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Dana PellicanoVice President of Food & BeverageMarriott International

Interview By Lisa Gmur, CSW

It all began with an A&W root beer stand. A fact I didn’t know, until now. That’s how Marriott founder J. Willard Marriott and his wife, Alice, got their young business off the ground; by quenching people’s thirst during Washington D.C.’s hot, muggy summers.

Their first A & W root beer franchise opened in 1927 and when they added hot food items to their menu a few months later, the name “Hot Shoppes” was coined. In 1937, “Hot Shoppes” began delivery of boxed lunch to airline passengers in D.C. and the concept of in-flight catering was born. Good food and good service at a fair price became a guiding principle for Hot Shoppes restaurants and for Marriott International as it grew.

When the world’s first motor hotel opened just outside D.C. in 1957, the Marriott’s made a historic shift into the hotel business. In 1984, the first JW Marriott opened, in honor of its founder. The innovative model that Marriott began building in the late 1980’s pioneered many hotel firsts including extended stay business, catering to business travelers, distinct brands and an increasing presence overseas.

We talked with Dana Pellicano, Vice President of Marriott’s Global, U.S. and Canada Food & Beverage division about everything from the “Northern Lights,” the Supreme Court and her burgeoning role at Marriott.

Dana Pellicano, The Mark Wine News, Cover 12.1

Dana PellicanoVice President of Food & BeverageMarriott International

The Interview

The Mark Wine Group

Okay, so you’re a Jersey Girl. What’s the saying? Which Exit?

Dana Pellicano

Ha! Garden State Parkway exit 151! Just a few miles west of New York City. Taylor Ham. FTW. And if you get that, you’re from Jersey too.

The Mark Wine Group

Which I am not. But I am looking them up.

Okay… a Taylor Ham “is a Taylor Pork roll made of processed meat commonly available in New Jersey and neighboring states. It was developed in 1856 by John Taylor of Trenton, and sold as "Taylor's Prepared Ham" until 1906.” Interesting.

Ooh…. I love FTW! (FOR THE WIN —used especially to express approval or support Night out with the girls.”)

Totally reminds me of Saturday Night Fever. I want more. Googling now. Disco Fries!

Dana Pellicano

FTW!

(Disco fries are a New Jersey diner classic. Crunchy crinkle-cut fries get bathed in an easy homemade gravy and gooey mozzarella cheese)

The Mark Wine Group

Totally wishing I was a Jersey girl now. Though as I Rhode Islander, I do have bubblers, grindahs and clam cakes. Tell me more about what it was like growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey? What did your parents do?

Dana Pellicano

My dad was a cardiologist, and my mom was a managing director at the New York Stock Exchange.

I don’t know where all the math and science comes from, honestly.

My sister and mom were both math majors. I am the only one that gene seems to have skipped.

The Mark Wine Group

I absolutely do not have that gene either. What did you want to be?

Dana Pellicano

Either a lawyer (a supreme court justice eventually) or a journalist (political reporter).

The Mark Wine Group

The Political reporter I totally get. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. But Supreme Court justice. Wow. Just wow. What was your childhood like? Any experiences that sang loudly?

Dana Pellicano

My father passed when I was young, so growing up it was me, my mother and younger sister. My mom was the most badass, resilient, and intrepid single mom you will ever know.

She took us on unusual vacations – to Caracas, or the Canary Islands, for example – and traveled every day into NYC for work, leaving at 6am and not returning til 6pm.

For years, my sister and I were grown-up teenagers, who were responsible for all sorts of house maintenance and chores, and putting dinner on the table.

She taught us to be able to take of ourselves no matter what (I’ve worked full time since I was 15), she placed a premium on education and learning, and doing well in school was a non-negotiable.

It wasn’t an option to slack or relax in the Donna Pellicano household, and while I likely under appreciated it as a child, I definitely esteem her for it as an adult.

She taught me hustle, the value of hard work, and a fearlessness that I doubt I would have otherwise known. 

The Mark Wine Group

I love that your mom was so awesome. I am pretty sure most moms in that situation would not have been so gallant. Especially with her work schedule. She is one cool mom.

How was she in the kitchen? Was it mac n cheese or Steak au Poivre for dinner?

Dana Pellicano

Somewhere in the middle, I suppose.

My mom was an amazing cook of a limited repertoire (mostly Italian classics she learned from her mom), and she had an incredible finesse and perfection in how she cooked.

I really got exposed to more flavors and tastes where I went to college.

The Mark Wine Group

And where was that?

Dana Pellicano

I studied International Studies and Art History at Fordham University in New York City.

The Mark Wine Group

Seeing a little of that Political Reporter in your studies. What was your first job?

Dana Pellicano

I was a “phone girl” at a pizzeria in my hometown of Bloomfield, NJ. Back then, when people wanted pizza to go or for delivery, they had to actually call a human person, and the phone was tethered to the kitchen wall, where I would in addition to taking orders also act as a prep cook – making antipasti salads, and cutting way too much garlic.

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Exquisite cuisine and epicurean delights mark the JW Marriott Nashville standard.

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The Mark Wine Group

A brutal job. So how did you get your current and wicked cool job with Marriott?

Dana Pellicano

I literally and figuratively grew up in restaurants – working first in that pizzeria, and then in snack shops in country clubs in New Jersey, until my first management job at a Starbucks in NY when I was in college.

