‘Over and above’: Hard Rock staff goes the extra mile during Caldor

Laney Griffo

Eric Barbaro handed out water to evacuees.

STATELINE, Nev. — Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe is celebrating their employees after many of the staffers went above and beyond their duties during the Caldor Fire.

Like other businesses in Lake Tahoe, Hard Rock was starting the recovery process from the pandemic when the fire began rapidly moving towards the basin.

“While I thought the pandemic tested our team members, our property and community, the Caldor Fire presented a completely different set of fears and challenges,” said Eric Barbaro, executive director of casino marketing.

Hard Rock had come out of lockdown and was excited to get back to normal.

“We were back and buzzing,” Barbaro said. “2021 was heading in the right direction and summer had been strong. We were looking forward to a big Labor Day Weekend and then bam … the fires. While there were similarities with COVID-19 and the Caldor Fire, it was also very different.”

Hard Rock acted as a command center for many government agencies battling the fire so even though the hotel was closed to visitors, there was still plenty of work to be done.

“While COVID-19 required us to be apart as team members and as a community, the fire brought us together. We were together to battle the fire,” Barbaro said. “Everyone stepped up and did whatever they could to pitch in. As a community we knew we were in this together and ultimately we would be better and stronger for it in the end. I am proud to be part of this community and to say we are ‘Tahoe Strong.'”

Hard Rock management paid all of their employees during the evacuation and the hotel put up employees who were evacuated from their homes. Many of those employees continued to work while staying at the hotel, even though they were offered paid time off. Employees who lived in Carson Valley drove up everyday to continue working.

Hard Rock management served team members and their families during a family movie night.

Jose Flores, who’s better known to his friends and fellow workmates as Chef Ray, was coming off a long shift when evacuation orders came down so he put his apron back on and worked to provide meals for everyone staying at the hotel.

Flores is a 40-year Lake Tahoe resident and said he was ready, “to serve those who serve us.”

“I was in charge of the execution of food products with the vice president, in all respects for the property, taking care of firefighters/responders and our team members and their families daily with a very limited team,” Flores said.

One thing that stood out to him was the student employees who “rose to the occasion,” as well as front of house managers who helped plan themed nights such as Oyster Bar night, Football- Game Day Fare and Dominican Republic night to bring some levity to the situation.

Frank Nguyen is the player development manager for Hard Rock and he quickly transitioned into new roles during the fire.

“[I] coordinated with property leaders to help in any areas that were needed. Our front desk required much needed help with large volumes of check-ins daily and not enough staff to help assist with large group check-ins that included evacuees, first responders and firefighters,” Nguyen said. “It gave me an opportunity to immediately step in and learn the system but also provide mandatory information that we needed to deliver daily to our hotel guests.”

Nguyen lives in Carson City but he was given a pass to drive into the basin each day for work.

“When you see a line of cars leaving the mountain and you are one of few vehicles showing credentials to our national guard to go into a smoke-filled community, you realize you have a purpose to help others,” Nguyen said.

Even though life had been upended, both Flores and Nguyen felt comfortable while at the hotel.

Flores said Hard Rock felt like, “the safest place to be in Lake Tahoe/Stateline.”

“The Hard Rock Team went over and above and everyone involved rose to the occasion,” Flores added.

Nguyen said the property was well organized and everyone was in high spirits.

“The evacuees and firefighters I encountered were all optimistic and calm the entire time,” Nguyen said. “I credit the property leaders and the fire crews that helped deliver this message.”

As Hard Rock returns to normal operations, they are continuing to honor and support the firefighters. They are selling #TahoeStrong T-shirts to benefit the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District Community Involvement fund.

“It is our hope that guests and residents of South Lake Tahoe wear these proudly; Never forgetting the devotion of our heroes who kept us safe,” Hard Rock officials said.

They are also running a casino promotion, called Winning & Giving $10,000 Drawing. The casino promotion awards $10,000 in prizes to customers. In addition the property will be making a $5,000 donation to the fund.

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