It’s been a while since San Jose has had as lavish a party as the ribbon-cutting celebration Wednesday for the Signia by Hilton, which has reopened the doors of the former Fairmont hotel overlooking downtown’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez.
A raft of speakers, including owner Sam Hirbod, General Manager Jimmy Safraz and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, talked about what the hotel means to San Jose and even what “Signia” means (It’s kind of a portmanteau drawing from both “signature” and “insignia”). And then the stylish, invite-only crowd was let loose inside the entirely remodeled first floor to sample drinks and bites from the Aji Bar and Robata.
It really did feel like downtown San Jose was being brought back to life and things were a little closer to normal after more than two years of not normal. And seeing Sammy Haile on Wednesday was one of the things that made it even better.
Haile has been greeting guests from the valet station of the hotel’s portico since he was hired at the Fairmont in 1991, welcoming everyone from conventioneers to U.S. presidents. He’s so well known among people who frequent the hotel that Liccardo gave him a shout out during his speech. It’s true; it would have been folly to re-open the hotel without Haile, who says it feels great to be back after two years away because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everybody’s coming back slowly, and it’s nice to see some familiar faces,” said Haile, 56, who immigrated to the United States from Eritrea in 1987. “I’m a people person. I like to be around people.”
Some of the famous people he’s met on the job have included Queen Rania of Jordan, Barbra Streisand, Prince and Luciano Pavarotti, and he says the trick to not being star struck is to just be genuine. “That’s what they see, and that’s what they appreciate,” he said.
But, he adds, that’s what he tries to do with every out-of-town guest or local regular who comes by for a nonprofit event, wedding or just an after-work cocktail at the bar. “We have an iconic hotel, and when we share the rich history of what we have here with the community, it’s phenomenal,” he said.
Unfortunately, Wednesday was the last time that regulars will be able to catch Haile’s smiling face for a while. He’s taking a few weeks off to take care of his ailing 92-year-old father until he can find him regular care. It won’t be as long as his last break during the pandemic, which he said was difficult. But being home with his family — he’s been married 24 years and has five kids ranging in age from 11 to 22 — was a moment that he cherished.
He said his “heart was filled with appreciation” for all the people who reached out to him during the pandemic to make sure he was OK, as well as to the hotel’s owners — from the Swig family to Lew Wolff to Hirbod — who “have made the legacy of this hotel continue.”
CAMPBELL SCRAMBLE: If it’s tunes you’re in the mood for, downtown Campbell will be the place to be this weekend with the return of the Boogie Music Festival on May 21-22. There will be four stages off Campbell Avenue featuring two or three bands each from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, along with a community stage, arts and crafts stalls and booths for food and drinks. It’s free to just go and soak up the music, and you can get the full schedule and other information at www.campbellboogie.com.
THE SHOW WON’T GO ON: Symphony San Jose has announced that the U.S. tour of the “Dragon Ball Symphonic Adventure” — an immersive concert experience tied to the “Dragon Ball Z” series — has been impacted by unexpected scheduling issues and won’t be coming to San Jose over Memorial Day weekend. Ticket refunds are being processed .
The concerts had been scheduled to coincide with the return of the Fanime convention to the San Jose McEnery Convention Center on May 27-30. The popular celebration of anime and Japanese culture is still happening, though, and you can get more information at www.fanime.com.