about his last visit.

“Good hotels provide the best service they know how to provide generally,” Trigger says. “Great hotels provide the service that the guest wants-not the service that they think the guest should have. That’s a real difference. We don’t make the assumption that we know what each guest wants.”

Given the quirky preferences detailed in the guest histories, they couldn’t. The couple from Germany “likes to sleep in same bed made up with separate sheets.” The man from Shreveport “likes room cold.” The couple from Colleyville who comes to the Mansion for brunch every Sunday, this week will be spending Saturday night; they “hate salmon.” The investment banker from New York “loves eccentric neckties.” The socialite from Houston is a “friend of Caroline Hunt.”

A number of Friday arrivals, including a photographer with a national society/fashion publication, are in town for a Saturday night party at the Dallas Museum of Art hosted by Nancy Hamon. “Is Mrs. Hunt taking care of the costs?” Trigger asks. “No,” says Andrea Gates, director of the rooms division. “Beautiful,” says Trigger, moving on to the next listing, a European baroness who “will be traveling alone” (“Do we address her as ’Baroness’?”). And the next, a guest who is “almost 6 feet tall and needs a larger tub because she likes to take baths.” and the next, a doctor from Oklahoma “on a first-time visit” to the hotel. This one catches Trigger’s eye. “It says he loves the Mansion,” Trigger says. “How could he love the Mansion if this is his first visit?”

“I’ll check,” says Gates. How is left unsaid.

God is in the details. So, too, is Mobil Travel Guide.

The final word on the country’s hospitality industry, Mobil travels to 22,000 hotels and restaurants each year, rating each against its standards of quality. It then bestows its prestigious five-star award on a very fortunate (and very grateful) few-this year, 25 hotels and 15 restaurants. But even those are still also-rans. Just three hotel-restaurants in the United States-St. Regis in New York, The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., and The Mansion on Turtle Creek-carry the double five-star award. The difference between a four-star establishment and a five-star establishment, says Atef Mankarios, is “the number of details.”

“It’s not one big thing we do at the Mansion,” he says. “It’s 10,000 very small things. Each one on its own sounds trivial, but the collection of all of them is what creates a great hotel.”

The four-star hotel has “distinctive architecture,” “well-integrated guest room decor enhanced by fine work,” management “generating staff commitment to guest satisfaction,” and “some guest rooms with phone in bath.” But the five-star hotel has “unique architecture,” “well-integrated guest room furnishings of superb quality with some antiques,” management “generating an almost tangible esprit de corps” and “three phones in guest room: at bedside, on the desk, and in the bathroom.”

When Mankarios became managing director of the Mansion, then a four-star property, he saw the hotel as “this beautiful lady with wonderful hair and beautiful eyes who didn’t know how to put her makeup on. It had all the makings of a great establishment,” he says. “We just needed to put our arms around it and direct it properly.”

His first goal: streamline operations so the front of the house could focus on taking care of the guests. When the Mansion opened in 1981, the hotel had invested tens of thousands of dollars in laundry equipment that, almost immediately, was collecting dust in the basement. The housekeeping staff had difficulty using the equipment; the machinery was breaking down. The hotel began sending its laundry-towels, linens, dress shirts-out of house. Not only was it an unnecessary expense, but the old equipment took up valuable space in a hotel chronically short on space. More important, the Mansion wasn’t able to service the guest who checked in at 5:30 p.m. and needed a shirt cleaned and starched in time for a business meeting the following morning. Mankarios had the equipment repaired and then established new procedures on collection and processing.

He also found there was nothing to distinguish room service at the Mansion from room service at any luxury hotel. Mankarios created an extensive all-night room service menu with items off the restaurant menu. “What it does is it obligates you to have a cook all night long,” he says. “’But if you utilize that labor properly, it is not wasted labor. Sure, between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. you may get two orders, so everybody-accountants-will tell you “What a waste of labor, cut it.’ But if you’re really smart, you know this guy can prep for breakfast and prep for lunch; he can work on the next day’s banquets. You utilize him.”

The changes were just a part of Mankarios’ plan to set the hotel on an aggressive course to become a five-star property. Up to that point, Mobil had refused to even inspect the Mansion on the basis of two missing criteria: The Mansion didn’t have a gift shop, and, because the restaurant was not attached to the hotel, it was considered an inconvenience to the guest.

