Colby Brock is a brilliant multitasker. She can speak insightfully about the hospitality industry on the phone with a reporter while holding a baby, watching a toddler, negotiating a transaction at a car-rental counter, all after just getting off of a plane. Yes, this businesswoman and mother of two can easily function under stress with grace and charm — a skill she has no doubt perfected after some 20 years of working in hotels and restaurants. And anyone who has visited the Radisson Hotel New Rochelle, where Brock is currently general manager, knows she throws in a heavy dose of style, as well.
Brock is the mastermind behind the inspired renovation there that has given Westchester a chic hotel with a restaurant-bar scene that rivals its more metropolitan counterparts. (Brock lovingly refers to NoMa Social, the glitzy restaurant she created within the Radisson, as her “other baby.”) The popular nightspot was even called “deliriously good” by the New York Times soon after its opening in 2012. “We were surprised to learn they had even come,” says Brock, “but of course we were thrilled.”
While success seems to come naturally to Brock, she has actually been working hard since her teens, learning the business from the bottom up, despite being born into the industry’s top echelons. Her father, Peter Brock, the force behind Brock Development Corporation, a big player in commercial real estate in New York and Florida, would not hire his daughter until she gained experience elsewhere. “Of course I wanted to work for the family business,” Brock says, “but my father wanted me to ‘see what it’s like out there in the real world.’” Absorbing life lessons that have apparently paid off, Brock worked at various hospitality jobs in New York, Connecticut, and Florida while attending the University of Hartford. (She was raised in Manhattan, though her family moved to Florida while she was in college.)
Her tenure at the Radisson Hotel New Rochelle, a property owned and managed by her father’s firm, began with an internship at the front desk, followed by stints in a number of departments there, completing a skillset that secured her the position as food-and-beverage director and interior design/project manager in 2011. Lest one assume nepotism played an overarching role in a hasty bump upstairs, it should be noted that Brock’s rise at the Radisson took years, during which she took time out to study interior design at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan and subsequently work at an interior-design firm on Long Island. Brock, it seems, makes sure to earn the opportunities that come her way and make the most of them once secured.
This was certainly in evidence in the way she tackled the multimillion-dollar makeover at the Radisson. Noting the growing popularity of boutique hotels with hip eateries and bars, Brock targeted her redesign to a younger, trendier audience. “My intention was to bring a little bit of what I saw happening in the industry to our county,” Brock explains. “Westchester needed to create its own scene, separate and apart from Manhattan, so that people stay and spend their money here. It was our intention to be a little ahead of the curve.”
Brock cites food-and-beverage as one of her favorite areas of hotel management.
“Westchester is developing a bustling restaurant-and-lounge scene, which is great to see. I firmly believe that competition breeds success, so the better the county does, the better we’ll do.”
—Colby Brock, General Manager, Radisson Hotel New Rochelle
True to her vision, the Radisson in New Rochelle is not your grandmother’s chain hotel. A mix of sleek wood, white leather, purple, and animal prints, with large glass-globe lighting fixtures, the place is “geared more toward the Millennial traveler,” says Brock, “but with elements of feeling at home.” Lots of comfy seating lends a cozy feel to the public spaces, she explains. NoMa Social, a play on North of Manhattan, lives up to its name, as the small-plates menu encourages “eating with other people, sharing lots of food and being comfortable when you’re doing that.” Late on weekends, the space transitions to a nightclub/lounge experience. While the swank spot was something of an outlier when it opened in 2012, Brock is happy to report that local businesses in the area are catching up. “Westchester is developing a bustling restaurant-and-lounge scene, which is great to see,” Brock says. “I firmly believe that competition breeds success,” she adds, “so the better the county does, the better we’ll do.”
