Friday, September 12, 2014

Olive Garden debates wisdom of unlimited breadsticks

In three years of blogging eastern Idaho business I have never seen a reaction like the one to Wednesday's post about Hobby Lobby. In two days, BizMojo Idaho got more visitors and pageviews than the entire month of August. It was all due to the way the story got passed around on Facebook.

It's only natural to want to prolong the excitement, so here's a story about Olive Garden, another brand that seems to provoke a passion in these parts. I'm not expecting a Yellowstone Caldera eruption of hits, but I can dream, can't I?

Personality-based interviewing works for both sides

Have you ever watched ESPN's features on athletes? If you haven’t, you are missing out. If you have, you may have a good idea of what a job interview with me would be like. Of course that is without the television cameras, film crews, and an inspirational story or background that I will be asking questions about.

ESPN’s method for encouraging and gathering information from their subjects hands down should be a model for how an employer should do an interview. This isn’t a concept that is really hard to grasp, so I am going to encourage a little bit of thought on this one.

Job seekers, I want you to imagine a job interview in which you can expect to be interviewed as an individual -- meaning getting to know you as a person -- about your professional experience.

Employers, I want you to think about how you can do that by looking beyond the typical “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” questions.

Before we completely demolish the concept of nice, structured, streamlined interview questions that solely focus on nitpicking a resume, sprinkled with a behavioral question or two, it’s important to remember that interview questions should be a custom fit for each company, and really each job.

However, doesn’t a job go beyond why a person is interested and how a candidate responded to a similar job-related situation previously? Of course it does! And that is why the concept of personality-based interview questions and approaches are becoming crucial to the interview process.

Personality-based questions are designed to find out more about the candidate on a personal level. Candidates are posed with a question that in theory should allow the interviewer to introspectively assess personal attributes, characteristics and goals, to name a few. This is important for a number of reasons (not including finding new work buddies) but foundationally allows an employer to determine if the candidate is the right personality fit. In turn, personality fit is crucial to a candidate being successful in his or her job and being able to assimilate into company culture.

Additionally, these questions can at times be a conversation “ice-breaker” – which leads to the candidate feeling more comfortable in responding to future questions by the interviewer. In turn, this allows in the interview to become more or less of a dialogue between interviewer and interviewee, allowing the interviewee to feel more at ease with the process (and to be more open with responses opposed to carefully “scripting” responses geared towards the perceived “right” answer.)

The great news is that these questions aren’t hard to create. One personality based question I ask in interviews is, “If you could have any job in the world, without any boundaries, what would it be?” I have heard everything from health inspector to sitting on the beach with a margarita – after winning the lottery of course. Both responses were exactly what I was looking for and gave me insight into each candidate.

Overall, employers need to get creative in finding the right people for the job, not a person. Personality-based interviews allow companies to go beyond the resume to get a well-rounded view of a candidate.
Monica Bitrick is the CEO of Bitrick Consulting Group, a human resources company in Idaho Falls.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hotel on the Falls, formerly The Westbank, hangs in limbo

A vintage early '60s postcard from the Westbank Motel, Coffee Shop and Lounge.
If the phrase "Eat By the Tumbling Waters" means anything to you, you may be inclined to call the Hotel on the Falls by its original name, The Westbank.

In the '60s and '70s, that's what billboards around the Snake River Valley advertised, but since late August anyone wishing to dine or have a drink by the falls has had go somewhere else. With tourist season at an end, the fate of the River Parkway property hangs in limbo. The eight-story hexagonal tower is in foreclosure, while the restaurant, convention center and surrounding motel complex are locked up and on the market.

Dane Watkins, who owns the convention center and motel, has indicated he plans to improve the property as he looks for someone to buy it and get it back in operation. The restaurant, lounge and convention center were shut down Aug. 23, putting roughly 35 people out of work and leaving groups like the Idaho Falls Downtown Rotary, which met there every Wednesday, in the lurch.

Newer hotels such as the Hilton Garden Inn and the Marriott Residence Inn offer more up-to-date accommodations, and the Home2 by Hilton, due to open next year at Snake River Landing, is likely to raise the bar a notch higher.

The tower, which opened in 1978.
The tangle dates back to 2006, but things came to a head in June when the property's owner, Idaho Hotel Holdings, filed a default judgment against the management company, Om Shiv Ganesh LLC, for more than $3.4 million.

Doing business as Red Lion Hotel on the Falls, Om Shiv Ganesh's managing partner, Bhupendra Patel, took out a $4.37 million mortgage in 2006. In summer 2008, terms were amended to reduce the unpaid balance to $2.505 million, with monthly payments of $19,427.98 and a balloon payment of $1.69 million at maturity. Then, in April 2011, the company got a loan extension allowing it to make interest-only payments from May through October.

But with the economy sputtering, the troubles didn't end. The default judgment claims Om Shiv Ganesh stopped making payments after December 2012 and failed to pay property taxes from 2009 to 2013.

Brady Kraupp, who now runs the hotel for Westerra Realty & Management, the Salt Lake City company managing the receivership, said he's optimistic about the tower's future. "It's in pretty good shape, really," he said. "It's a concrete building. We're hoping to have a new owner after the first of the year, perhaps have some chain come in and buy it. I could be partial, but we still have the best view and the biggest rooms."

