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Fellowship Spotlight: Delicious Success

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Touted as “a knockout new restaurant” by The Denver Post, Work & Class was named one of the Top 25 Restaurants in Denver by 5280 magazine, one of the Best 21 New Restaurants in America by Thrillist, and one of the 14 Best New Restaurants in America by Zagat. Work & Class opened in January, 2014 and is founded and owned by Fellowship alumna Delores Tronco. Delores was a member of the 2006 Fellowship class. Immediately following the Fellowship Delores worked at 9News in the 9Health Fair branch handling special events and PR. Later she worked at SE2, a small strategic communications consulting firm. While at SE2, she decided to take a leap into the restaurant business with the hope of eventually owning her own place. Delores presumed it would take about a decade to open her own restaurant- four years later she owns a well-respected restaurant in the burgeoning River North neighborhood of Denver.

1.) Thinking back on your Fellowship experience, what are some of the takeaways you have carried with you into other professional experiences? “My experience as a Fellow laid the foundation for what I do now in almost every area. I think about discussions regarding feedback, the RITE values (respect, integrity, teamwork, and excellence), the 5 exemplary leadership practices, even investment challenge, and they are all things I carried forward with me. In positions I held after the Fellowship, I found it puzzling and disenchanting to work in an environment where leadership and professional development weren’t a priority. It was unsettling to work with people who had ample managerial experience and master’s degrees but who couldn’t give feedback.”

“When I worked in the restaurant industry in college, I realized that nobody was talking about leadership or professional development, which at times can make things quite dysfunctional. Having my own place I realized I could incorporate some of the things I learned as a Fellow. The leadership development aspects directly translate into training staff, so once a week, for six weeks I offered voluntary leadership classes based on theories, skills and behaviors I learned at El Pomar. Half of our staff attended, and we discussed the Five Exemplary Leadership Practices, took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, discussed proper ways to give and receive feedback, and talked about Chaordic Leadership. The intention is to both put bigger ideas in front of the staff and to help them bond as a team. The point is to know each other and trust each other- the restaurant business is clearly not the Fellowship, but the principles still hold. The difference in the staff is tremendous.”

“The same group of staff who participated in the leadership trainings is now planning a philanthropic event. Basically, they’re throwing a huge party at the restaurant in which all ticket sales, tips, donations from the evening will go to Denver Urban Scholars, a 501(c)(3); they partner with schools in the area to provide mentorship and support to underserved students and teachers. I utilized the strength of the Fellowship network and reached out to Fellow Alum Rebecca Holmes, who is on their board and we have been working closely to make the event happen. The hope is that the event will occur on an annual basis and eventually Work & Class and Denver Urban Scholars will become long time philanthropic partners. Some of our staff has expressed interest in becoming mentors for the program but that’s more a “phase two” plan!”

2.) What advice would you give to incoming Fellows? “I would tell Fellows to enjoy every second of it- the Fellowship is such a special time and a special opportunity so enjoy the experience and enjoy each other. It’s very unlikely you will ever have a professional experience like the Fellowship so take advantage of the whole package and don’t let the stress take over. I would also say continue to hold yourself to the RITE values, even when you’re not a Fellow, because if you embody the principles of integrity learned in the Fellowship you will be propelled to good places-both professionally and personally.”

3.) How has your perspective on leadership changed over time? “I learned the principles we talk about at EPF still stand but those principles can take a lot of different forms. Initially, I thought it would be a great idea to have some of my staff write weekly reports like we did at El Pomar, so we could stay current on what’s  going on, but the reality is that in the restaurant business, that is so foreign that it would be like speaking Swahili. I’ve learned flexibility, and which things are worth holding onto, which things are non-negotiable, and where I can let go.”