Frank Pedulla, owner/operator of the Radisson Hotel in Peoria, formerly Jumer’s Hotel, has spent his career in the hospitality industry. “While attending Niagara University in New York, I obtained a job cleaning the campus bar. It wasn’t long until I became a doorman, then a bartender, and, by my junior year, I managed the campus bar and started my own catering company. Upon graduation, the university hired me as an assistant food service director. At the end of that year, a classmate of mine called and said he and his dad had bought the Holiday Inn in Ithaca, N.Y. They had no food background but had hotel background. Dan and John Homik gave me my first opportunity in the hotel business. Over the years, I’ve only had four employers. During that time, I’ve overseen many hotels, restaurants, casinos, real estate companies, and other hospitality venues.”
Among his community service, Pedulla is a board member of the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and president of the Hospitality Association.
Tell about your background, schools attended, family, etc.
I grew up in a small community in upstate New York. My mother and father owned their own business, so all five of their children grew up working for them in the retail business. I always felt that growing up in a family business environment gave us a head start in the business world. I graduated from Niagara University in 1978 with a Bachelors degree in accounting. My wife, Angie, is also my partner in business. We have two boys and four grandchildren.
You have a long history with Jumer’s. What influenced your decision to become part of the Radisson hotels?
I met D. James Jumer in September 1989. When my family moved here, about 60 percent of hotels were still non-franchised hotels. In the early 1990s, there was a huge explosion of limited service hotels, all being developed under franchised flags. Slowly but surely, many hotels started to buy franchises. Jumers was unique and had a very unique business plan. I left the Jumer organization in spring 1996 and returned in fall 1998. The company had fallen on difficult times, and, when analyzing market share and average rate for the State of Illinois and the Midwest region, Radisson continued to appear as the market leader. With the changes in technology and the way society uses this technology, the Jumer chain could no longer compete in marketing its unique experience. More than 25 percent of hotel reservations are now made through the Internet. To employ that level of expertise in a small regional chain was cost prohibitive. Carlson Companies, parent company of Radisson Hotels, brings with it highly skilled professionals that allow us to compete within the marketplace.
Tell about your investment in the remodeling of the new Radisson. What amenities do guests want today?
The transformation of the hotel was very well thought out and planned by a group of dedicated people within our organization and the Radisson design department. We spent months going over every square inch of the hotel and what we felt were important characteristics of the hotel. We met with different guests and companies to get their feedback and input as to what was important to them and their companies. A great example is high-speed Internet. More hotels today are offering wireless connectivity. We not only offer wireless, but we offer it hard wired for our guests that require a high level of security for proprietary information, and, yes, it’s free of charge. A good example of this service is our business center. Any hotel guest is welcome to use the complimentary computers, printers, Internet, phones, and fax machine our business center provides. The single biggest change was lightening and brightening the entire hotel. We also redesigned guestrooms to make them more functional for the guest. Examples of this are the 42-inch by 30-inch desk with an ergonomic chair that faces the armoire with a 27-inch color TV offering 32 channels. All of the rooms had new air conditioning and telephone systems installed. Each bathroom was renovated and updated with marble tiled floors and counter tops, hair dryers, makeup mirrors, and a concave shower rod that give our guests another 8 inches in the tub area. The transformation of the hotel cost $4 million.
How does a full-service hotel such as the Radisson compete with discount hotel chains?
Service. We’re truly a full-service hotel. Over the years, when you say “full service,” people think of it as rooms with a restaurant. We’re much more than that. We’re a company in the hospitality business, and we work with our clients to fulfill their needs. We make sure people planning for groups, conferences, and special getaways are very satisfied with the services and our hotel experience. We offer many services including free van and limousine service throughout the Peoria area, bellmen to assist with luggage, highly skilled sales and catering staff that will assist in the planning of events and also in the programming of multiple day conferences and the coordination with other area attractions. Our restaurant is open at 6 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m., but we offer food in the Stein Lounge until midnight. Believe me, a guest who gets in at 10 p.m. after traveling all day appreciates a cold beverage and something to eat.