Then I started hostessing, waiting tables and bartending at various restaurants in NY but managers always tried to make me a supervisor (I was always on time, my bank was to the penny, and I did my side work religiously!).

The Mark Wine Group

See you do have a little of that math gene!

Dana Pellicano

Well, I was still bent on saving the world through international diplomacy, and I was also working daytime at the United Nations when ultimately, I realized that I could make a real career out of F&B.

I started graduate school at New York University for Food Studies and Management and at the same time took an Assistant Manager job at Lupa, a very popular downtown NYC Italian restaurant.  I ultimately rose to became General Manager there and had a number of jobs with that restaurant group before I wanted more than just single restaurant responsibility.

I started at the Ritz-Carlton NY Battery Park, and then quickly transferred to the RC DC. (the Ritz Carlton Washington D.C.) I loved that in hotels, F&B was more than just one evening at a restaurant, but how guests could experience travel.

I’ve been with Marriott now for 15 years, rising slowly through various jobs in restaurant and bar in the continent to now a global F&B role.

The Mark Wine Group

Such a cool journey. Very impressive. Now, let’s talk wine. Do you remember your first taste?

Dana Pellicano

Does Boone’s farm count?  If not, then no…

The Mark Wine Group

How about one of those “aha” wine moments?  Like when you tasted your first Champagne? 

Dana Pellicano

I was profoundly affected by a visit to Les Crayeres, early in my career.

(Editors Note: Having never been to Champagne, I had to google this later. Les Crayeres is a famous hotel and restaurant in Reims, France.)

It was a moment when history, struggle, and craftsmanship all became so clear to me and crystalized for me what really happens before the glass gets to us. Before that, anything I knew felt surface level or academic.

The Mark Wine Group

So profound. And very Voltaire. And all this just gets me thinking about travel. Where else have you been besides France?

Dana Pellicano

I’ve had the luxury of traveling all over the world, and Dubai and Venice were trips for the ages, but I’ve loved most, the places I’ve truly spent time and built relationships.

Chicago is one of those places. I’ve worked on so many projects and spent so much time that I actually feel like a local in some ways, although not with the pizza, and I don’t love hot dogs!

For leisure, I’ll take a trip to see my sister and her family in Berkeley over any place else in the world, but if they would join us at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, that would be my second choice!

The Mark Wine Group

Not down the shore? (LOL) Grand Cayman sounds idyllic. Can’t imagine what’s holding her back. Besides Berkeley and beaches, any other favorite getaways?

Dana Pellicano

We are fortunate enough to getaway to it each weekend; we have a second home just north of NYC in the Hudson Valley that’s close enough and miles away.

The Mark Wine Group

What a perfect retreat. Definitely a little jelly. Is there anywhere you haven’t traveled that you are jonesing to get to?

Dana Pellicano

I am desperate to see the Northern Lights, from the outer reaches of Alaska. 

The Mark Wine Group

Yes! Definitely on my list. Mark talks all the time about taking our Airstream up there. I say as long as we can stop at some British Columbia wineries on the way. Which gets us back to wine. Any favorite grape varietals or wine regions?

Dana Pellicano

I love champagne, and pinot noir.  But I’ll drink a highly acidic, light bodied northern Italian white wine from Friuli any day of the week.  I spent some time in Friuli and I truly think some of the most interesting whites come from there.

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The Mark Wine Group

Oh my goodness! I fell deeply and madly in love with the capital, Trieste. The wine, the food. To die for. What’s your favorite thing to put on a plate?

Dana Pellicano

I’m 100% Italian and could eat Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano for every meal that I wasn’t eating pizza or pasta for.

The Mark Wine Group

How about a favorite food and wine pairing?

Dana Pellicano

Biscotti and vin santo – pure magic.

The Mark Wine Group

Agreed. Any other hobbies besides food and wine?

Dana Pellicano

Ha! We love to play tennis upstate and are gym rats when we are in NYC; helps offset the steady stream of bagels and NYC pizza upon which I insist.

The Mark Wine Group

How does your life compare today to what you thought it would look like when you were younger?

Dana Pellicano

It’s luckier than I could ever imagine, but I always knew I would be a lifetime New Yorker.

My mother would say that even when I was a kid, going to NY was my favorite thing to do. I moved here when I was 17 and excepting a year in Italy and 4 years in D.C. I’ve never been anywhere else.

My husband and I split time between Harlem and the Hudson Valley with our rescue chihuahua mix Luna.

The Mark Wine Group

Anything you’ve done that you never thought you would have done.

Dana Pellicano

I’m still shocked by how much I love our time in the country. I was always a city girl, so the fact that we bought a house outside the city still kinda amazes me.

The Mark Wine Group

It’s pretty rad when we realize thing’s we never thought we would like, we love. Anything you haven’t had the guts to do yet?

Dana Pellicano

I’ve always wanted to drive across country and see the many things I’ve not yet seen. I’m luckily well world-traveled, but less so here in the US.

To do it right though is a considerable investment in time which feels a ways off for me today!

The Mark Wine Group

Maybe a sabbatical one day? Or revisiting one of your childhood dreams of saving the world?

Dana Pellicano

I have big dreams for the world, involving fairness, equality and a brighter environmental future, but for my own life I feel like every day that my family is healthy and together is a dream fulfilled.

The Mark Wine Group

A perfect way to end. Thank you so much.