Serving up second chances with a smile in Raleigh’s hotel scene

By Katie Clark

He’s a vibrant and playful gentleman who is a self-described Gemini. You can tell he enjoys laughter by the smile that rests on his face after yet another joke. His blue eyes match the color of the tribal cross tattoo that circles his wrist. He is gentle, grateful and welcoming to everyone he knows, works with and cares for.

But like most people, he first went through times of unhappiness and struggle. His philosophy is now to believe in others because someone first believed in him.

In 1977, 12-year-old Daniel James McLaughlin worked as a delivery boy in New York City’s garment district. His father worked in a deli called Picnic Fair that sat across the street from the New York Public Library.

Though Dan was the baby of the family, he was the only child who helped his dad deliver food. His father, wanting him to be a hard worker, brought Dan along his delivery route for a year.

“I think that was always instilled in me as a young child, that nobody could ever take that away from you if you work very hard,” McLaughlin says. “People will respect you and you will respect yourself.”

After high school, McLaughlin wanted to attend college but could not afford it. Instead, he landed a job at a Parsippany, New Jersey, hotel run by the Interstate Management Company. He worked in the hotel’s pantry for a year before being promoted.

“My college, my internship was there,” McLaughlin said about his time in the pantry. “That turned out to be my school where I was able to graduate from.”

Challenges that lead to success

As McLaughlin climbed the career ladder, he slid into depression. At 21 years old, his father committed suicide. Shortly after, McLaughlin’s fiancee suffered a miscarriage. For the following year he coped with the losses through an alcohol and cigarette addiction.

“As I drank, it brought me closer to my father because with the hurt, it amplified that,” McLaughlin said. “The more I drank, the better I felt and the more that I was close to him because I had so much emotion. To keep him close to me, I drank very heavily.”

He met his wife, Kristin McLaughlin, in 1994. Dan would make Kris special drinks of Sprite, crushed ice and cranberry juice at the hotel where they both worked. Their first date was on the Fourth of July on Brooklyn Bridge. He met Kris while recovering from his addiction.

“You told me that right up front,” Kris told Dan from across the dining room table. “You told me, ‘I don’t drink.’ I was like, ‘Oh, well I do!’ It was fine; it was never an issue.”

“Yeah, I was a much better person then,” Dan said back with a smile.

McLaughlin’s struggle from ’86 to ’87 affected his work and personal life, and he knew he needed help to move forward. He soon went through a recovery period and began to focus on the career he had been building for years.

A life made new

Today, McLaughlin works as the food and beverage manager at the Marriott City Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a manager, he ensures that the hotel’s food and beverage division promotes guest satisfaction, revenue, profitability and an associate-driven business.

But he does more than just direct. McLaughlin, in his own words, “circulates and percolates,” doing everything from checking payroll, to helping employees cook, to serving guests through room service.

“When you can be the hand in there to be part of the success, instead of just dictating it, it’s very rewarding,” McLaughlin says. “People respect you when you’re working side by side with them.” He works along with his associates while also directing them.

McLaughlin speaks very highly of his employees and coworkers and says they are what makes the hotel business so wonderful.

“Every individual has an amazing contribution that they can give to a guest. Nothing beats the individual personality that people have to offer.”

Anthony Parise, executive chef at the Marriott Raleigh, said that McLaughlin finds the best in every situation presented to him.

“Dan is eccentric; he is a very calm and happy human being,” Parise says. “When he sees someone who has the ability to do a job, he lets that person own it and take pride in it.”

Guests at the Marriott Raleigh can tell that the food and beverage department is well directed just by attending hotel events. Joe Currie, board chairman of the North Carolina Business Travel Association, appreciates McLaughlin’s work at their association’s banquets.

“The event was extremely well received by all of NCBTA’s members based upon the wonderful selection of food, from breakfast to a takeaway snack at the end of the day,” Currie said. “There is no doubt that the entire staff took pride and care in the service that they provided.”

Giving as he received

After 30 years, McLaughlin still works for the Interstate Management Company at the Marriott Raleigh. He moved to North Carolina 13 years ago to stay with it, since Interstate had given him the ability to take care of himself and his family.

“I’ve always been very loyal and very thankful and appreciative of what they’ve given me,” McLaughlin says. “Thanks to my job, I can feed my puppy,” he said while smiling at Butters, his pampered mutt.

“Everyday, fresh,” McLaughlin jokes. “Are you kidding me? He has an acquired taste for finer food.”

McLaughlin said that Interstate helped him build discipline, organization and success into his life. The company also inspired him to believe in others because it believed in him.

“I’ll never forget it. Somebody believed in me at the pantry,” McLaughlin says. “Somebody gave me an opportunity, so I am going to give everyone else an opportunity.”

His hard work and life of service to his company is noticed by everyone in his life, but McLaughlin’s wife sees his work and services firsthand.

“I know the passion he puts into his work and the loyalty he feels he owes, as well as the reciprocal loyalty they give him for all that he has done,” Kris says. “Nobody works harder than Dan.”

He continues to give others the benefit of the doubt just as he received in the hotel pantry 30 years ago. Perhaps now, as McLaughlin cooks, serves and directs his employees, he can return to being 12 years old again. Serving others with his father and giving chances because he was given one so long ago.

Doing good, for the good of it.

Edited by Stephen Kenney