Mankarios contacted the head of the Mobil rating team and asked for a list of criteria and then took the list-which included the tangible (“24-hour concierge,” “welcome gift from management”) as well as the intangible (“courteous, helpful, knowledgeable, articulate staff’)-and dissected it into tiny pieces, then distributed those pieces throughout the hotel. He wanted to give each employee a piece of the responsibility. The Mansion’s Human Resources department created a rive-star award system; employees who performed above and beyond the job were awarded five-star coupons redeemable for assorted gifts.

“I wanted to get the words ’five star’ into everybody’s head,” says Mankarios. “This is the target. We are working in a very narrow tunnel and at the end of it is five stars.”

Meanwhile, Mankarios took a floor plan of the property and, with corresponding diagrams and arrows, addressed what Mobil saw as the Mansion’s two physical impediments: the detached restaurant (“It is connected with a covered, air conditioned walkway; this is a great convenience”) and the missing gift shop (“We keep 60 items behind the front desk”).

Once a week Mankarios phoned Mobil’s head inspector for the five-star segment. A year passed and the inspector still refused to review the property. Then during a casual conversation with a friend in the industry, he discovered that the head inspector was planning a trip to Dallas to inspect the Adolphus. Mankarios promptly called her. “I said, ’I am the managing director of The Mansion on Turtle Creek, If you come to Dallas and do not inspect the Mansion, you may suffer a serious credibility problem because this is the best hotel in Texas. I’d like to spare you this embarrassment.’ She said, ’You clearly know I’m coming to Dallas because your call coincides with my plans.’ I said, ’It doesn’t matter how I know. The Adolphus is clearly a good hotel but it’s not the Mansion. Come to the Mansion first, then go to the Adolphus.’ And she did.”

In 1990, the Mansion, not the Adolphus, was awarded the coveted Mobil five-star rating. By then, Mankarios-not coinciden-tally-had been promoted to president of Rosewood.

Now, he is charged with translating the philosophy to every Rosewood-managed hotel. Over the last three years, the hotel management company has quadrupled in size. The Mansion is the only property owned as well as managed by Rosewood.

Known for his hands-on style of management, Mankarios is fond of saying, “My job is to conduct the orchestra, but they have to play the instruments.” The maestro, however, still can’t resist occasionally making his way into the pit. He claims he doesn’t spy. (But he does.)

Even now, Mankarios, who considers the Mansion Rosewood’s showpiece-the backdrop against which he woos prospective owners, representatives, and developers-describes his need “to feel the Mansion.”

“You have to touch it,” he says. “It can’t just be there.”

He regularly stops by on his way home to conduct any one of a number of unannounced quality checks. For a hotel staff trained to remember faces of Mansion regulars, there are apparently some who don’t recognize the face of Mankarios. He’ll walk up to the front desk and ask for change to see if the bills are crisp and new. He’ll enter through the back dock to see if Security stops him. Or he’ll wander into the hotel lobby, pick up a newspaper, find his regular spot-last chair on the right, near the fireplace-and then sit with his face behind the paper. “The longer I sit unrecognized, the more I know there’s something wrong,” he says. “Not because I want to be recognized, but because nobody should be sitting in the lobby unattended to. Somebody should always come up and say, ’Can I bring you something?’This is not the lobby of a train station where you can sit and read your paper. This is the Mansion.”

He says a Mansion staff member should approach him with the offer of a drink within five minutes.

On his last visit, he took his regular spot in the lobby. Opened up a newspaper. Buried his face in it. Seven minutes passed before a bellman approached him.

“Too long,” Mankarios says, shaking his head.

The Case of The White-Flocked Christmas Tree

Secret #7: First impressions set the tone.

THE DESIGNER FROM ZEN FLORAL DESIGN STUDIO arrives at The Mansion on Turtle Creek as he does every Thursday morning. The hotel spends $10,000 to $15,000 a month on its signature arrangements– in the lobby, the Promenade, the restaurant foyer. Once a week, always on a Thursday, the arrangements are dismantled and replaced with fresh flowers flown in from around the world. Each creation is an architectural feat, requiring more than two hours to build.

The arrangements have been a tradition at the Mansion ever since the hotel’s opening day when 400 gladiolas were placed in a vase on a glass-top table in the 32-foot marble rotunda. Dramatic, but simple. The physical embodiment of the Mansion aesthetic.

Without the floral designs or the individual peach-apricot Osiana roses-placed at the center of each table in the restaurant, on top of each room service tray-the ambience throughout the hotel is lost. It was Robert Zimmer, the first president of Rosewood and the original Mansion aesthete, who “set the tone for everything,” says Judy Blackman, director of Zen Floral Design Studio, which is owned by Rosewood. “The whole idea behind Zen is ’simplicity of design.’ It’s better to have one fabulous flower in a vase than a lot of flowers that have no meaning.”

