A Marathon native who started his food-service career in the Florida Keys is paying his success forward by donating a $1 million endowment to Georgia State University's graduate hospitality program.
Regynald Washington, a 1972 graduate of Marathon High School, said the need for education in the hospitality and restaurant businesses is more prevalent than ever. The graduate program at GSU's J. Mack Robinson College of Business in Atlanta is now named the Regynald G. Washington Master of Global Hospitality Management.
"It's a lot more sophisticated than it used to be," said Washington, 60. "Now you have social media with photos and instant reviews. Management needs to understand real estate projects and be astute financially. Today you need education to really move to the top of the rung."
If anyone knows what it takes to move to the top rung, it's Washington.
The son of two educators, Washington said he was given a weekly allowance growing up that was never quite enough for him to stretch out over a week. He went to work as soon as he could, taking advantage of the numerous hotels and restaurants in the Keys.
He started bussing tables at 13, working at the Buccaneer Lodge (now Tranquility Bay Resort), the Indies Inn Resort and Yacht Club (now Hawks Cay Resort) and Hanley's Restaurant in the west end of the city near the Seven Mile Bridge. He received a degree in hospitality from Florida International University in Miami at age 19.
At Marathon High School, Washington was a drum major in the marching band. By college, he practiced trombone six hours a day to compete for chairs with music majors.
Washington's experience in the food industry led him to Disney in 1997, where he rose to the position of vice president of worldwide food and beverage operations. He oversaw the company's food distribution in Orlando, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris. In 2010 he joined Hojeij Branded Foods in Atlanta, moving up to chief executive officer this year. The company runs 70 restaurants in 12 airports across the country.
Washington joined the School of Hospitality Industry Board at GSU 15 years ago.
The CEO credits his success to his hometown.
"Marathon is my heart. All of the great things that have happened to me happened in Marathon," Washington said. "I was able to go out into the world, compete and rise to the top of my game because of what I learned in Marathon."