Introducing the Heroes of Montgomery County

The Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB) is pleased to announce a brand-new initiative to recognize hospitality employees, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. To honor the travel industry, the VFTCB is putting a particular spotlight on Montgomery County by honoring different "Heroes” each week on the organization’s social media channels. 

Those nominating the Hospitality Heroes will be asked to answer three questions: background on the nominee, what they’ve done to go above and beyond during COVID, and why they love what they do. Check out our list of Hospitality Heroes below!



Please join us in congratulating our #HospitalityHero of the week, owner of Lochel's Bakery, Kathleen Lochel!

Kathleen states, "Throughout the pandemic, our bakery never gave up, never looked back... only ahead. I led the most fantastic group and we're not stopping."

Lochel's earned global reach when their famous presidential election cookies went viral in the fall. Located in downtown Hatboro on York Road, Lochel's is a MUST for all your bakery cravings.

Kathleen and team, we thank you for all you do for the residents and visitors of Montgomery County!

If you would like to nominate a colleague or friend, please send us a message. #MakeItMontco

hospitality heros

Please join us in congratulating our #HospitalityHero of the week, Gene (AKA Grumpy) owner at Grumpy's Handcarved Sandwiches!

"We would like to nominate my husband - Eugene Dugan. Gene has been cooking since he was a toddler. After graduating Johnson & Wales Culinary School, he opened his restaurant at what was once the local indoor farmer's market in 2010. He had been unemployed for nearly two years during this time and on a song and a prayer, Grumpy's was born. In 2012, he moved to his current location and has been growing ever since!

When COVID hit, we also had to do some adjusting. When things first shut down, we realized that our school children who typically can attend breakfast and lunch at no cost to them during normal school hours would no longer have such access. Gene offered FREE hot breakfasts to the children in the school district as well as the local community college students.

Our hours shifted to only have lunch and during what would be our normal breakfast hours, he opened the doors for over 1500 students who got a hot breakfast through June when things became more readily available through the community to feed those in need.

During this time, he would get up at 5am, set things up so the kids could come, place their order (though limited menu) and take with them a hot breakfast including eggs, pancakes, French toast, juice, sausage, bacon etc.

He also participated in feeding many breakfasts and lunches to the local hospital workers and ambulance drivers. Many in our church also could not get out to eat, get food etc. These seniors were given many meals by Gene who would deliver them to their door to keep them safe.

Gene (aka Grumpy) has always been very generous in the community. Always participating in a variety of fundraisers for those in more need, and helping local high school students by hosting a "Chopped Challenge" giving them an opportunity to have the winning meal on our menu for a year. In turn, every time one of those meals was sold, Grumpy gave back $2 to the culinary arts program. More than $2000 had been donated.

Gene is truly a hospitality hero!

Though at times, he may be frustrated and ready to throw in the towel, he always finds the real reason to keep his doors open, which is being a part of our community!" - Sheila Dugan, wife of Grumpy.

On behalf of the entire Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, we thank you, Gene! #MakeItMontco

Hotel Heroes

Litsa Balaska | Front Desk Supervisor, DoubleTree Philadelphia West Plymouth Meeting

Litsa Balaska moved to the United States from Greece three years ago. Married and expecting her first child in December, she has worked tirelessly while in her 2nd trimester, is always on call whenever her co-workers need anything, and goes above and beyond for all guests, including making sure one guest in for medical treatment had everything his doctor ordered for him to be able to travel for necessary treatment. 

“Litsa fully embodies the meaning of hospitality, and everything our industry stands for,” said Ashley Ridolfi, Director of Sales and Marketing at the DoubleTree Philadelphia West. “She loves being around people, helping people, and making sure everyone is well-taken care of.”

Hotel Heroes

Abdou Gueye | Executive Sous Chef, Crowne Plaza King of Prussia

Abdou Gueye graduated high school in Dakar, Senegal in West Africa in 1992. After attending two years of college in a professional training program he came to the United States to continue his education.

