Silver Spring, Maryland—Last fall, Peter Franchot, the Comptroller of Maryland, paid a visit to Riderwood retirement community to present a certificate of recognition to resident Mel Krupin.
The moment was more than just a photo op to Mr. Krupin, a restaurateur known for making both the power players and working folks of Washington feel at home over a meal.
"Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930's, there is no way I could ever have imagined my life's direction. Family and career have been my true blessings," described Mr. Krupin.
Creating an inviting dining experience for others has been part of Mr. Krupin's inner fabric as long as he can remember. As a 12-year old Boy Scout, he volunteered to cook the steak and soup for his fellow scouts during summer camping trips. Seeing the smiles on his "customers" got him hooked.
Mr. Krupin eventually attended the First Community College of Brooklyn as a hospitality major. Drafted by the U.S. Army, he served his nation as a Staff Sergeant from 1951-53 during the Korean War, where naturally, he put his culinary skills to use in the company's mess hall.
Upon returning home, he married the love of his life, Gloria, on December 5, 1953, and went to work in the meat business as a supplier to hotels and caterers in New York City for fifteen years. He even worked in catering during the weekends as a side job for extra income to support Gloria and their two children.
But Mr. Krupin's penchant for pursuing his passion motivated him to make a life-changing decision in 1968. He moved to Washington DC to take a job as the manager of Duke Zeibert's, a restaurant for the high rollers of the nation's capital.
"I didn't know a single person, but Gloria was very supportive and brought the children down a few months later. We've never looked back," described Mr. Krupin.
At Duke's, Mr. Krupin quickly discovered his niche. He seated Supreme Court justices, traded jokes with United States senators and got to know two legends of the National Football League, Vince Lombardi and George Allen, during their respective tenures as head coach of the Washington Redskins.
"These folks came to be seen at Duke's," recalled Mr. Krupin. "We had world-class food and ambience, but making them feel welcome was the key. In due time, I knew everyone's seating preferences, who their friends were and what they liked to drink. I was in my element and that's what made it an amazing experience."
Humor was also an essential for Mr. Krupin. "When customers would ask me, for example, if the fish was fresh, I would say 'the fish for you today slept last night in the Chesapeake Bay,'" he recalled. "That line always made 'em laugh."
Duke's closed in 1980, and Mel, with his experience and work ethic, opened his own restaurant (Mel Krupin's) which would become one of the most beautiful and popular establishments in Washington.
His next enterprise came in 2003 when he responded to a help-wanted ad for a maître d' position at McCormick & Schmick's. He got the job and worked there full-time for ten years.
Through his career, he has seen the dining industry change. "When I started at Duke's, people dressed up to the nines for the social experience. A five-course meal was typical. Now people are more casual and certainly more health conscious," noted Mr. Krupin.
But those social changes have not diminished the power of customer service.
"Think about it. As a maître d', you have to form an instant friendship with new customers. It's not only good manners, but also good business," he said. "That's why receiving the recognition from Comptroller Franchot was significant to me. It meant I touched the lives of many people for the better."
At Riderwood where Mr. Krupin has lived for three years, residents enjoy a variety of dining venues from formal to casual. Many of the hostesses and wait staff are high school and college students, providing Mr. Krupin with a daily opportunity to impart his knowledge of customer service to these young men and women.
"I tell them to get to know your customer's first name, greet them and always repeat their order. Certain time-honored hospitality tenets will never go out of style," he said.
The Certificate of Recognition, presented to Mel Krupin by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, reads as follows:
In recognition of your status as a "True Icon" and one of the most famous restaurateurs of the past in the greater Washington, DC area. With special appreciation for your long-time commitment to building a better community through your charitable efforts and your time spent hosting and working with developmentally disabled adults at your restaurants, best wishes for many more years of health, happiness and fond memories.
About Riderwood: Riderwood is one of eighteen continuing care retirement communities managed by Erickson Living. Located in Silver Spring, Maryland, the scenic 120-acre campus is home to more than 2,500 residents. Riderwood is the ideal greater Washington, D.C. retirement destination offering a true sense of community, convenience beyond compare and a sensible financial structure.