On a Thursday before Christmas 1987, the Zen designer arrived at the Mansion to change out the flowers-and to install a 12-foot Christmas tree. In the past, it had been installed near the entrance, in lieu of flowers. This year the decision had been made to place the tree near the fireplace to imbue the lobby of the hotel with a home-for-ihe-holidays feel. It was blanketed in a thick coat of white flocking.

The Mansion aesthetic, though elusive, is shared by everyone in “the family,” as Rosewood is known among its members. As a member of the family, designer Blackman requires little direction. She knows the Mansion aesthetic as well as anyone. On this Thursday, however, she had wandered outside the boundaries.

Before the installer even made his way back to Zen Floral Design Studio, Blackman got a call from Mankarios. He wanted the Christmas tree out of the lobby. Immediately.

Within the hour, the 12-foot, white-flocked Christmas tree was gone. In its place: a traditionally decorated green fir.

The Mansion aesthetic-as key to the hotel’s success as its 2.3-to-1 ratio of staff to guest-was built on an appreciation of what Zimmer called “informal elegance” and an aversion to the commonplace.

When the Mansion decided the chocolates offered at turn-down were a waste of money (no one was eating them), they deemed miniature bottles of Evian a Mansion-worth y replacement.

When red roses were deemed too common, Zen Floral Design Studio searched for a replacement and came up with a rare hybrid in the Osiana rose that has become the hotel’s signature.

At the Mansion, water is never simply water. A rose is not just a rose. Even the house wine is more than “the house wine.”

“What we’re selling is a package,” says Mankarios. “In this package there are a lot of tangibles-accommodations, specific services, meals. And there are intangibles-atmosphere, ambience, elegance. The sum of all these things is what makes the Mansion charge $150 a night more in average rate than anyone else in Dallas. Is it the flowers’? Is it the service? Is it the carpets in the lobby? It is the sum of all these parts.”

Which explains why it is that Jeff Trigger, Dean Fearing, sommeliers Kent Rice and Pierre Beloeil, and Food & Beverage directors John Langston and Alex Jureeratana are sitting around the conference table in the Hunt Suite sipping seven glasses of red wine-apiece-in the middle of an afternoon. The Mansion is in pursuit of a new house red.

The Charles Krug cabernet currently holding that distinction has gone the way of all wines endorsed by the Mansion: In the 11 months since it became the restaurant’s house red, the cost of the wine has jumped 30 percent, making it *lno longer feasible” to carry, says Jureeratana, who gets five to 10 calls a week from distributors wanting the Mansion to carry their wine. “Once a wine becomes the house wine at the Mansion, the price goes up. We can’t stock up.”

For that reason, the house wine at the Mansion changes up to three times over the course of a year. Each change is the result of a series of blind tastings by key members of the Mansion staff. It is not a quick process. Four weeks went toward selecting a current house white, a Texas chardonnay by Delaney Vineyards, the once-unknown wine company located in Grapevine. Lifted from relative obscurity to overnight acclaim by virtue of the endorsement, Delaney is now big.

In the Hunt Suite, the fate of seven cabernets from around the world rests on the collective palate of the Mansion’s tasting committee. Because it is a blind tasting, only Jureeratana, who is responsible for researching the contenders, knows which labels correspond to wine glasses one through seven.

Glasses are swirled, sips taken, notes scribbled. Trigger, Fearing, Beloeil, and Jureeratana pick wine No. 3. Langston, too, includes No. 3 in his top three. Is it unanimous? Have they found, on the third of what is typically four tastings, a Mansion-worthy red? Jureeratana lifts the bottle corresponding to No. 3-an Argentinean wine, as it turns out-from underneath the table. The label shows the silhouette of a curvaceous woman. The Argentinean wine is called…Evita.


Charging $8 for a house white made by a Texas wine company headquartered in Grapevine is one thing. But Trigger wears the expression of a managing director who is glimpsing the future and picturing the sales job involved in charging $8 for a house red called Evita in the bar at The Mansion on Turtle Creek.

“If it were outstanding. I wouldn’t have any hesitation,” he says, staring at the glass of Evita before him. “Let’s advance it for the final tasting,” he decides. “But Evita? For the house red?”

The idea of a Mansion guest sipping a cabernet named after the subject of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is, apparently, too ghastly for the group to imagine. The wine is rejected.

The Great Voice Mail Controversy

Secret #8: Keep up with the changing market (but don’t step ahead of it).