The Westbank dates back to 1928, the year Ferris Clark, son of Mayor Barzilla W. Clark and the grandson of Joseph A. Clark, Idaho Falls' first mayor, built two log buildings by the Snake River to accommodate an ever-growing number of motorists on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Over 52 years, Clark expanded the Westbank, first with a red brick motel, then a restaurant and lounge, then a two-story red brick motel. The tower opened in 1978, and Clark reportedly had plans for a second one where the convention center and motel are, but declining health sent him into retirement in 1980. He died in 1987 at age 79.

Since the '80s, the hotel has gone by different names, including Red Lion and finally the Hotel on the Falls. Until 2012, the property was owned by Jim and Sharon Bennett and Robert and Sharon Paulus, the children of Olga Gustafson Rigby. In 2012, the hotel was deeded to trusts set up by the families while Watkins bought the convention center and the land on which it sits.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hobby Lobby, Broulim's slated for Sandcreek Commons development

Work goes on at the Sandcreek Commons development, at Sunnyside and Hitt. In the back is the new Cabela's store, announced earlier this year.
In addition to Cabela's, Hobby Lobby and Broulim's have plans to build stores in the Sandcreek Commons development on the southeastern corner of Hitt and Sunnyside Roads.

All three businesses are named a document filed Tuesday at the Bonneville County Clerk and Recorder's Office. The 62-page declaration of protective covenants, conditions, restrictions and easements was filed by the two companies developing the project, Ball Ventures, of Idaho Falls, and Woodbury Corp., of Salt Lake City.

In addition to detailing how the project will be laid out and built, it details conditions with regard to businesses concerning competition. In the case of Rigby-based Broulim's, the agreement restricts any other grocery store in the development, prohibits any sit-down restaurant within 100 feet, plus any convenience store, delicatessen or pharmacy within the protected area, a portion of the project on the northeast side.

Cabela's announced earlier this year that it would be building at Sandcreek Commons, but the other two businesses have made made anything official. Documents filed at the clerk and recorder's office are a matter of public record.

Scott Nelson, Hobby Lobby's assistant vice-president of real estate, told BizMojo Idaho in November 2011 that the company had taken notice of the Ammon side. A stand-alone market like Idaho Falls-Ammon is right up their alley. “It’s got a good population and it’s Middle America. That’s what we’re looking for,” he said

With nine stores in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming, this would mark Broulim's entry into the Idaho Falls market. The company dates back to 1922, when Charlie Broulim opened his first grocery store on Main Street in Rigby, and has been expanding since 1967, when it opened a store in Montpelier

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Concert to benefit local schools' music programs

If you want to help the cause of music education in the schools, there is a special concert Saturday night at 7 in the Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium, a concert featuring the music of Stephen Sondheim.

Over a career spanning nearly 60 years, Sondheim's work includes "West Side Story," "Gypsy," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "A Little Night Music," "Sweeny Todd," "Follies," "Company," "Sunday in the Park with George," and "Assassins." In short, there are a lot of great songs from which to choose.

Under the guidance of Roger Evans, performers from the Idaho Falls Symphony, the Idaho Falls Opera Theatre, Teton Chamber Orchestra, Sounds Summer Musical and Idaho Falls Youth Arts Centre will give it their all to support music programs in local schools, whose performing arts budget continue to get cut in the face of shrinking budgets.

Every person who buys a ticket can designate which area school he or she wants to help. Tickets may be purchased online at, at Chesbro Music, or at the door.

A personal note: I could fill the Hollywood Bowl with people who have told me over the years, "I'll buy my ticket at the door." Buy your ticket in advance! You'll be more likely to attend, and even if you do crap out, the school will still have your money. For more information,  call Erin Nazario at 206-794-4350 (she is local).

Here's one of my favorite Sondheim songs, a lesser-known, hilarious and hugely challenging number from "Company," "(Not) Getting Married Today," performed by the cast of Glee:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Shoshone-Bannock Hotel hires new general manager

Cody Blackman
The Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Event Center has named Cody Blackman of Salem, Ore., as its new general manager of hotel operations. The general manager oversees all aspects of property management in accordance with tribes' goals, including maximization of financial performance, guest satisfaction and staff development.

A member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, Blackman has worked most recently for JP Morgan Chase. He is the oldest of four children and an alumnus of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. He has worked for Marriott International, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Wyndham International. His duties with the hotel and event center at Fort Hall begin full time Sept. 26.

Advertising Federation schedules first fall Lunch & Learn

Michael Watson
As the marketing director of one of the fastest growing credit unions in the country, Michael Watson of Idaho Central Credit Union is prepared to share his perspective on choosing the right marketing mix Sept. 18 at the Idaho Falls Advertising Federation's  Lunch & Learn, at Dixie's Diner from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Part of the mission of the Idaho Falls Advertising Federation is to provide learning opportunities to our diverse membership. We are thrilled that Mr. Watson is willing to share his experience in managing the Idaho Central Credit Union brand,” said Idaho Falls Advertising Federation President Lisa Fischbach.

Managing the credit union's marketing, Watson oversees budgeting, development of marketing plans and campaigns, strategy and managing an agency relationship. He began his career with ICCU in 2000 and has been in his current position since 2004. He is a graduate  of Idaho State University with a bachelor’s degree double major in marketing and business.

The event is open to the public. Cost is $12 for members and $15 for non-members $15. Reservations can be made by following this link.