Genaro Felix is a Genesee Valley Club icon
Genaro Felix is a Genesee Valley Club icon
From the front desk at the Treadway Inn and through the windows of the hotel’s restaurant, Genaro Felix could see the Genesee Valley Club.
It was impossible to miss, really. The club sat just across East Avenue and epitomized exclusivity and the exquisite.
At the Treadway, guests drove under the canopy in Chevrolets and Plymouths to check in or grab lunch. Across East Avenue, members behind the wheels of Cadillacs and Porsches pulled up to the Genesee Valley Club’s valet.
“It was the bluebloods of Rochester,” Felix said.
While he may have been a little envious, Felix was content on his side of the street.
He had been at the hotel for a little over three years, having ventured in 1969 from his native Manila in the Philippines to Rochester. He was 28 and came here to learn the ins and outs of the business.
A finance major in college, Genaro Felix didn’t necessarily expect to dive head-first into the hospitality industry, but he was liking it and Rochester.
He also became good at what he did, and even met his future wife, Helen, at the Treadway.
So, when John Goff, the vice president at the Treadway, became general manager at the Genesee Valley Club in 1972, he asked Felix to join him across the street. Knowing Felix would be a great server, Goff offered him a job and scheduled him for orientation.
But Felix never showed up.
“I was intimidated,” he said. “I turned down the job.”
Goff, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“He got mad and called my wife and said, ‘Tell him I will pick him up,’ and he came by and picked me up,” Felix said.
More than 50 years later, Felix is still at the Genesee Valley Club. Or rather, is an integral part of the club.
His welcoming greeting, warm smile and desire to make every visit perfect have made him Rochester’s most famous maître d. He is a fixture at the front door, in the Founders Room and on the terrace, and surely is more well known than most of the club’s 600 members.
“No one in the history of the Genesee Valley Club has contributed more to its social fabric and financial success than Genaro,” said J. Michael Smith, a member and CEO of The Cabot Group.
There also may be no one with a more incredible memory, either. Former members move away and then return a dozen years later for a visit, and Felix greets them by name and orders their drinks.
“I’ll bring guests, and even if I don’t bring them often, he knows their names, what they drink and where they like to sit,” said member Mike Tambe, owner and president of Tambe Electric Inc.
The club honored Felix in December and January with celebrations for his 50 years of service. With his 80th birthday just two weeks away, he has no plans to retire.
“You cannot find a place like this,” he said. “Just nice people, and they treat you with respect. I am so honored and very lucky that I work at the Genesee Valley Club.”
Members say it’s the club itself that is truly fortunate.
“He makes everyone feel like [they are] the most important person in the world,” said Don Rhoda, a member for more than 50 years.
Always Mr. or Mrs.
Regardless of who shows up, or how long he has known them, Felix addresses them as Mr. or Mrs.
“I don’t call my members by their first name,” he said. “Even my best, best friends, I always call them Mr. or Mrs. To me it’s not professional to call them by their first name.
“Sometimes they say, ‘Genaro, you’re older than me, you don’t have to say that.’ Even their guests, I call them Mr. or Mrs.”
Man of many colors (of tuxedos, that is)
Always impeccably dressed, Felix’s trademark is his bow tie and tuxedo.
The only question is what color they will be. He has more than 30 tuxes, and while he follows apparel tradition, one is still never sure what color he’ll be sporting.
“There’s a different tuxedo in summertime, spring, holiday season, winter,” he said. “Black in the winter, white or other colors after Memorial Day.”
And during a wedding, well, get out the Crayola box. He’ll change seven or eight times throughout the wedding day.
“The beauty about that, most of their guests are betting what the next color will be,” he said with a smile.
‘Yes, we have that’ … even if we don’t
To say Felix is accommodating is a colossal understatement. He aims to please.
A guest once asked for sushi, which the club kitchen didn’t have that night. So, Felix drove down East Avenue to Wegmans, bought their best sushi, and the guest loved it — and was none the wiser.
“Whatever the members want,” he said. “Genaro never said ‘no’ to anybody. Never. Always yes.”
He has gone more than once to the kitchen to inquire about the availability of an entrée that wasn’t on the menu.