IT IS THE KIND OF PLACE YOU COULD REVISIT AFTER A 15-year absence and still find green-and-white starched tablecloths in the bar and couples dancing to “New York, New York” or “My Funny Valentine.” The same familiar, if faded, floral-print bedspread and draperies would decorate your favorite room. An enormous arrangement of flowers in an oversized porcelain fish bowl would still welcome you to the restaurant.

It is the kind of place you could revisit after a 15-year absence and still find phone messages handwritten in triplicate and then hand-delivered within 20 minutes. An actual, rather than automated, voice would deliver your wake-up call. Toiletries would still be available not in an on-site gift shop, but stashed like contraband in cabinets behind the front desk.

It is the kind of place that’s immune to the passage of time.

When your hotel is conceived as a last bastion of gentility in a vulgar world, how many concessions to the complexities of modern life can you make without allowing that world to infringe? A stay at the Mansion is meant to be like a stay at the home of a very wealthy friend. How much change is possible before you’ve got a lobby full of guests in Bermuda shorts wearing name tags?

Depends on whom you ask.

The old guard, Atef Mankarios. Or the new guard, Jeff Trigger. The old guard was responsible for shepherding the Mansion to five-star status and establishing its international profile. The new guard is expected to translate that success to the bottom line.

During his tenure as managing director of the Adolphus, Trigger successfully repositioned the historic downtown hotel by doubling its meeting space, which made it more attractive to groups. Impressed by his success at the Adolphus, Mankarios hired Trigger at a time ( 1991 ) when the Mansion was poised for financial success.

“Jeff’s predecessors made more of a push for the Mansion to be known, to become a showpiece,” says Ling Riley, director of sales and marketing for Rosewood Dallas. “Jeff has taken the Mansion to the level where no one looks at it as just a rich person’s toy. It is a money-making investment.’”

Mankarios and Trigger represent opposite ends of a natural tug of will between the Mansion’s past and the Mansion’s future. Trigger is, at heart, a controller. He is also a modern hotelier in search of ways to improve profits. He believes the failure to provide amenities people have come to expect could render even a five-star property inhospitable. Mankarios believes that providing such amenities might threaten the Mansion’s distinctiveness.

Minibars, for instance.

In advance of the Mansion’s $6 million renovation last year. Trigger reviewed the Mansion’s longtime aversion to minibars and determined that the addition of a small refrigerator stocked with miniature bottles of alcohol, soft drinks, and candy bars {placed discreetly within the armoire of each guest room) would do nothing to compromise the Mansion aesthetic or affect room service revenue. Trigger won that round. (The addition of mini-bars, in fact, has generated $200,000 in additional revenue.)

When it became clear that the Mansion was losing business because of its dress code. Trigger changed that, too. The consultants with 21 Club in New York-the original management company of the Mansion bar and restaurant-insisted on implementing a dress code as a means of establishing ambience. In the years to follow, the dress code (coat and tie for men, no denim) found itself at the center of a heated debate between those who believed it helped preserve decorum at the Mansion and those who believed it kept potential customers away. Three years ago, following a week that saw the Mansion turn away a tieless Tom Selleck, a tieless Richard Dreyfuss, and a tieless guest in an expensive Versace suit (as he pointed out in his letter of complaint), Trigger decided to relax the Mansion dress code. “It was becoming absurd,”Trigger says. “We had people who were very well dressed, well mannered-our kind of people. What happened was we weren’t being hospitable anymore.” More to the point: The restaurant was losing business.

As expected, a number of Mansion devotees responded with outrage to what was surely the beginning of the end of The Mansion on Turtle Creek.

“People have an amazing ownership of the Mansion,” says Trigger. “One of our regulars told me I had embraced Satan. The very next day, he was in the restaurant ordering like it was nobody’s business.”

At The Mansion on Turtle Creek, change is viewed with great trepidation. The unspoken philosophy is that change upsets the delicate balance between the certainty of what has always been and the uncertainty of what is to come. There are implications of changing the guest rooms, the dress code, even the butter presentation.

For years, Wayne Broadwell has waged a campaign to change the butter from unsalted to lightly salted and its presentation from butter curls on the bread dish to butter-filled ramekins on the table, ’it’s very difficult to get change,” says the maitre d’. ’They want everything to be consistent.” Otherwise. Broadwell says, the guests write letters of complaint: “’Hey, the last time I was in your restaurant you had butter curls. It was unsalted butter and I really liked it. But now you’re serving butter in little ramekins- plus, it’s salted.’”

Ultimately, the fear is that too much change and too many concessions to modem life will render The Mansion on Turtle Creek common.

