For the past 10 years, Robby Younes’ passion and expertise have been vital to establishing Crystal Springs as New Jersey’s leading year-round resort.
Robby Younes first joined the team as the Director of Food & Beverage, he served as the resort’s Vice President after a career working in renowned boutique hotels before recently getting promoted to the Chief Operating Officer. Past experience includes working at notable hotel names like the Waldorf Astoria, as well as Starwood and Hilton properties. But it’s his work with Crystal Springs that deserves the spotlight.
The Younes strategy has always been to focus on foodservice as the centerpiece of a hotel property’s signature. His uncompromising approach to menus has become his hallmark. “At Crystal Springs, it began on the very first day with the quality of the burger that we were going to serve our golfers,” Younes said. “I opted for a better burger at a higher price point and they all thought I was crazy. That burger topped with fresh Jersey tomato and Vidalia onion became a signature.”
Younes also understands the importance of the right kitchen design and equipment to be able to consistently execute the high-quality menus that his customers have come to expect. Very early in his tenure at Crystal Springs, he was able to secure the vision and flexibility he needed from an equipment and supply dealer.
“The Konzelman brothers at Economy have been my go-to from the very beginning. They understand that I want to combine our passion and commitment to the highest quality ingredients with the latest technology so that we can be consistent whether we are serving an a la carte lunch or a wedding reception of 300. Economy helped us design what we call our smart kitchen by taking the time to listen to our needs and then to bring in the power and flexibility of combi ovens to accomplish that goal throughout our foodservice operation. It’s great to know that with the Konzelman’s you have 24/7 access to respond to what can be a wide diversity of needs in our kitchens,” Younes added.
During his tenure, Younes has undertaken several impressive initiatives that provided substantial revenue growth and recognition for the resort, including the creation of the highly regarded New Jersey Wine & Food Festival. He’s also renovated the resort’s hotels, recruited top culinary talent, created innovative partnerships with farmers and producers to increase their sustainability efforts and will soon open the four-star Restaurant Latour, which is touted as the resort’s culinary pièce de résistance.
Younes’ achievements in the hospitality industry are by far impressive, but the 39-year-old hospitality executive and industry expert would have never thought he’d have a career like this. “I didn’t know that I was going to be in the business when I was younger,” he recounts. “But things take place in your life where you go back and say, “Wait a second…those things happened for a reason.”
Growing up in Lebanon, Younes experienced many hardships as a child, but it was those challenges that helped shape the hard working and resilient executive that he is today. The son of an army officer, Younes was also interested in food, enjoying the times he’d spend with his grandmother on her farm, helping her cook. It was here he was taught the concept of seasonality and the importance of using quality ingredients and products. He fondly remembers as a child how he’d arrange the dinner table for guests despite no one coming over, stating how he was destined for a life in hospitality even then.
But it wasn’t until he was traveling to the U.S. that he realized how much of a culinary interest he had. “I left Lebanon with $900 in my pocket,” he explains. “On my way to the U.S., I stopped in the UK and spent $260 on two ounces of Beluga caviar because I wanted to taste it. This left me with only $540 left to my name when I came to America.”
But his strict work ethic and grueling ambition quickly led him to raise the ranks in all of his positions. He got his real start at various Hilton properties on the East Coast, quickly climbing the ranks to become the youngest regional manager before he was 25 years old. “While my bosses and the GM were sleeping, I’d still be working, learning everything I could to advance my position,” he admits. “I was a workaholic. I’d leave at 2 AM only to return at 6 AM. I made them tired.”
With Hilton changing their approach to the guest experience, Younes moved on to Starwood, where he focused on customer service. But it wasn’t until he met Crystal Springs Resort owner Gene Mulvihill that he felt he was finally at the right place to really shine. “All he had to do was take me to the wine cellar and show me what he was putting together and I was sold,” Younes admits. “I saw something in him that reminded me of my father and grandfather and felt that he was for real.”
Besides his profound culinary and hospitality interests, Younes was also an avid wine enthusiast, having spent practically two years of his younger days learning as much about wine as he possibly could, which made him a self-taught sommelier until he finally attained certification after some time at Crystal Springs. It’s here that Younes immediately invigorated the resort’s wine program and their prestigious Wine Cellar, which has continued to amass an impressive collection of prized and rare wines under his guidance.
Beside the acclaimed wine program, Younes also helped push Crystal Springs into the future. It began with the vision for the construction of the 55,000-square-foot Red Trail Lodge at Mountain Creek that included a multiple kitchen collaboration with the Konzelmans and Economy. The next phase was a renovation of their Minerals Resort & Spa and he is planning the renovation of the Grand Cascades Lodge and four-star Restaurant Latour.
So what’s left for Younes to conquer? “That’s an interesting question I ask myself every day,” he admits. “I want to duplicate my results on the water because I cannot find a quality water or beach resort. Sure, there’s the Hamptons with great houses and yacht clubs, but there’s really no full resort experience on the water.” And with his already impressive achievements and resume, Younes’ dream of a water resort will no doubt come true thanks to his passion for fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration and shared vision takes hospitality to new heights guided by dedication to guest satisfaction. With a true heart of a hotelier, Younes will continue to do great things in his new position with Crystal Springs and more!
To learn more about the Crystal Springs Resort and Robby Younes, visit their website.