Thomas George is proof that sometimes parents don't know best.

If his parents had got their way, he'd be in a "professional" career.

Instead, he followed his dreams to enter the hospitality industry - an industry which he's built a life around and last week saw him acknowledged with the Restaurant Association of New Zealand Icon of Hospitality Award. Mr George admits his parents didn't take well to him pursuing the career to begin with.

"They totally pooh-poohed the idea and said that we don't serve people. They thought it was a lowly profession."


Thankfully, Mr George followed his passion, and he hasn't looked back since. Life has been like that for Mr George - strange coincidences that have seen him land in the right place at the right time, almost like "guiding stars" he says.

Coming to New Zealand was one of those things - a case of throwing a dart at a map and seeing where it ended up. He was offered a job in Rotorua and the rest, as they say, is history.

While hospitality was his love - more of a lifestyle than just a career - he admitted there had been times it was hard work. The industry could be tough, with people overworked and under-valued, but he said being passionate about it made that worthwhile.

He still firmly believed it was a professional industry and would love to see more young people consider it as a viable career option. One of his biggest loves of the industry was it was constantly evolving and changing. "You're only as good as the last customer you served, the last meal you put out."

Mr George believed his award was a credit to the Rotorua hospitality industry which he thought had a bright future. "I maintain we have an excellent product but there is always room for improvement and we should be constantly reviewing, we cannot sit on our laurels."

He believed consistency was a key to success, along with getting everyone in the industry to buy in the desire to want to do better.

A change from working hands-on to teaching the profession at Waiariki Institute of Technology had brought great satisfaction and unleashed a new passion for sharing that knowledge, he said. "In being a teacher, I've found the greatest of all satisfaction in being able to transfer that knowledge into the younger generation."

The sheer number of people he'd taught or been involved with who were at the awards - including some of the winners - was humbling. Mr George said the award had come as a complete shock and left him without words. "Being a typical hospitality person I was busy serving the people on my table. I had a mouth full of something and just about choked."

He said to be recognised by the judging panel, and alongside some other great hospitality people who had won the award, left him humbled but the response from the wider community had also blown him away. "People talk about cloud nine, but if there is a cloud 10, that's how I feel."