At issue now: voice mail. Trigger believes guests expect it. International guests, especially, prefer voice mail so that incoming messages can be relayed in their native languages.

The managing director presented a proposal to Mankarios which included a number of solutions, his recommendation, and a means of implementing the voice mail system and paying for it. His response was no different than his response to change in general at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. He was initially opposed to adding minibars in the guest rooms. (“The most offensive thing to me is to open a mini fridge and have these tiny airline bottles in there; we are talking about a residential experience and nobody at home has a little fridge with airline bottles in there.”) He capitulated after Trigger explained that minibars provide an important service to the guest who does not want to wait for room service. Mankarios was also opposed to changing the dress code. (“People come to the Mansion because it has a certain stature and that is enforced by the formality and the elegance that surround it.”) He ultimately changed his mind after Trigger explained the big-picture effect of the antiquated policy. And, although Mankarios has authorized Trigger to look into the options for adding voice mail to the Mansion’s phone system, he is strongly opposed to it.

“At the level we operate-the five-star level and the 5 percent market we serve-we must be servicing guests one-on-one.” says Mankarios. “There is nothing more offensive to me, as a traveler, than having a recorder speak to me or getting a set of instructions on how to retrieve my messages. I want to get my message when it arrives, in an envelope delivered so I can read it. I don’t want to tinker with a machine and have a mechanical voice tell me. It’s so impersonal, it’s offensive.

“I know what got us here,” he says. “I don’t want to be stagnant, but I want to know the implication of changing anything. More important, I want to know that the general managers have gone through the process of identifying the need for change, the results of change, and the implication of change, There are fundamentals that carry’ the Mansion and brought it to where it is today. If we tinker with that formula, we may have consequences.”

The Valet with the $100,000 Check

Secret #9: Throw away the employee manual.

THE MANSION DOESN’T HAVE A TRAINING MANUAL. Atef Mankarios abolished il in 1985 after he became the hotel’s resident manager.

“The worst thing you can do is hire someone based on their experience and then tell them precisely how they should behave, dress, answer the phone, what words they should use to greet the guest,” says Mankarios. “You end up creating a robotic style of service. At this level of hotel, you’re not selling accommodations. You’re selling a variety of human interactions that creates an experience. What you do is you create the frame. Inside that frame each individual is free to paint his own picture.”

Since the Mansion is managed by attitude, not by rules, employees are trained in the finer points of Mansion-like behavior through one-on-one role playing in which they practice the seven “Mansion standards”: First Impressions (“Breath fresh,” “Fingernails neat, clean, and well-manicured”); Positive Encounters (“Greet guest and each other with a firm handshake when appropriate,” “Always use guest’s last name/Use Mr., Mrs.. Ms., or Dr.”); Listen to the Guest (“Be sensitive to every word spoken by the guest”); Never Say No (“Take ownership of the situation.” “Identify a solution”); Can We Talk (“Answer the phone within three rings”); Know Your Guest (“Observe and make note of guest’s preferences”); and We Are Family (“Go that extra step to help a co-worker”).

Within the Mansion corporate culture, the bellman is never just the bellman. The room service attendant is never just the room service attendant. Every employee is also part of Housekeeping, Security, and Guest Services. In the absence of a training manual, staff members never say, “It’s not my job.” Cross-training among departments keeps them from saying, “I don’t know.” Everyone works together when, for instance:

A dirty glass is set outside Room 501. A bellman escorting a guest to another room spots the glass and buzzes the kitchen where an electric signal with numbers one through 10 hangs prominently. His call activates the signal. No. 5 is illuminated, and an attendant is sent up to inspect the floor and retrieve the offending item.

An arriving guest pulls into the circular drive at the Mansion. As the valet greets the guest, the bellman transfers the guest’s luggage into the hotel lobby through a side entrance. Discreetly glimpsing the ID tags on the luggage, he then relays the guest’s name to the front desk before the guest enters the lobby. The receptionist then pulls up the guest’s history on her computer screen and, as the guest enters the lobby, greets him by name.

The VIP en route from the airport to the Mansion mentions to the hotel’s limo driver his desire to shop for antiques while in Dallas. The limo driver phones the hotel concierge who is then able to begin researching the possibilities.

It’s the Mansion’s version of tag team. Object of the game; relay information.

“You have to instill in employees the perception of the company and what the company is trying to accomplish, as well as a sense of personal pride,” says Mankarios. “That’s what separates the Mansion from most hotels. Everyone at the Mansion takes personal pride. And because they take personal ownership of the hotel, they pay attention to everything.”

