By B.W. Cook… On a recent Friday morning in Newport Beach, California at The Balboa Bay Club & Resort, Henry Schielein, the legendary Bavarian-born hotelier responsible for the posh club and hotel facilities on the bay was about to lead his weekly staff meeting. Some twenty well-groomed executives converged upon the meeting room. It was exactly 8:30 in morning. A light breakfast buffet, with the croissants and muffins arranged on silver trays in perfect order, awaited the arriving staff members.Schielein, 70, silver haired and handsomely attired in his customary English tailored sports jacket, starched white shirt and silk tie enters the room and makes a direct line for a banquet chair lined up at the conference table. The gold-medal framed chair is upholstered in a dark burgundy-brown patterned cloth with a fleck in the design. Schielein pulls the chair from the table and takes it to the corner of the room. “This should never happen,” he calls out adding, “Do you see the spots on this chair? Have this cleaned at once.” Again he repeats, “This should never happen – it should have been noticed.”
Sound small? A minor infraction? Not to Schielein, born in Bavaria in 1934 at the dawn of Nazi Germany, Henry came into the modern world at a most tumultuous crossroads. At age five the war started and his dad, who was a master pastry chef, was drafted into the German army. During the war his parents divorced and Henry went to live with his grandparents until his dad returned after the war to once again resume work as a pastry chef. Although he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a pastry chef too, it was his dad who talked him into working in the “front of the house” as he felt that Henry was more suited for contact with people and the opportunities for advancement would be better. Based on his dad’s recommendations, in 1949 Henry started as a waiter apprentice in the Bavarian Alps. It was Easter 1951 that Henry took a short vacation to be with his dad in Munich. They took a trip by automobile; a major accident took his dad’s life. Henry was fifteen. After several weeks in a hospital, Henry went back to work. “Where was I to go?” He went back to work, there was no choice, recalls Schielein today.
From that day forward Henry Schielein learned the significance of attention to detail. “Everything matters,” he confides. “Every bit of minutia is important. It adds up to the big picture.” Schielein knows well that one dirty chair left unattended leads to a one guest unhappy. And one guest unhappy is one too many.
Recently, Schielein returned to Germany in what surely amounts to a symbolic coming full circle in life. The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, based in New York City, held their international ceremony of awards for excellence in the hotel industry at a stellar gathering at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, Germany, on March 5. Schielein was named “One Of The Finest Hoteliers Worldwide”, and also accepted the “International Star-Diamond Award” on behalf of The Balboa Bay Club & Resort. “The nice thing about this honor is that it was given by my peers,” confides Schielein. “Members of this organization are all extremely well respected hotel industry leaders.”
More than 300 hoteliers from around the world came together in Berlin to honor Schielein and a host of his contemporaries. Also receiving accolades were acclaimed designer Phillip Stark, Robert Burns, former president of Regent Hotels, Joel Robuchon of Atelier Paris named finest chef worldwide, and Gordon Butch Stewart, selected as one of the hotel industry’s finest entrepreneurial leaders.
”I met people in Berlin whom I had not seen in 40 years,” beamed Schielein waxing nostalgic. “It was like a big fraternity gathering.” For Schielein, and the rest, it was a brief reunion to recount the past and celebrate the present. They have all come a long way in an ever changing world.
“Obviously, the differences are dramatic,” said Schielein, continuing recalling his teen years in Europe. “In 1952 I remember life at The Grand Hotel Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken, Switzerland; there was an enormous kitchen with some 100 chefs at work creating classic cuisine. Today, the big kitchen is a memory. Perhaps a dozen chefs handle the dining needs of the hotel.” Schielein went on to comment, “It is too labor intensive today to create the table of Escoffier. Fine dining is limited to very special occasions. What will be 50 years from today?” laments the man who has seen the evolution.
Schielein’s personal path officially began in 1949 as a waiter’s apprentice. Schielein confides that the title is simple, the European version of the busboy. His first real job was at The Grand Hotel, also known as The Berchtesgadener Hof. Built in 1899, the property became the summer residence of German Empress Agusta Victoria the first wife of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and her young princess Victoria Luise, and princes Eitel Friedrick and Adalbert. It’s more infamous history would come later as a refuge for the high command of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime.
Arriving in America in 1957, disembarking as a staff member on The SS America which sailed from Bremer Haven to New York City, Schielein recalls his first look at the Statue of Liberty. “I will never forget coming into New York, it was perhaps the most exciting day of my young life.” Schielein is quick to add, “This country has been very good to me. Nowhere in the world do people have opportunities like in America – then, and now.”
The American journey would begin in New York when young Henry would board a bus across the country, stop in Toledo, Ohio, destination Los Angeles. He would go to work for Hilton Hotels, sponsored for work in the US by an American family from Toledo, Ohio, whom he hardly knew who had taken a liking to him as their waiter on the cruise ship. As he worked his trade in the old Statler Hilton Supper Club in downtown Los Angeles, irony would strike. In December of 1958 Schielein would be drafted into the US Army and sent back to Germany where he volunteered for the ski patrol in the Bavarian Alps.
Returning to the states in 1960, the Hawaiian Islands would welcome Schielein as a restaurant manager at The Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu. From this second new beginning and becoming an American citizen, a five decade long career in the hospitality industry would take Schielein all over the world from the Hong Kong Hilton; to the Manila Hilton; The Rama Hilton, Bangkok Thailand; The Pfister Hotel and Tower and The Sheraton Mayfair, both in Milwaukee Wisconsin; The Sheraton Blackstone, Chicago; The Ritz-Carlton, Boston and Laguna Niguel; The Biltmore, Los Angeles; The Grand Wailea Resort, Hawaii; and finally, for the past ten years The Balboa Bay Club & Resort, Newport Beach, California, where Schielein holds the title of president and chief operating officer.
In his tenure at The BBC, Schielein has worked closely with ownership to rebuild, recreate, and rebrand a fifty plus year tradition on the California Riviera. “We are on the proper course,” states Schielein with pride. “The BBC is a first class facility with a top notch staff. We compete in an arena with formidable competition and we offer the very best to our members and guests.” Schielein adds, “We have a wonderful staff for which we are most fortunate – they are a big asset. And we have the most beautiful and comfortable rooms on The Coast with every imaginable amenity.”
As the prime summer season approaches, The BBC is poised to offer an array of activities and a calendar filled with entertainment in Duke’s Place, our lounge. “We have an amazing, seven day offering of entertainment, including the legendary Page Cavanaugh,” states Schielein. “Over the summer The BBC will feature concerts and dinner on the beach with The Four Freshman, for one. Also, Big Band Evenings, Mariachi, Dixieland, Jazz, Hawaiian and Calypso entertainment is provided at poolside on weekends. We offer “something for everyone.”
With the same non-stop energy Schielein had as a 20 year old at the LA Hilton, he marches ahead, looking forward, planning a better future. When asked what college he attended, “I am a graduate of The University of Life,” he proudly boasts.
When all is said and done, Schielein says that he is most proud of his reputation. “I’m tough, but I’m fair,” he adds. And he has worked hard to achieve the reputation that has brought awards and accolades including the most recent recognition in Berlin from The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.
“I could not have done any of it without the support of many wonderful people and of course, my wife Carol and my son Ryan,” says the man who has moved his family around the globe as he pursued his dreams of success in the hotel industry.
His plans for the future? “I haven’t figured that out,” he says with a big laugh. “Retirement scares the hell out of me. I still have plenty to do, ” including obtaining a Five Diamond Rating for the Balboa Bay Club & Resort.