“The chef will say, ‘We don’t have any, Genaro.’ So, I’ll go to a restaurant and come back. Remember the old Rio Bamba? I would go there sometimes and borrow something.
“Anything the member needs, it’s going to happen.”
‘Welcome to the Genesee Valley Club’
There is one steadfast rule Felix abides by: “I will never embarrass my members and their guests. Ever.”
That goes for strangers, too.
“Some out of town people visiting Rochester will show up here and don’t realize it’s a private club,” he explained. “They say, ‘We’d like to dine here’ and I know they’re not members. But I don’t turn it down. You know how embarrassing that would be when you’re already in the club?”
So, he’ll show them to a table and they’ll be treated like members.
On occasion, a member will ask, “Genaro, who are those people?”
His reply: “They’re from out of town, they saw our beautiful club and I let them experience the hospitality of the Genesee Valley Club.”
On their way out, he lets them in on the secret.
“I give them my card and say, ‘I hope you enjoyed your hospitality and your dinner, and this is a private club.’ It’s not in my blood to embarrass people.”
Genaro the matchmaker
Back in the 1990s, Pamela Fose was hired as the club’s pastry chef. At the time, she operated Pamela’s Pastry Shop in Perinton, a sweet shop where Rhoda often shopped.
“A couple weeks went by after she was hired and Genaro said, ‘You should take her out,’ ” Rhoda recalled. “I told him, ‘I don’t date married women.’ But Genaro said she was no longer married.
“Fast forward to today and we’ve been married 24 years.”
A caring mentor
Felix oversees a staff of around 30, including the kitchen and wait staff. For some, it’s a career. For others, it has been a way to pay the bills during college.
“So many of them now are millionaires; doctors, lawyers, big businessmen, just unbelievable,” Felix said.
Executive Chef Ilhan Erkek was hired in August. He says Felix is one of a kind.
“If someone had told me there was someone out there in the world that was this nice, I would have never believed it,” Erkek said.
Turning off the ‘work’ switch isn’t easy
To a significant number of members, Felix isn’t the maître d; he’s instead a great friend who happens to greet guests at the club.
“He’s like family, he truly is,” Rhoda said. “When there’s a special occasion, he’s always invited.”
But the duties of work come so naturally for Felix, he has a difficult time kicking back when he’s not at the club.
“I’ll have him over to the house for dinner,” Tambe said, “and he’ll say, ‘Bossman, can I get you a drink?’ and I’ll say, ‘Sit down; I’ll get you a drink.’ ”
A few years back, Smith invited Felix to his daughter’s wedding in California’s Bay Area. When Felix saw that the catering staff at the reception was a little disjointed, he stepped in to provide direction.
And he was so good at what he was doing, the staff never knew he wasn’t their boss.
“Genaro, you’re here to have a good time, you don’t need to do that,” Smith recalled. “And he said, ‘Everything has to be perfect.’ ”
Because that’s how it is at the club.
Genaro Felix Day
As part of the club’s aforementioned celebrations, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello proclaimed Jan. 25 as Genaro Felix Day.
Rochester Mayor Malik Evans presented him with a key to the city, and letters of congratulations came from Congressman Joe Morelle, Sheriff Todd Baxter and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“Your kindness, hospitality and attention to detail have become a hallmark at Genesee Valley, as have your well-known sartorial elegance,” Hochul wrote.
“No greater honor can be bestowed upon a person than the appreciative accolades of family, friends and colleagues for the meaningful accomplishments of a remarkable lifetime and body of work.”
Longevity is a GVC maître d trait
Joe Detota was Felix’s predecessor. He was at the club 48 years. The previous maître d also spent 48 years at the stately property at 421 East Ave.
Felix speaks highly of Detota.
“He taught me the proper way of handling the servers and members. I was scared but I learned, I worked hard and I listened. They taught me how to serve the proper way, I learned how to cook, bartend, how to run a gathering, everything.”
Over the years other clubs have tried to lure him away, with money the primary carrot.
“I turned them down,” he said. “It’s not the money because this is my family and this is my house.”
And to think that 50 years ago he was leery of stepping inside the club for fear that he didn’t belong. Truth be told, few have ever been more worthy.
“He just has a genuine, overbearing love of people,” Smith said. “I’d hate to think of a time when Genaro isn’t at the Genesee Valley Club.”
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