Of course, getting front-of-the-house employees (receptionists, waiters, concierges) to adopt the Mansion philosophy may be easier than imbuing low-level, back-of-the-house employees (housekeeping attendants and laundry attendants) with a sense of personal pride. Cleaning toilets and restocking minibars is still cleaning toilets and restocking minibars whether it’s The Mansion on Turtle Creek or a Holiday Inn. So after the Mansion became a five-star property, the company implemented an incentive program: front-office employees are awarded “Mansion money” good toward bathrobes, meals, and overnight stays at the hotel; employees who show initiative are awarded five-star coupons redeemable at Dallas-area restaurants and retail stores.

Last spring, a New York businessman in Dallas to close an important deal stayed at the Mansion. The morning of the meeting, he got into a cab outside the hotel and, en route, pulled out of his briefcase a $100,000 check. Anxious about the meeting, he wanted to make sure he hadn’t forgotten it; he held it in his hand for safekeeping. The cab driver pulled up to the office complex, the New York businessman paid the fare, hopped oui of the cab, and made his way inside, inadvertently leaving the $100,000 check on the back seat. When the cab driver found the check, he returned to the Mansion and explained to Jack Boles’ valet parker what had happened. Because the valet knew the guest’s name, he was able to track him down inside the office complex across town and return the check before the businessman even realized it was missing. The valet was rewarded with five-star coupons.

“You’ve got to hire people who are service-oriented,” says Jeff Trigger. “Then you teach them the details, the steps, our different systems. That, you can teach. But teaching altitude and caring is very difficult. People who don’t care go somewhere else because indifference is not tolerated here.”

The Mansion is Rosewood’s lab. Ideas, philosophies, and training techniques are tried and tested at the Mansion, and then transferred to Rosewood’s other properties. When a new hotel opens- the debut of Palacio Tangara in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1999 will bring the number of Rosewood-managed properties to 12-the Mansion sends up to a dozen employees to the new property “to develop the Rosewood culture,” says Trigger. “It’s nothing you can teach in a training video.”

Part of the reason the managing director lives on-site at the Mansion-in a 2,000-square-foot master suite on the 8th floor- is to maintain what he cal Is “a big management presence” throughout the hotel. “A lot of what we do is management by walking around,”Trigger says. “Managers are able to see and correct things while they are happening.

“A lot of companies and hotels spend a lot of time talking about service. If you’re spending all your time in meetings talking about how you’re going to provide better service, then you’re not providing belter service. The secret to better service is to be in and around your guests-to see what’s going on, meet their needs, and be available.”

When Trigger left the Adolphus for the Mansion almost six years ago, he replaced what’s known at most hotels as “the executive committee” with what he calls “the planning committee” to reflect his egalitarian approach to management. Every issue at the Mansion-whether it’s the no-smoking floors in the hotel or the dress code in the restaurant-goes to the planning committee. It’s Trigger’s philosophy that “a number of people are generally going to come up with a better solution than one person who thinks he is the end-all/be-all/know-all of the travel world. We all have different experiences.”

How to Make People Eat Sweetbreads

Secret #10: Keep creativity focused on the customer.

TO UNDERSTAND WHY IT IS THAT CHEF DEAN FEARING and executive sous chef Amador Mora are huddled in the far comer of the Mansion kitchen, searching for the perfect string of adjectives to precede “sweetbreads,” is to understand the entire sales strategy behind the restaurant at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. It begins on Monday.

Distributors from around the country fax in lists detailing the availability of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and seafood. On Tuesday, Fearing and Mora sit down with a master list of the week’s offerings-soft-shell crab, halibut, jumbo shrimp, and marlin; cherries, figs, and peaches; chanterelle mushrooms and vidalia onions-and compose the menu for the upcoming weekend. The five-star/five-diamond Mansion restaurant has built its reputation on Southwest cuisine; specifically, a couple of signature items. But lobster tacos and tortilla soup do not sustain a five-star/five-diamond restaurant-nor the culinary interest and reputation of its celebrity chef. Twelve years after he was named executive chef of The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Fearing’s objective is simple: “To develop the best menu that will sell.”

Key word: Sell.

“We’ve gone through the years of doing what we really want to do and finding out that it often doesn’t work,” says Fearing, recalling the three years he spent in the early ’90s toiling unsuccessfully in a vegetarian phase. “We don’t want to be sitting on 50 pounds of marlin because our egos told us this was going to be such a great dish and it didn’t sell.”

