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Spotlight on Hospitality: From Carmel Valley to Congress, Panetta draws on lasting hospitality lessons

Mark Watson, Monterey County Hospitality Association Board Chair
December 6, 2022
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Congressman Jimmy Panetta, the U.S. House of Representatives member for California’s 20th district, landed his first hospitality job in the seventh grade. Panetta rode his BMX bike to work at the Velvet Fox, a former Carmel Valley restaurant where he bussed tables.

“I was a busboy until I spilled tartar sauce on a lady's dress, and then I got moved to dishwashing. I'll never forget that,” he says.

Panetta continued working at local restaurants, resorts and golf courses throughout high school. Hospitality jobs helped him pay for classes at Monterey Peninsula College and the University of California, Davis. After one especially busy Christmas shift, a colleague asked if Panetta might want to manage a soon-to-open restaurant.

“I was on my way to law school so had to say no, but that request demonstrated to me the opportunities that hospitality provides. You can start off as a dishwasher and work your way up to busboy, waiter, even manager. Those kinds of opportunities really help this area thrive,” he says.

As the grandson of Italian immigrants who created their own opportunities by opening a Monterey restaurant, Panetta considers the hospitality industry foundational – both for his family and for the central California district he serves. In Monterey County alone, tourism supported 21,600 jobs and made a $2.5 billion economic impact in 2021. Here, only agriculture is a bigger economic driver. 

“In hospitality, you can't do things remotely. You have to show up. These are tough jobs, and thankfully, plenty of tough people want to work and live here. They want to be part of our economy. They share the values of hard work and service that are essential to who we are as a community,” Panetta says. 

The dedicated professionals who serve visitors enhance local quality of life, too. Hospitality employees reinvest in the community by shopping at small businesses, for example. They also bring a service-oriented mindset to their roles as volunteers, nonprofit board members and neighbors. 

That’s why it’s important to address challenges related to affordable housing, water and infrastructure.

“The hospitality industry provides opportunities for advancement. It lets people work here, but we also want to make sure they’re able to live here. Too often, these days, they can’t do both,” Panetta says. “Our public servants have a responsibility to ensure not just that our economy is booming, but also that those contributing to our economy can stay here.”

Hospitality roles taught Panetta how to communicate and collaborate with people, even in challenging situations. The skills he developed are key in his work as a congressional representative. 

When building his own teams, Panetta often seeks out individuals with hospitality experience.

“In this field, all kinds of people bring issues to you. You have to understand and work with all of them, even if they don’t agree with you,” he says. “When I’m hiring, I look kindly on those who have had service-industry jobs because that's what we do here. We serve the constituents.”

The Monterey County Hospitality Association is the trade association serving the local tourism industry with advocacy, education and employee recognition programs. For more information, visit or contact Kristin Horton at


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