My first post is dedicated to the greatest hotelier of all time – Cesar Ritz, whose name was associated with the famous Ritz Hotels known for their comfort, luxury and elegance. In 1898, he opened his very own first Ritz Hotel in Paris and also undertook management of the Carlton in London. The combination of both names ultimately resulted in the Ritz-Carlton that we know today!

Cesar Ritz was born on February 23, 1850, and was the youngest of the thirteen children of Johann – Anton Ritz and Kreszentia nee Heinen. They led a simple life in the small alpine community of Niederwald in the high lying Goms Valley in the Canton of Valais, Switzerland. The small remote village clings to the side of a mountain and at the time of Cesar’s birth, the population was a merely one hundred and twenty three inhabitants. Cesar attended primary school in Niederwald and like most children herded cattle in the alpine pastures during his holidays. At the age of twelve, he was sent to Sion, the capital of the canton of Valais, to learn French, German and English. At home, he spoke the Valaisan dialect with his family.

Three years later, his father arranged an apprenticeship with an acquaintance who owned a hotel in Brig called Hotel des Trois Couronnes et Poste and paid down a fee of 300 francs. Cesar worked as a wine waiter. However, at the end of the first year, the apprenticeship was terminated. Although Cesar was a very hard worker, his patron did not see in him the special knack or the flair required to be an hotelier. Instead of being discouraged by failure, young Cesar took the bull by its horns and found another job as an assistant waiter at the ‘College’ of the Jesuit seminary for priests. He worked hard but was again dismissed, his failure to attend mass on a regular basis cited as one of the reasons!

Paris…
Cesar Ritz always said that his life did not begin until he went to Paris! At the age of seventeen, he traveled to Paris to take advantage of the opportunities present with the opening of the world exhibition. He was fully determined to learn the hotel trade and started to work as an apprentice waiter at a small hotel called Hotel de la Fidelite. He learned quickly through careful observation, paying attention to the instructions and tried to fulfill the wishes of his guests as best as he could. His efforts were well rewarded and he was soon promoted first to the position of assistant waiter, then waiter and finally head waiter!

The “Voisin” was undoubtedly the best restaurant in Paris at that time. It served excellent cuisine and was frequented by the royalty and celebrities of that era. After many interviews and much pleading, the restaurant proprietor Mr. Bellenger accepted Cesar Ritz as an assistant waiter. He considered Voisin as his real vocational college and Bellenger proved to be a superb teacher! At Voisin he gained confidence by learning the mysteries of the art of cooking, wines and service. Here he also made some very important contacts with major figures in the world of literature, theatre and music. He met the famous Chef Escoffier, with whom he had a very successful professional relationship in many future ventures. He also met the successful patrons of the new world, some of whom had humble beginnings like him but through perseverance and hard work had become very successful accumulating wealth, status and political influence. They were impressed by Cesar’s conduct, service, impeccable appearance and abilities. Cesar formed a detailed impression of these people and took careful note of their likes and tastes in food, wine and music.

The siege of Paris caused shortage in food and fuel followed by the shifting of the government from Paris to Versailles. This undoubtedly meant the good times were indeed over for the ‘Voisin’ and Cesar decided to look for other positions. He held a variety of jobs in restaurants in Paris and then in 1872 took the position of floor waiter at one of the best hotels in Europe, Hotel Splendide which was frequented by many influential people from America and Europe.

Vienna…

1873 saw Ritz leave for Vienna where the International Exposition was being held and found a job as a waiter at the exclusive Les Trois Freres Provencaux. Once again he had the opportunity to provide service to royalty from all over Europe. In Vienna, he observed the Prince of Wales ‘Europe’s first Gentleman’ in great detail. The prince made a deep impression on his mind and it was the beginning of a long lasting relationship. As an hotelier, Cesar learned that the prince preferred lighter meats than beef and loved well roasted chicken, liked to smoke a cigar after dinner and favored cigarettes of an Egyptian blend. He also noticed that the prince was not the greatest talker but a good listener who liked orchestras and Viennese waltzes.

He memorized these details which proved very beneficial in his encounters with the prince in Paris, Cannes, London and Monte Carlo. Just as in Paris at the Hotel Splendide, in Vienna Cesar also met many important people that entrusted him with their patronage during his career. His success was hugely made possible by them as they sought out his hotels and restaurants to impart them luster! Here he also met people that were important in the world of finance who remembered him from Paris.

Despite his busy schedule in Vienna, Ritz managed to fall in love with a beautiful Viennese lady!

During this time people that could afford it developed a pattern for travel. During the winter months they would seek the warm weather and often visited the Riviera or places such as Egypt. In summer they sought cooler climates and visited places such as Switzerland. Skiing was not a popular sport at that time and was practiced only in a selected few Scandinavian countries.

Nice on the French Riviera with its desirable year round climate has always been a popular destination among the fashionable rich and famous, especially during the winter months. During his first winter in Nice, Ritz met Mr. Weber the director of Rigi Kulm Hotel in the Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland. He signed Cesar up for the position of Restaurant Manager for the summer season.

This was the beginning of his nomadic lifestyle for many years to follow.

Rigi Kulm…
The sunrise over Mount Rigi is nothing less than spectacular and people travel from far away places to experience this phenomena and enjoy the views. This hotel is packed during the afternoon and evening hours but quite empty during the morning as most people here are here for one reason – the sunrise!

The restaurant at the Rigi Kulm proved to be the first of many performances in which Cesar demonstrated his ability to think and act quickly in difficult situations. It was a cold morning in Rigi and the temperature had dropped to eight degrees below zero. The central heating that had recently been installed broke down inconsiderately. All efforts to repair it were unsuccessful. To make matters worse an urgent call received announced the arrival of 40 Americans for lunch. The director Herr Weber was in despair. Ritz quickly took control of the situation and ordered the menu to be changed immediately. He also requested some bricks to be put in the oven to be heated. When the guests arrived, they were seated on a long table carrying four huge copper bowls that were filled with spirit and blazed comfortingly. Beneath the table, a heated brick wrapped in flannel cloth was placed for each guest so that guests may use it as a footstool. The meal began with a piping hot consommé and ended with crepe flambé. The guests were satisfied and no one noticed the temperature in the room. Ritz had saved the situation. At a young age of 24 he had already learned the power of imagination and the value of illusion.

The success of that luncheon was the turning point in Cesar’s career and the news of his abilities spread quickly. The following season Ritz did not return to Rigi but instead found work as maitre d’hotel at the Grand Hotel Locarno where he learned the art of diplomacy. The hotel survived solely on the stellar reputation of its cuisine; the manager was an eccentric to say the least and Cesar was left to pacify clients on many occasions.

The following winter Cesar got his first taste of being a hotel manager at Hotel de Nice in San Remo on the Italian coast which was frequented by the well to do. Here he learned the importance of finance and was able to effectively control expenditures. Next year he selected Hotel Victoria, a health resort visited by tubercular guests. Here he focused his attention on cleanliness and plumbing, which was often a topic of conversation during that period. He reiterated that window curtains be made of white muslin that could be frequently laundered and all walls should be painted white so that dust would be visible immediately. Ritz never liked wallpaper as it concealed dirt.

Colonel Pfyffer d’Altishofen the owner of the most luxurious hotel at that time – The Grand Hotel National in Lucerne was in search of an able hotelier to manage his property which was not performing well. He had heard about Ritz and met him at Rigi and was fully convinced that Ritz was the man he was looking for. Colonel Pfyffer visited Ritz in San Remo and offered him the position of General Manager at the Grand Hotel National, an offer Ritz found very hard to refuse!

To be continued…