Some of the new items of the week get a trial run Wednesday night; others on Thursday night. By Friday, each has been sufficiently tweaked for the weekend bonanza when the restaurant does 35 percent of its business. Every new dish is a gamble, a roll of the dice between cutting-edge and commercial. Sweetbreads, for instance, are a proven high-risk item at the Mansion. But the chef in Fearing, who believes “the education of food is very important,” keeps dishing it up anyway. Like everything on the menu, packaging is the key to selling sweetbreads in Dallas. Surround the unfamiliar with the familiar. Pair the exotic with down-home.

Fearing has a collection of buzz words (“barbequed,” “smoked,” “glazed,” “grilled,” “roasted”), key secondary items (onion rings, asparagus, quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos), and so-called anchors (shrimp, lobster) he uses to package items on the menu. In this game-wary town, for instance, a quail-and-rabbit appetizer at the Mansion appears as “Barbeque Mopped Quail and Chicken Fried Rabbit with Corn Mashed Potatoes, Red Eye Gravy and Steakhouse Chopped Salad in Onion Rings.” Ostrich is offered up as Tex-Mex, as in “Pan-Seared Ostrich Filet and Chili Com Tamale with Smoked Shrimp Enchilada, Red Bean Mousse, and Wild Huckleberry Sauce.” Antelope is “Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope with Honey Malt Glaze on Roasted Yellow Tomato-Pozole Stew with Barbequed Venison Fajitas.” Only tortilla soup, the original Mansion staple, has enough of a history, enough of a following, to sell 50 orders a night without the aid of Fearing’s arsenal of buzz words, secondary items, and anchors. It appears on the menu, unadorned, as “Tortilla Soup.”

“We’re going to have a problem with sweetbreads,” Fearing says. “Sweetbreads, in our town, won’t sell by themselves. It’s not the strangest; it’s not like fried pig ears, but sweetbread is still one of those weird food items. So we need to put an anchor with it.”

Once Fearing and Mora decide on the anchor (duck), they begin contemplating sauces. Something spicy for the sweetbread (cognac-green peppercorn sauce) to offset the sweetness of the molasses glaze going on the duck. Stuffing will provide the down-home component.

Next, they begin composing the sales pitch, the way in which sweetbreads will be described by the captain of each table. Fearing has deemed sweetbreads this week’s “verbal special.” The other specials will be printed among the regular items on the menu, but the so-called verbal special will be described by each table captain. “There’s a psychology to that,” explains Fearing. “People love hearing the captain say, ’Dean has come up with a crispy duck. “’ (Presumably, as the captain continues to describe the special, he will slip in the “S” word.)

Finally, Fearing has it: “Let’s call it crispy molasses duck and cognac-green peppercorn sweetbread on crayfish pan stuffing with cherry sauce and buttered fava beans.” Given the poor track record of sweetbreads at the Mansion, Fearing and Mora don’t even talk about actual expectations for the “Crispy Duck and Cognac-Green Peppercorn Glazed Sweetbread on Chanterelle Pan Stuffing and Cherry Sauce,” as it is ultimately sold.

A system of checks and balances keeps Fearing from ever really losing on a culinary gamble. If sweetbreads don’t sell on the dinner menu, they’ll simply get bumped down the Mansion food chain. Friday and Saturday night leftovers at the Mansion are offered on the Sunday brunch menu. The remaining leftovers go on the buffet in the employee cafeteria (“the Mansionette”) on Monday.

But Fearing is optimistic. “Sweetbreads are a success when you mix and match,” he says, confident in the draw of the duck. “You just have to dangle it in front of people’s faces and say, ’Try it. We’re not going to give you a whole piece, just a little piece. Then tell me if you don’t love it.”’

The “Crispy Duck and Cognac-Green Peppercorn Glazed Sweetbread on Chanterelle Pan Stuffing and Cherry Sauce” is a sellout.

But packaging is only part of the sales strategy. Each night, before the restaurant opens for business, Fearing gathers the restaurant staff-16 waiters, eight captains, eight buspersons. Food & Beverage director Alex Jureeratana, and maitre d’ Wayne Broadwell-to go over the new items on the menu, offering suggestions and tips on how to sell each one. Fearing could spend all day and night in the kitchen preparing cuisine befitting a five-star/five-diamond restaurant, and none of it would work if the wait staff didn’t know how to sell it. Or if Broadwell doesn’t like it.

For every Mansion regular on a first-name basis with Fearing there are probably two on a first-name basis with Broadwell. Among the restaurant’s local following, the maitre d’ is as closely associated with the Mansion as the chef. Both are key to the Mansion’s success. If Fearing sets the taste of the Mansion restaurant, Broadwell sets the lone. So when Fearing turns out a special that Broadwell doesn’t like, Broadwell. a “culinary traditionalist,” doesn’t tout the dish. And, no surprise, the dish doesn’t sell.