Once he arrived in the states in 1998, Abdou began working as an apprentice for Jeffrey Miller Catering during their infancy stage in Lansdowne, PA.  During his tenure there he learned and excelled at the art of creating delicious, high quality food and beverages “from scratch”, which has always been Jeffrey’s moniker. Throughout the years he has assisted Jeffrey Miller with numerous events which include weddings, corporate parties, meetings, and other social gatherings,

As Abdou’s familial responsibilities changed, he required a more stable schedule, so he began working for a company called Food Source located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Initially he was hired as a supervisor and but ended his tenure there approximately four years later as Executive Sous Chef.

During that time, Abdou naturalized as a U.S. citizen and began working part-time at Crowne Plaza King of Prussia as a Sous Chef. In 2008 he decided to commit to full time hours and was promoted to Executive Sous Chef. Since then, he has been awarded Manager of the Quarter four times and Manager of the Year twice, most recently in 2018.

Abdou’s commitment to quality and excellence is unmatched. His creativity and ability to inspire other around him is truly a gift!

Hotel Heroes

Kathy Diodati | Front Desk Agent, Joseph Ambler Inn

Kathy Diodati is the Front Desk Agent at the Joseph Ambler Inn. She says, "When I first came to JAI I was just looking for a part time job to help my children with their college expenses. I found so much more than that here. The staff at the Inn is truly a family unit and as I came to know everyone it became more than just a job. After working here, I have met so many people from all walks of life and have come to treasure all their stories from couples just escaping their everyday lives to young couples sharing their day with family and friends."

"During the pandemic Kathy attends to each call and every check-in like a true mother hen. Assuring each potential guest of the Covid-19 cleaning and sanitizing procedures. When the guest arrives, She will make sure that the guests are aware of all precautions regarding the guest rooms, common areas and restaurant/pub. Past guests have returned numerous times since the onset of the pandemic due to the fact that Kathy is reassuring and truly nurturing. She is the “heart” of the Joseph Ambler Inn." - David Arena, Hotel Director at Joseph Ambler Inn.

Vicki Anderson

Vicki Anderson | Front Desk and Night Audit, Hyatt House Philadelphia/Plymouth Meeting

Vicki started with the Hyatt House in December of 2019 as a part-time Night Auditor. Vicki has grown from part-time to stepping up and working full-time as both Front Desk and Night Audit. During the decrease in staffing levels, Vicki has been willing to step up and take on additional responsibilities such as helping with breakfast, working in laundry, and being kind and caring with all of our guests. Vicki has worked additional shifts (even doubles) to give other associates an extra day of rest while the Hyatt House has been a limited team. She has brought great ides to her leadership team and is actively trying to do better every day she is on property. Vicki loves interacting with guests and sharing laughs with everyone that comes through our doors. She truly cares and wants to make everyone feel comfortable during these difficult times. Vicki was nominated by Devin Jarvis, General Manager Hyatt House Philadelphia/ Plymouth Meeting.

Seritta Rios

Seritta Rios | Director of Operations, Staybridge Suites

 "Seritta Rios has gone above and beyond during the past few months. From covering the front desk, housekeeping, ordering, laundry and any and all other tasks needed to keep to hotel up and running. Seritta has worked non-stop and has never once complained or said no to any task she has been asked to do. She certainly deserves to be recognized for her outstanding attitude and work ethic." - Eileen McCutcheon, Director of Sales Staybridge Suites Philadelphia Valley Forge 

hotel hero ignacio castro del rio

Ignacio Castro Del Rio | Front Office Supervisor 

Over the past 6 months, Ignacio Castro Del Rio has had a tremendous amount of responsibilities thrust upon him and has handled everything thrown his way head on with a positive attitude. Ignacio is a pure example of what "get the job done" looks like. From the guest experience to his concern for his team members, his sense of urgency has been a driving force even before the pandemic.