As far as keeping an eye on the competition, Brock is happy to put in the work. “I try to get to as many new restaurants as I can. I used to go to the city more, but it’s been really cool to have lots of options right in our own backyard,” she says. While nights out don’t always feel like nights off, Brock doesn’t mind. “I enjoy the constant focus and always being aware of what’s going on around me, looking for inspiration in design, how to treat a guest better, how to improve relationships with coworkers, or a cool trick of the trade for public relations and marketing,” she explains. “It’s what keeps me going.” While Brock has made peace with “not being able to turn it off,” some of her friends have not. “’Colby, stop working,’ they tell me all the time,” she adds with a laugh.
Of course, Brock does admit that she slowed down (a bit) before giving birth to her second child, Margaux, who recently joined older sister, Harlow, age 3. “I was kind of a homebody when I was pregnant,” she says. When asked how she balances motherhood and career, Brock is refreshingly honest. “I’m terrible at balancing,” she confesses. “If it weren’t for my husband, Mario, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done — he’s the backbone of our everyday life and 100 percent my partner. When I have to work late, he gets home early and vice versa. He’s amazing.” (It’s worth noting that this modern romance started at the Radisson. Brock was filling in as a bartender one night when Mario Gualano stopped in at the bar. Love at first sight? Well, pretty darn close: The two were making plans to move in together within weeks, Brock says candidly.)
They soon decided to team up professionally, as well, which makes sense, given the Brock tradition of family enterprise. Gualano joined the Radisson staff as property engineer in a relatively seamless transition, as Brock was already well-versed in the perks and pitfalls of working with close relations. “It can be challenging,” she admits. The Brock motto has always been to make sure that “you don’t bring too much work home or too much home to work,” she explains. But unbreakable bonds outweigh any momentary frustrations and disagreements, she adds. “My husband, my dad, my brothers, cousins, and uncle… we are all in it,” Brock explains. “We certainly have our moments, but we learn from each other and inspire each other to be better people, at home and at the office — better today than we were yesterday.”
In fact, Brock says her father’s guiding principles are always top of mind. “Be good to your business, and it will be good to you,” is a favorite saying of his, she explains, along with a reminder to “constantly reinvest in your property; guests will always notice if you’re not paying attention.”
““Anyone, from other managers to housekeeping staff, can approach her with ideas. I think that’s the sign of a great leader.”
—Louis Caras, Assistant General Manager, Radisson Hotel New Rochelle
It’s clear that she has also taken to heart her father’s advice on the importance of treating employees well and fairly, judging by what Louis Caras, assistant general manager at the Radisson Hotel New Rochelle, has to say. “She has an open-door policy,” he points out. “Anyone, from other managers to the newest member of the housekeeping staff, can approach her with ideas. I think that’s the sign of a great leader,” he adds, “someone who doesn’t shut people out and say: ‘We are only going to do things my way.’”
Caras, a graduate of the Hotel School at Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, says he has learned real-world hospitality from Brock, which often transcends classroom notions. He cites her sensitive approach to guest relations, which involves taking the time to find out why each guest is at the hotel, as a good example. “Whether people are in town for business or a wedding, she’ll treat them in an entirely different manner, to help them get the most out of their stay,” he explains. He credits this skill to time spent in food-and-beverage (an area Brock does claim to prefer over some others, when pressed to choose). However, what she loves most about her profession is its ever-changing nature, a facet she describes as the “mini-businesses.” The restaurant, catering, special events, design, guest and employee relations, and marketing departments all are under her direction. She also acts as landlord to a number of corporations who lease office space in the top floors of the Radisson. But even that isn’t enough for the busy Brock. She is currently engaged in different stages of design and development for two hotels in Florida.
No matter what she achieves in business, Brock’s essential management strategy, which has served her well so far, will most likely remain unchanged. “I always try to lead with integrity and empathy, to see others’ perspectives before I make a decision,” she says, adding that she also intends to stay grounded. “It’s important for
everyone to know that I’m in the trenches [with employees],” she says, “that there’s no hierarchy. I’ll wash dishes if I have to.” Easy to say, but with Brock, it rings true.
Gale Ritterhoff is a freelance writer based in Katonah who is a frequent contributor to 914INC. and Westchester Magazine.