Despite the mutual respect-“Dean put this restaurant on the map.” Broadwell says; “I have only the highest respect for Wayne,” says Fearing-a familiar scene plays itself out in the Mansion kitchen when, for instance:

Broadwell witnesses what he says are several women struggling with the maple pecan chicken. “I don’t like the chicken presentation,” he tells Fearing. “It needs to be off the bone. You need to slice it, you need to fan it out, you need to present it.” After a heated debate, they compromise: The item is taken off the menu.

Broadwell, who samples each new dessert before it debuts, tries the chocolate marjolaine. His preference for classic French desserts is in direct contrast to Fearing’s predilection for gooey, architectural desserts. Broadwell retreats to the kitchen and tells Fearing the pastry chef’s newest creation is tasteless. The chef defends the dessert and its presentation, but he’s not able to convince the maitre d’. “What happens,” says Fearing, “is Wayne lets the word out that it’s no good, so it doesn’t sell. That’s when I’ve got to say, ’Wayne, we’ve got to sell this dessert.’”

“I’m probably the biggest thorn in Dean’s side,” says Broadwell. “I’m very critical about the combination of foods that he does, the pastries, his presentation. We’ve gone round and round about lunch. A lot of times his items are too heavy. People are looking for lighter things-more salads, grilled things, Many times, I’ll walk into his office with a list of recommendations or suggestions for new items on the menu. He’s always extremely cooperative and is willing to try anything. 1 even brought in my mother’s recipe for chicken salad. He ran it on the menu for six months.”

Broadwell’s influence also works in reverse. When he likes a particular item, he’ll tout it throughout the night and the kitchen then struggles to keep up with the demand. “Last spring, we did a lobster chow mein and Wayne fell in love with it,” Fearing says. “We put it on the lunch menu and it sold all over the place. Then he got tired of it-and we weren’t selling it anymore. One day it’s hot, then suddenly Wham! I’ll say, ’Wayne! What about the chow mein?’Tm tired of it.’ When he’s tired of it, it’s gone.”

Food lights at the Mansion are actually an old tradition. When Fearing returned to the Mansion in 1985 after a two-year reign as head chef at Agnew’s,the Mansion restaurant was noted more for its social cachet than its cuisine. It was Fearing’s belief that the only way to establish an identity for the restaurant was to focus on Southwest cuisine, then the emerging culinary movement.

“We needed something our marketing people could go out and sell and the critics could come in and try,” Fearing says now. “That was the smartest move we ever made.”

The night Fearing debuted lobster tacos at the Mansion, he gathered the restaurant staff for the nightly 5:45 waiters meeting. “We have a new appetizer, a warm lobster taco with yellow tomato salsa and jicama salad,” he told them. Jean-Pierre Albertinetti, the maitre d’ at the time, rolled his eyes and said, “Chef, this is the Mansion. We cannot serve a taco at the Mansion.”

The two began arguing over the suitability of serving tacos at a restaurant like the Mansion. Fearing stormed off to the kitchen; Albertinetti followed. Finally, they agreed to leave the item on the menu. By 7:30 that night, the kitchen had sold 30 lobster tacos.

Soon, the Mansion was serving tricked-up enchiladas, quesadillas, and chiles rellenos. Fearing became the poster boy for Southwest cuisine. On any given week, he was on the road. Promoting The Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook. Cooking alongside Wolfgang Puck at a charity event. Appearing on “Good Morning America.” Interviewing for the position of White House chef.

“In the early years, it was Dean the show-pony chef,” says Fearing. “Anyone would call, and if we felt it brought in business, I did it.”

The exposure worked for and against the Mansion. The Mansion’s popularity grew alongside its celebrity chef. But then, suddenly, the critics turned critical. They began to wonder, who. in his absence, was minding the kitchen?

’’Thank God we have Jeff Trigger, because he wants me in the restaurant,” says Fearing. “But the PR thing can’t stop, otherwise you dry up.”

Fearing today is more selective about his celebrity appearances. The exposure from “Dean’s Cuisine,” a five- to eight-minute spot that runs as a weekly feature on KDFW-Channel 4, has turned the celebrity chef into a television personality. “I walk out into the dining room and it’s like I’m from ’Days of Our Lives.’ It’s amazing how powerful TV is.”

And if the Mansion says sweetbreads are good, the people will eat sweetbreads. Properly introduced, of course.