Ignacio has surpassed every expectation of his Front Office Supervisor position. He has created solutions when there were opportunities. He stepped in as a Banquet Captain and arranged the ballroom on multiple occasions even at 1:00 in the morning, including on a holiday when he should have been home celebrating with his family. He has taken on hotel maintenance, security, housekeeping and even took it upon himself to be a food runner for our team members.      

Amongst everything mentioned, during the pandemic months, Ignacio also arranged for his wife and child (Vanina & Francisco) to move from Argentina to Philadelphia. ignacio has a true passion for his job and it shows.  He has been a pillar for each department at the Alloy King of Prussia and certainly a Hotel Hero.

Jari Holida Inn Lansdale Hotel Heroes

Jarilis Lucena | Executive Housekeeper, Holiday Inn Lansdale

“The Holiday Inn Lansdale – Hatfield is nominating our Executive Housekeeper, Jarilis Lucena.  Jarilis has worked for the hotel for 5 years, and have received multiple promotions: originally hired as a room attendant progressing on to Room Supervisor and into her current position as Executive Housekeeping Manager, due to her hard work and dedication to the hotel.

The impacts of Covid-19 have been especially hard to hotels, most notably to our housekeeping department.  Through it all Jarilis has stuck with the hotel.  Most days she has been subject to having to clean rooms, as staffing in the department has been an issue.  She has been adaptive to brand changes that impact the Housekeeping department.

Over the years, Jaralis has seen it all and no matter the challenge the hotel is facing, we can count on Jarilis to lead her team and help with the success of the hotel.

We routinely pass our Holiday Inn audits because of how clean the guest rooms are.  She holds her room attendants to high standards. Without the “Heart of the Hotel” operating smoothly, the hotel cannot have satisfied guests.

If you have never worked in housekeeping position, you cannot understand how grueling, sometimes thankless, job it can be.  We are forever thankful for Jarilis and everything she does for the hotel.” - Cassandra Giblin, Director of Sales 

Anne Deon Hotel Hero

Anne Deon | Associate Director of Sales, Valley Forge Casino Resort 

Anne Deon has been with Valley Forge Casino Resort for 15 years in that time she has working in the Sales office as a Catering Manager, Sales Manager, Senior Sales Manager and Associate Director of Sales.

“I believe Anne is the epitome of a hotel hero. Her dedication to Valley Forge Casino Resort and our Sales Team is beyond compare. She works hard every day, but through the quarantine while our team was furloughed, and she and I were the only ones holding our team together, she worked even harder. She knew she had to, to get our team back! I saw this firsthand.

During quarantine, Anne, as the Associate Director of Sales, took on the job of Director of Sales, Senior Sales Manager, Social Sales Manager and Executive Meeting Manager. Answering and finding the answers to everyone’s client questions. Postponing groups, creating new contract and entertaining client conference calls. She became a zoom expert, learning everything she could about new meetings/events standards so she could teach the team on their return. 

On the day our team returned, Anne was thrilled. She couldn’t wait to see everyone in person and lead the Valley Forge Sales Team once again. Since June, she has been giving her all to motivate, teach and support! We would not be the boundless sales team we are without her!” – Terri Hughes, Director of Catering, Valley Forge Casino Resort

hotel hero aazhee chapman

Aazhee Chapman  | Sales Coordinator, Homewood Suites Horsham 

“Aazheé joined our pre-opening team in June 2019 as a sales coordinator. She proved to be an instrumental part of the hotel's success and ramp up supporting sales efforts, completing sales calls, and helping to train the front desk team.

While Aazheé has always been a team player, she truly became our "hotel hero" during the pandemic. She stepped up to the plate covering the front desk whenever she was needed including night audit shifts. She was always available to assist housekeeping or food and beverage while still providing excellent service to our remaining clients and guests. Additionally, she continued to support the sales efforts of the hotel and facilitate meeting room set ups.  On top of everything happening at the hotel, she has also been acting as a caregiver for an ill family member and is pursuing her MBA.

