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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | April 29, 2015

The 1,306-room Grand Hyatt New York sure knows how to throw a party -- and not just any star-studded ballroom event. This private gala was hosted by the hotel's senior management to recognize and celebrate the contributions of some very special employees -- 91 to be exact -- who have been with hotel since it opened its doors under the Hyatt brand 35 years ago.

charter employeesThe evening began with a private reception for the charter-member employees hosted by general manager Mark Purdue and the gala's leadership committee in the hotel's iconic Empire State Ballroom, previously known as the Commodore Ballroom -- the same room in which John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1960. What followed was a throw-down celebration for more than 400 employees and their guests, complete with champagne toasts, fine dining and some very special awards to rival any Fortune 500 company banquet.

"Hotels are like one big extended family," says Thomas Beatty, director of convention services and a charter member himself. "So being able to plan an event to celebrate our own was very special." Beatty, who began his career at the Grand Hyatt as a waiter, worked closely on the event with James Dale, director of food and beverage, who started as a greeter for the hotel back in 1986. Together with an event committee made up of charter employees from several of the hotel's departments, including housekeeping and F&B, they secretly crafted the evening's menu, entertainment and awards ceremony.

Instead of the usual buffet, the committee opted for a lavish three-course, seated banquet. The star of the menu? It was a forgone decision, says Dale. "Our banquet chef is pretty famous for his short ribs, and everyone wanted that dish served. Then word got out, and all the employees were expecting it." As for entertainment, senior management was it. They danced a choreographed routine on stage, which opened with two executives doing synchronized backflips to music. "We were rehearsing right up until hours before the reception," Dale notes.

The awards were no small change, either. The winning associate of the year, Patrick Price, a 20-year steward who beat out dozens for the prize, walked off with an engraved crystal vase, an additional week's vacation, a trip for two to any Hyatt worldwide of his choosing (including airfare), $500 in spending money and other goodies too numerable to mention. "It was really neat. Everyone had such a fantastic time, and they were dressed to the nines," enthuses Beatty. "It was like prom night, your wedding and Christmas rolled into one evening."