What future plans do you hope to implement in the next 10 years?
We’re currently planning a 22,000-square-foot conference and convention center, complete with two amphitheater components in the City of West Peoria that will adjoin the hotel on the west side of the property. This addition will allow us to compete for larger groups that would like to come to the Peoria area and have a need for a high-end conference and training center. We also own enough real estate to put in an additional 70 guestrooms.
You work closely with your wife in the business. What advice would you give to other couples who share career and marriage?
Angie and I have worked together for more than 20 years. We were coworkers and friends before our marriage. Our friendship continues today and allows us to communicate and express ideas and opinions that we mutually respect. Needless to say, we do have differences of opinion, but that’s healthy in any organization and relationship.
You successfully led the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in the search for a new executive director. What qualifications was the search committee looking for?
The executive director’s position at the CVB is very diverse and complex. It wasn’t too many years ago that the CVB represented Peoria and East Peoria. It now represents eight counties with very different needs and challenges. We were looking for a hands-on, dynamic individual who could plan, organize, and lead the professional staff of the PACVB. There are so many current hotels, attractions, and restaurants along with the Civic Center, the East Peoria Expo Center, the expanding riverfront, and nature tourism. That, in itself, is a full-time job. Then you add to it the expansion of the Civic Center, the development of the Caterpillar Visitor Center, the downtown museum, the new hotel and conference center in East Peoria, the Emiquon Project, the transformation of the Festival of Lights, and many other projects that are in the planning stages—and it’s not hard to see the requirements also included an individual who could multi-task and is an exceptional communicator, both in house with staff and externally to the communities we represent. Steve Powell has those qualities and the tenacity to position these entities into a comprehensive marketing plan.
What are the challenges to marketing central Illinois?
The challenge is the diversity of all of the attractions we have and creating a common thread and marketing plan that will encompass all of those unique attractions. We’re very fortunate to have the diverse asset base that we have in central Illinois. When you talk to professionals in the CVB business, they’re amazed at what we have in central Illinois. When we were looking for our PACVB executive director, approximately 130 professionals applied from all over the country. SearchWide, the professional employment company we used, said there was a lot of interest in the position because of all the current diversity and the planned growth of the area.
How do the goals and mission of the PACVB interface with the hotel industry?
The PACVB mission is to bring visitors into our area. These visitors will need lodging, restaurants, and entertainment venues to enhance their visit. The economic impact these visitors have when visiting central Illinois has a direct bearing on the economic climate of our region.
What are the selling points of increasing tourism in central Illinois? The challenges?
Central Illinois has many diverse assets—from the Civic Center and its convention and arena ability, to EastSide Center with youth sports, Wildlife Prairie State Park, and everything in between. As new attractions come on board, it’s difficult with the budgeted dollars the CVB has to market to the 32 million people who live within a 300-mile radius of Peoria.
What misperceptions, if any, are there about the hospitality industry?
That it’s all glamour. People who work in the hospitality business enjoy seeing guests have a good experience at their hotels, restaurants, and attractions. To put on a great experience for the guest, it takes a tremendous amount of coordination and commitment. I believe people who work in the hospitality business are attracted to the industry because you never have the same day twice.
What advice would you give someone wanting to begin a career in the hotel/restaurant/entertainment industry?
Make sure the people around you understand this unique lifestyle. We work when other people have time off. Typically, your friends are people who work in this industry. It’s a tremendous time commitment. If you enjoy people, challenges, and a diverse business, this is the right industry for you.
What else would you like our readers to know that hasn’t been discussed?
You can live your life two ways: either you’re in the game or you’re on the sidelines watching the game. Ever since I can remember, my parents encouraged me to always be in the game. Our business is one that’s primarily based upon the people around you, who you live and work with every day. Without the commitment of good people, you could never be successful in our industry. IBI