When we asked Aazheé why she went above and beyond, she was unsure why she had even been nominated as she was just "doing what needed to be done. I knew my team needed me and wanted to do everything I could for the success of the hotel". Well, I know that I speak for the entire team at Homewood Suites Horsham when I say that we are so appreciative of Aazheé's humor, effort, and resilience and I personally would be lost without her!"-Katelynn Weaver, Director of Sales and Marketing, Homewood Suites Horsham

hotel hero kayla lane

Kayla Lane | Area Sales Coordinator, Hilton Garden Inn Valley Forge/Oaks

“Kayla joined our Hilton Garden Inn Valley Forge/ Oaks 3 years ago, starting out as a front desk agent.  She immediately became one of our most dependent and knowledgeable front desk agents, routinely receiving the highest compliments from our guests.  With a degree in Marketing and Management from Saint Francis University, Kayla expressed a desire to join the sales to pursue her goal of becoming an event planner.  She has been our Area Sales Coordinator since February 2019 and does a tremendous job.  Over the past 6 months, Kayla has been nothing but positive and flexible as her role has shifted daily at times.  One day she may be working at her sales desk and the next day may be covering a front desk shift.  She has even covered Night Audit shifts and helped out in Housekeeping. Day, night, weekends, you name it.  All of this while never complaining and always doing the job with a smile. Personally, in her free time, she loves volunteering, reading, and watching movies.  Kayla has lived all over the state of Pennsylvania, mostly residing in a small town outside of Pittsburgh,” Jake Gaspari, Area Director of Sales, Hilton Garden Inn Oaks.

A note from Kayla herself: “I work in hospitality because I love the industry and I love getting to meet new people.  Being a part of the sales team allows me to do both of those things while also allowing me to utilize my degree, and continue to learn and grow alongside more seasoned professionals.” 

chris bilgera hotel hero

Chris Bilgera | Executive Chef, Hilton Garden Inn Valley Forge/Oaks

"Chris Bilgera is the Executive chef for the Hilton Garden Inn Valley Forge/Oaks. He started with us when the hotel first opened in 2012, working his way up within the food & beverage operations, now running the entire department. While Chris may be based out of this hotel, he also ensures that if we need to host a catered event at one of our other properties and get to feature his amazing talents we are able to do so! Facilitating this between different properties & operational teams has been an accomplishment that you cannot put a price on. Led by him and the teams’ efforts, his department has helped us to bridge a gap we didn’t even know existed. It created a way to streamline our sales approach with additional benefit of lifting operational impact at our limited service hotels that wouldn’t otherwise have the capability to host these types of superior events or “experiences” as we like to call them, for our groups and guests. From themed meetings or parties, to client events and more, Chef’s creativity has risen the bar for unique approaches with trend-setting touches that has continued to amaze our clients and guests for many years!

Chris is one of our “hotel heroes” that we would like to recognize especially amidst the current climate ongoing through the COVID-19 pandemic. The severe impact on the hospitality industry overall has been daunting with the lack of normal travel & groups doubly impacted with the food and beverage operations with the bans, rules & restrictions in place. During constant change Chris has remained positive. He has put in countless hours to stay up-to-date working on alternate ways of creating revenue. It goes without saying this is a large undertaking and a challenge to ensure that every box has been checked with both safety measurements in place and leaving no idea or stone unturned. At any opportunity that we grasp to host a group or event he is taking the lead to make sure it is possible. Over the last few months lucking out to gain a few “pop-up” or surprise events that a lot of hotel teams would have turned down purely because of the workload it would create… not Chef Chris! He has absolutely astonished our staff a few months back, helping to house guests last minute during storms that needed a place to stay and a way to dine “on-the-go”. Within a matter of hours Chris was able to create & execute a “COVID-safe” way to make all of this happen. Our guests, staff, management & ownership are eternally grateful to have an absolute ROCKSTAR like Chef Chris." - Lindsay Asher, Area Director of Corporate Sales, Hilton Garden Inn Valley Forge / Oaks.

