02 Oct Meet General Manager Mauro De Riso
When you meet General Manager, Mauro De Riso at Halcyon House, it’s easy to mistake him for a member of some Italian boy band. The waves of dark hair and youthful appearance. Not to mention perfectly put together in tailored linen suit, monogramed shirt, statement watch, and Gucci loafers, he’s Halcyon House personified – stylish and worldly, but warm and relaxed.
It’s like he was born to be the general manager of this place and in a lot of ways he was.
Originally from Pompei, but spending most of his childhood near the Almalfi Coast, De Riso comes from an Italian family of hoteliers. He literally grew up in his uncle’s small boutique hotels, working in the mountains and on the beach, learning the trade from the ground up.
The business is in his blood, so while Mauro ended up getting a degree in IT, that only made him realise that his true calling was looking after people and so he stayed in the industry.
Finally flying the family nest, he went to work for one of the most prestigious hotels, JK Place in Capri, where he eventually got chatting with one of the founders of Halcyon House.
Keen to make the leap from head concierge to GM, Mauro accepted an invitation to meet up in Australia and find out more about this crazy project, which involved turning an old hotel into a world-class luxury property.
“They say when you plant the seed it starts to grow,” says Mauro. “That’s what happened to me. They planted the seed and then they sent me the plans and the mood boards, so I started to see the potential. When we eventually met in person, we had a beautiful lunch and after that one conversation I had a really good feeling. So I said, ‘You know what, I’m in. Shake my hand, let’s make it happen.’ ”
Excited by the opportunity, but also stupidly busy taking care of the paperwork and logistics involved in relocating halfway around the world, Mauro realised he’d never been to Cabarita – home of Halcyon – until the day he was packing to get on the plane, when he discovered an omen.
“I travelled by car from Sydney up north once,” he recalls. “I never stopped at Cabarita beach, but I did visit Byron Bay, and I bought a postcard. In all my travels, I’d never bought a postcard before. Never in my life. And guess what? The one I got that day, which I had in my office for four years, was of Cabarita! I never noticed until that day. It’s a spectacular photo of the headland, and the name only grabbed my attention when I was packing, and I realised that’s where I was going. I’m not a big believer in fate, but that was sensational.”
Seemingly blessed by the universe, Mauro arrived in Cabarita and was quickly brought back down to earth.
“When I landed here with my girlfriend, we didn’t know anyone, and it was still a building site,” he says. “No employees, it was just me. So, I thought, ‘Ok, let’s make this happen!’ We had five months before opening. And we had a wedding locked in, so we couldn’t push the date back, and the place was still a disaster.”
Making the deadline and opening the doors with 25 staff, Mauro can’t believe how far Halcyon has come in under five years. Today there’s 80 employees on the books and the place hums like a finely-tuned Italian sportscar, which isn’t surprising when you ask Mauro what he likes about the place.
“If I didn’t have this job, I wouldn’t know what to do, because it makes me feel alive every day,” he says, smiling. “For me, it’s very important to connect with the guests. I try and greet everyone on arrival and say goodbye on departure. It’s really important, because I want to know who’s staying in my house and I want to make them feel comfortable.”
Reading these sorts of quotes on a screen, it’d be easy to write off Mauro’s responses at well-rehearsed marketing soundbites, but sitting across from him, as he gesticulates like only an Italian can do, his passion is both obvious and infectious.
“What we want here is for every guest to feel at home,” he says. “That’s the spirit. As soon as a guest comes it’s a celebration. As soon as they’re here we want them to leave everything to us. Let’s get a welcome drink at the bar! We want to make everyone happy.
A small example, but the mini-bar is included in any rates, along with breakfast. That’s because I don’t want you to have to choose with or without breakfast, because if I don’t have breakfast in the morning I get cranky. I don’t want my guests to choose and get cranky!
Same with the mini-bar. For me, the silliest question is, after someone stays in a place and they’ve had a beautiful time and the staff ask, ‘Did you have something from the mini-bar last night?’ Really? Are we going to bother them about a bottle of water or a juice? Just throw it in!
It’s not about the money, because people can afford the water. It’s more that you’re staying in my house, so I can offer you a bottle of water or a coffee, you know?
That’s what I think makes this place special – we genuinely want people here and we genuinely want them to have a good time.”