Hospitality is a matter of cultural pride for me. My home country of Uzbekistan was the most hospitable country in the former USSR. And still is. During World War II, the capital city of Tashkent was called the City of Bread because it was the main supplier of food, and many Uzbek families adopted children of war during that time. Nowadays, Uzbekistan’s history, architecture and food is a fascinating cultural experience for tourists from all over the world.
I grew up in a little town called Khanka (pop. 1,000) in the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan. Our small population nevertheless comprised people of different ethnic backgrounds. We all spoke the Khorezm dialect of the Uzbek language that is similar to Turkish and Azerbaijan. For that, we have a lot of respect from Uzbekis. The Khorezm was a part of the Great Silk Road.
We loved to share our food and laughs. As neighbors, we regularly treated each other with our own traditional dishes. I remember we grew grapes in our backyard. Every summer, we used to cut the ripe grapes at 6 in the morning, which we would then exchange with our neighbors for the freshest bread, called non and homemade cheese balls similar to feta cheese. Nothing beat the combination of sweet honey, cool grapes, warm non, and cheese balls accompanied with honeyed green tea.
It was this level of attentiveness and hospitality that gave us so much happiness. Our house never was empty. Every weekend especially during summer, we had dinner outdoors sitting in a takhta, a wooden cabana with built-in tables covered in grapes. My mom loved singing, so we would often have live karaoke without any equipment. She knew the entire lyrics of famous Russian and Korean songs. Her girlfriends gathered around after a glass of homemade wine or shot of the finest Armenian cognac called ararat to hear the birds singing. On nice summer days, everyone would be outside, with every neighbor beautifying their front yards with grapes.
I began to appreciate how any event—be it of historical significance, cultural relevance, business oriented, reunions, weddings and even personal moments like proposals—could all be enhanced by a nice hotel environment. Not unlike those wonderful childhood community celebrations, I learned that it wasn’t the space per se, but the ambience created that made these events extraordinary. Creating that ambience depended on a great team with a high sense of integrity and service within a healthy environment. I was lucky to be surrounded by genuinely good people that were hard-working, smart, resourceful and fun, and I had the support of a great mentor. Nothing was more satisfying than receiving excellent feedback on a job well-done.