hotel hero ryan cimei

Ryan Cimei | General Manager, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Philadelphia West

"Ryan Cimei has gone above and beyond during the entire pandemic. He has been assisting in every single department - working front desk shifts, in food and beverage, housekeeping, and even driving our shuttle. You name it, he’s done it. His tireless efforts and dedication to the property has allowed the property to succeed during these unprecedented times," said Ashley Ridolfi, Director of Sales & Marketing, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Philadelphia West.

hotel hero kaplan patel

Kalpen Patel | Front Desk Associate, Hampton Inn Limerick

“I’d love to nominate Kalpen as our Hampton Inn Hotel Hero. When there was a big fire in one of the local apartment complexes, the residents who lost their homes had stayed with us through the assistance of the Red Cross. Kalpen went above and beyond in assisting these families who lost their homes, and made sure each of them felt comforted and safe. Because of him, we maintained exceptional service to all guests staying with us. Kalpen consistently reminds all hotel guests to practice social distancing and wear masks at all times. He truly values safety and is a hardworking, genuine hotel hero." -  Marianne Cunanan, General Manager at the Hampton Inn Limerick.

jasmine ginyard hotel hero

Jasmine Ginyard | Night Auditor, Fairfield Inn Philadelphia Valley Forge/King of Prussia 

"Jasmine is a full time night auditor while juggling going to college to become a veterinarian. Jasmine has always assisted where she could before COVID, if there was an employee who called out or if needed to inspect rooms. During COVID, she has gone above and beyond by continuing to cover shifts as needed, whether it be working a 3-11pm shift or a 7pm-7am, just to ensure we had coverage and employees were able to get their days off. She has also stepped up and has helped with some administrative duties to support her the team. Jasmine is a great asset to our team and we are so lucky to have her." -  Elisavet M. Loizos, General Manager, Fairfield Inn by Marriott

thomas murray hotel hero

Thomas Murray | Chief Engineer, Hampton Inn Philadelphia/Plymouth Meeting 

"Tom’s interest in engineering started when he was a young newlywed who had simply gone down to his basement to repair the broken heater in their new home. Soon after he enrolled in school for Electronic Technology to learn more about Heating & Refrigeration. Upon finishing school, he started working at the Radisson by the Philadelphia Convention Center. He then moved over to the Valley Forge Casino where he served as their Director of Engineering from 2012 to 2015. On January 5, 2016, Tom left the Casino to pursue his passion as Chief Engineer at the Hampton Inn Plymouth Meeting.

Tom Murray is the kind of person who works tirelessly with a smile on his face. During the darkest of times he did what he could to lift the spirits of everyone around him while also jumping into whatever roll the hotel demanded. Since March, he has been a Houseman, Rooms Attendant, Laundry Attendant, Front Desk Agent, mentor, and friend. He has become an amazing support agent who is always willing to lend a helping hand. Tom is the kind of guy who regularly offers half his meal to others just so no one feels hungry, and has transported employees during odd hours who couldn’t get to work or didn’t feel safe. He is always looking out for others and even brought in his own grill on Housekeeping Week to show his gratitude to the team with a fresh, hot home-cooked meal.

Tom does all of this out of the kindness of his heart. If you asked him why he does all that he does, he would say, “well somebody’s got to do it”. Tom would also say, “a man is nothing without his honor”. Thomas Murray is a man of extraordinary honor, commitment, and heart which is why we’d like to honor him as a “Hotel Hero”.

This January 5, 2020 will mark Tom’s 5th year anniversary with us at the Hampton Inn Philadelphia/ Plymouth Meeting. We couldn’t be prouder to have him as a leader and servant of our hotel." - Viveca Stinson, Director of Sales, Hampton Inn by Hilton Plymouth Meeting.


Sean Callaghan

Sean Callaghan | Operations Manager, Holiday Inn Lansdale - Hatfield

Please join us in thanking our Montgomery County Hotel Hero of the week, Sean Callaghan, from the Holiday Inn Lansdale - Hatfield!

