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The Culture of Community Engagement

Lisa Crawford Watson
March 26, 2024

Hospitality is a community-wide effort

Back in the day, San Francisco’s burgeoning hub of drinking and dining warranted the establishment of a restaurant association to foster growth and support collaboration. Los Angles had one, as well. But Monterey County, the hospitality hub in the middle, was without the same governance, until some 20 or 30 restaurateurs, led by Ted Balestreri, Sr., among others, formed their own. As did local lodging properties.

“Our purpose and our goal,” said Balestreri, “was to make sure hospitality was viable in our community and to help our legislators and decisionmakers understand how important this industry is. Once we realized the hotels faced some of the same issues we had, in 1975, we combined our associations into the Monterey Peninsula Hotel Restaurant Association (MPHRA), which encompassed everything to do with tourism.”

In 1990, the MPHRA expanded its reach to include all hospitality-related businesses throughout Monterey County, changing its name to the Monterey County Hospitality Association (MCHA), to reflect its scope. Today, the association supports more than 200 member organizations.

Hospitality was and remains an integral part of this community, Balestreri said. Apart from the American government, the breadth of hospitality jobs forms the largest retail employer in America. 

“The Hospitality Industry hires and offers upward mobility to more women, minorities, and has always provided an environment of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Balestreri said. “Hospitality is the flagship of that; with a greater incidence of folks getting their first job, working their way up the ladder, to achieve ownership, than any other industry.”

Ted Balestreri’s dad died when his son was a little boy, leaving him, he says, the whole world in which to try to make a living. But he left him in the greatest country in the world, America, and what greater inheritance do you need than that.  

“The reason I went into the restaurant business was simple. I had to eat. As a busboy, they trained me on the job and gave me a meal,” said Balestreri, the founding CEO and Chairman of the Cannery Row Company, The Sardine Factory Restaurant, and the Inns of Monterey. “I had three hospitality-related jobs while going to school, and I loved everything about it, particularly the people.”

Unlike other industries, he says, competitors in the Hospitality Industry are friends, who support one another and benefit from one another’s success. 

A Welcome Home

MCHA Chair Rick Aldinger got into the hospitality industry, he says, by accident. Having grown up on a small farm in Iowa, not the hospitality center of the universe, he says, the Army brought him to the Central Coast, where he attended the Defense Language Institute and was stationed at Fort Ord. Once separated from the Army, he sought a life amid nature, and got a job managing the Big Sur Campground and Cabin for the next 19 years. 

“During that time,” he said, “I got to know Alan Perlmutter, a general partner at the Big Sur River Inn who, in 2007, approached me to join the team. With so many moving parts—a restaurant, lodging, general store, and gas station, I received a crash course in what hospitality is all about: the importance of customer satisfaction, making people feel welcome.”

As Rick Aldinger and his wife began to look down the road to retirement, they considered where they’d like to spend those golden years, quickly realizing they want to retire right where they are, in Monterey.

“The influence of hospitality makes this area so vibrant and engaging. There are so many opportunities here to experience the region’s natural beauty and culture,” he said. “I love the hospitality industry and being a part of it, among a great group of people who collaborate, working together to help each other make this the most dynamic, welcoming community.”

Every Friday night, the Aldingers sit on their couch, do a Google search for what’s happening on the Monterey Peninsula, and plan their weekend accordingly.

“There’s always a festival, fundraising event, wonderful tasting room, bistro, restaurant we can take part in,” he said. “Where else can you have all these opportunities for entertainment and community available to you in such a drop-dead gorgeous place?”

There are other hotel associations and restaurant associations across the country, but not many regionally based hospitality associations, says MCHA Executive Director Kristin Horton. That Monterey County has had an association, strong and thriving, for 35 years, says a lot about a community so willing to work together and support each other.

“While working with MCHA,” she said, “I have been contacted by others interested in developing the kind of strength and unity across all sectors of their hospitality industry, as we have here in Monterey County.

“Every year, MCHA becomes more important,” said Ted Balestreri. “I know a lot of people on the Peninsula, who are operating in this industry but are not members. Everyone should become a member, should work together. It does the world good to perpetuate the success of our operations. California is, arguably, the toughest place in which to do business. Monterey County Hospitality Association helps us do so, collaboratively, and with success, on behalf of our community and our guests.”  


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