Mentorship program serves hospitality students well

GCU student Lexi Brabec (left) works with Dave DeLorenzo at his Bar and Restaurant Insurance office. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Dave DeLorenzo goes by “DeLo,” once drove recording industry celebrities around Los Angeles and runs an insurance business.

Brian Pierce was a sommelier and food-and-beverage director for several Valley resorts, started a wine app and has turned his latest venture, True Salt, into a top brand.

Melissa Leon balances her marriage and children with her busy career, was a top hotel finance and outsourcing professional, and now helps small businesses handle accounting issues while also assisting IBM.

Dr. Jennifer Elfenbein

They’re all interesting, and they have something else in common: They’re good mentors for hospitality students in the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University.

The program initiated for the 2021-22 academic year by Dr. Jennifer Elfenbein, Chair of Hospitality Management for CCOB, has proved invaluable for 39 students. They meet at least monthly – more often if possible – with their own mentor and are required to do two things: Arrange the meetings and then send a summary of each one to Elfenbein.

“It really is a networking opportunity – learning but also building your network,” she said. “I think that’s so important. You can learn all this stuff in school, but when you can apply it or it turns into a job, that’s ultimately what we really want here.”

For senior Lexi Brabec, it turned into an adventure from the moment Elfenbein told her DeLorenzo would be her mentor.

“Jennifer ran up to me one day and said, ‘I know who I’m going to give you! DeLo!’” Brabec recalled. “I looked him up, and he’s crazy. He’s crazy! But then we met, and we’ve been getting along ever since.”

Crazy like a fox is more like it. He had to be to get hired by Warner Brothers Records at age 20. And then he had to keep his wits about him as he chauffeured the likes of Madonna, Snoop Dogg and Neil Diamond. (How’s that for different musical genres?)

“Here I am standing with all these artists, driving them around, picking them up at the airport,” he said. “I mean, at 20 years old, that’s absolutely nuts. It’s insane. It’s a dream.

Brabec appreciates the knowledge and training DeLorenzo has provided.  (Photo by Ralph Freso)

“I was given a shot by people who are 25 years my senior, and I’m still in touch with them today. Because of that shot, I was able to live out my dream and understand that I can create my passion in anything. That’s why it’s so important for me to be able to help young people.”

He has helped Brabec, a marketing major with a minor in hospitality, understand how his marketing efforts have turned Bar and Restaurant Insurance into a business with about 300 clients, such as Pita Jungle and Angry Crab Shack. They started out meeting once a month but have increased the frequency to once a week since January.

“It’s always fun,” she said. “I never know what it’s going to look like in here. He’s just throwing me into projects, and I figure it out along the way.”

Those projects include handling the client database and affiliates, such as payroll or training services, and how those affiliates work with clients. DeLorenzo even plans to have Brabec help with the editing and filming of his podcast about hospitality, “On the DeLo.” (His website is

“Lexi gets to really see the inside of how the machine brings in more clients and keeps those clients happy and we create a name for ourselves,” he said.

Destiny Bradd needed help with launching her Girls Night Out business.

Pierce’s student mentee, Destiny Bradd, is the one trying to make a name for herself. She had the idea for a new business, Girls Night Out, when she started meeting with Pierce.

“He was my inspiration,” she said. “He pushed me to start taking those first steps. Being an entrepreneurship major (hospitality is her minor), I’ve had lots of business ideas. But the logistics of actually pursuing it are a little different story.”

Pierce began by getting her to break down her big dream into small pieces. Maybe she could do a survey, he suggested, and before long she had feedback from 100 women – and a list of emails for possible customers.

He also connected her with people in the hospitality industry, such as hotel general managers, who could help her.

Bradd did a test event in January and, after getting more advice from Pierce, put together her first big event in early March. She rented a private space, hired a dance instructor and bought the food and beverages.

Brian Pierce had a lot of good ideas that put Bradd's business on the right track.

“I’m passionate for Girls Night Out,” she said. “It’s not just a fun event, it’s creating a safe night out.”

Pierce’s assessment of Bradd:

“Very grounded, very intelligent, very entrepreneurial. There’s always a fear factor, and one of the things I tell her is that’s natural. Fear to fail is kind of a common thing, and you have to fail a lot in order for you to achieve.

“She has great leadership skills in the sense that everything that I directed her and advised her, she took and was very independent about it.”

Junior Riley Loughery speaks just as highly of her mentor, Melissa Leon – and not just because Leon got her an internship this summer with the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

“She’s taught me how to value myself,” Loughery said. “We’ve talked about how, when it comes to negotiations, to ask for more. That doesn’t come naturally to me, to bargain for more. It’s out of my comfort zone.”

Riley Loughery is looking toward a career in hotel finance.  (Photo by Ralph Freso)

She learned fast. Leon made a phone call to get her the interview, but Loughery sold herself and then had the confidence to ask for more money. “I was so proud of her,” Leon said.

Loughery handpicked Leon to be her mentor because she has built a career out of doing exactly what Loughery wants to do someday – manage the finances of a hotel. Leon was with Four Seasons before starting her consulting business.

“Melissa is one of best-known hotel finance people in the game,” Loughery said. “Being mentored by her is an awesome opportunity.”

All Loughery has to do is look at Leon’s career. It’s a classic case of one opportunity leading to another.

“I thought I wanted to be a restaurant manager,” Leon said. “Then that turned into hotel accounting, which turned into hotel outsourcing, which turned into two branches, one of my own accounting work for small businesses and then a giant corporate career that really pays the bills.”

Elfenbein hired her as a manager in training for Four Seasons in 2005, and Leon did the rest on her own. The only thing she hasn’t done is satisfy her passion for teaching, but speaking to GCU’s Hospitality Club and hospitality classes has helped fill that desire somewhat.

Melissa Leon loves interacting with GCU students.

Every time she comes home from campus, she said, she feels energized by the students’ enthusiasm. “It’s such a blast.”

Elfenbein gave the mentors and mentees a chance to have a blast together in late February with a night of even more networking.

She handed out colored nametags and paired up foursomes who had to come up with three things they all shared and one thing about each person that was unique. She had students speak about their experience.

The result: Many business cards were passed around, and one of the mentors said she hired three more students.

But best of all, potential mentors are now contacting her to get involved.

“People want to join us because they really want to give back,” she said. “I think for students, this is the perfect way for them to see servant leadership in action. They’re getting really good role models – people who want to give back and serve others.”

Said CCOB Dean Dr. Randy Gibb, “We are so blessed to have Jennifer leading our hospitality program. Her expertise, passion for the industry, and relationships all tremendously help our students. She is creating lifelong networks – so much fun for our ColangeLopes!”

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Lopes Live Labs offer hospitality, finance training

GCU Today: Hospitality students served well by new manager role

GCU Today: Faculty Focus: Dr. Jennifer Elfenbein


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