"The Holiday Inn Lansdale – Hatfield is nominating our Operations Manager, Sean Callaghan. Sean came to the hotel a few years ago and started on as a front desk agent. Sean proved to be a great employee working through the ranks of Supervisor and onto Operations Manager.

This was Sean’s first job in a hotel, and while he graduated from Penn State with a degree in Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science Management, you can see he has a true passion for the Hospitality field.

Sean has proven to be a valuable asset during these trying times, as 2020 has shaped up to be quite a challenge in the hospitality industry. In addition to keeping on top of the constant changes required by our parent company IHG and the state of Pennsylvania due to keep our guests safe due to COVID, Sean lead the charge this summer with our guest room renovation, certainly keeping him very busy.

Having a leader and team player like Sean to run a smooth operation at the Holiday Inn is why he is our Hotel Hero." - Cassandra Giblin, Director of Sales, Holiday Inn Lansdale - Hatfield.

On behalf of the entire Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, we thank you, Sean! #HotelHeroes #MakeItMontco

Nicole Fazio

Nicole Fazio | Marketing Manager, Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center

Please join us in thanking our Hotel Hero of the week, Nicole Fazio at Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center!

"Nicole started at Normandy Farm & Blue Bell Country Club over 6 years ago as an intern. She is such a valuable member on our team! From the launch of a new pandemic guidelines booklet, to creating new COVID-19 friendly revenue streams as well as facilitating a first responder fundraising program… the list of her heroic contributions are endless!" - Suzanne Gildea, Director of Corporate Sales, Normandy Farm.

On behalf of the entire Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, we thank you, Nicole! #HotelHeroes #MakeItMontco

Hotel Hero

Everett Nisbett | Front Office Manager, Homewood Suites Lansdale

“Homewood Suites Lansdale would like to honor Everett Nisbett as our Hotel Hero.  Everett has been with us as the Front Office Manager for two years, but has several years of hotel and hospitality experience. Everett consistently goes above and beyond, and with the pandemic Everett has proven invaluable to the hotel’s day to day operations. Everett is quick to jump in to any and all departments that need an extra hand; no job big or small is ever missed. Everett has put in some long hours taking over pantry, front desk, housekeeping, while still maintaining his daily duties of scheduling, training, and leading team meetings.  He does this all with a smile on his face. His hospitable approach to all of our hotel guests is outstanding. In fact, the reason he chose this business is because Everett loves people. He loves meeting each guest and getting to know them. He takes the time to listen and treats everyone like family, which is a huge reason why we have so much repeat business. – Kate Pouy, Director of Sales at Homewood Suites Lansdale.

hotel hero

Candice Jefferson | Execute Meeting Manager, HYATT Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia

"Candice Jefferson is exactly the kind of person you want on your team in every circumstance, but even more so during a pandemic of global proportions; she is the kind of person who is up for any task.

Throughout this difficult year & amidst shakeups in our industry, Candice has been a pillar of consistency, no matter the situation she kept her level of service to our guests & commitment to her team extraordinarily high.

Candice never gives excuses for why a task couldn’t be completed, instead finding creative & practical ways to solve problems, she has proven to simultaneously be a leader whose demeanor & influence transcends into her own department; seeking new information from department leaders & ways to apply it to her daily responsibilities.

Candice is always the first to implement new strategies created by the sales team & at the same time making herself available to her team on the operations side day & night.

This year Candice has mastered her housekeeping role while also becoming a champion on the front desk. It is quite a sight in normal circumstances to admire someone with Candice’s natural gifts translate so seamlessly into their profession. It has been quite amazing witnessing her in action during an event that has rocked not only our industry, but the world at large.

Candice being able to keep herself composed is a testament to her character that will undoubtedly carry her a long way in our business, she has proven time & time again her worth & value to this team & we couldn’t be the success we are without her." - Glenn Brailsford, Executive Meeting Manager at HYATT Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia.