Danial Ramirez has loved Fossil Rim for years, but now his focus turns to a different aspect of the wildlife center after quite a run at the Nature Store.
The Stephenville native, who recalled off the top of his head that his Fossil Rim tenure began on Feb. 13 in 2013, is Fossil Rim’s new lodgings manager.
“I never could’ve imagined I’d reach this opportunity,” Ramirez said. “I grew up poor, got my first job at a dairy as a teenager, and was fortunate to get my chance at Fossil Rim to progress to this position. It’s a blessing.”
Flash back to 2013 when Ramirez got the idea to apply at Fossil Rim.
“I just happened to find an ad in the newspaper and decided I wanted to apply for a part-time retail sales associate position here,” he said. “This was a childhood vacation spot for me, so I thought it would be a cool place to work. After a little over one year, I got promoted to Nature Store manager.”
That first year-plus was quite a whirlwind for Ramirez.
“In year one, I started in the Nature Store, then to the Overlook Café, then between the (Admission Center) and the Nature Store,” Ramirez said. “Then, I started working at The Lodge. So, back then I became cross-trained to work in lodging.
“After our original Nature Store burned down, I got promoted to manager in early 2015 and that’s where I stayed until now. Right before the 2015 promotion, I was actually looking into driving for guided tours, as well.”
Although his excitement is palpable as Ramirez talks about being lodgings manager, it was not an easy decision to apply.
“I was really torn after five years as Nature Store manager, progressing from sales associate to manager, to assistant director (of retail and food service) under (Fossil Rim Director of Tourism) Donna (Steakley) – that’s what I’d known and was really comfortable with,” he said. “It had been five years since I’d set foot in The Lodge. I’m always open to learning, but I just needed to put a lot of thought into actually making this move.
“Now, it seems like a good career opportunity in a new department. It’s a challenge I want to tackle.”
Ramirez discussed what he hopes to provide for overnight guests.
“I want our guests to enjoy the tranquility of this place,” he said. “Even though we may have days with a high rate of visitors, we have lodging areas that are removed from that traffic. I hope everyone who stays at The Lodge takes a moment to think about how that was (original Fossil Rim owner Tom Mantzel’s) home in the ‘80s and all the awesome memories he must have from his time there.
“I highly recommend viewing the wildlife as the sun sets or rises, and observing their natural behaviors. I want guests to experience a certain level of hospitality. We are going to do everything we can to make sure you have a great stay.
“The food quality is a priority to me. If you come here and eat something, I want you to look forward to your next opportunity for us to prepare that item for you.”
Since the food prepared by the lodging department is a priority for Ramirez, let’s examine that aspect further.
“My previous food service experience was at the café, but that’s obviously a lot different than preparing food for lodging guests,” he said. “When Donna was director of lodging, she’d ask for my cooking assistance some nights. I was always in awe of how she’d present the dinners. When she’d plate something that we cooked, it looked great.
“I do plan on cooking quite a bit, and I do enjoy it. Guests can expect that their food is being made by a quality chef, but I want to be in the kitchen helping as much as possible.
“(Fossil Rim Chief Financial Officer) Tom (Clark) and I will be coming up with a new menu. I can say we are trying to avoid potential food allergy issues as much as possible, but count on nice presentation and a quality meal. As we’ve always said, if you do have food allergies, please either let us know when you book lodging or a dinner event, or let us know when you check in and we can relay the message straight to the kitchen.”
Ramirez chose to do the interview for this article in the glass-walled pavilion at Foothills Safari Camp.
“We are revamping our (Safari Camp) kitchen,” he said. “The cabins have changed from the canvas entry to the more traditional wood front, for guests who haven’t been here in several years. The most important thing to me is keeping the Safari Camp area simple, rustic, and in touch with nature. We’ll work to keep it beautiful, especially considering the weddings that are sometimes upcoming.
“While families are staying at Safari Camp, I encourage them to utilize our outdoor games. We offer soccer, volleyball, cornhole, and much more. The camp is a safe (two-acre) environment for kids to run and play.”
As a married father of two boys, Ramirez knows a thing or two about playing games and kids having fun.
A short drive away at The Lodge, Ramirez is always quick to give a nod to the past.
“I don’t want to change much of anything at The Lodge,” he said. “Instead, I want to emphasize the history in that building. Imagine what it was like there 35-40 years ago, when Tom was living there and bringing some of these species to Fossil Rim for the first time. He built a beautiful home.”
Requests have been made to accommodate larger families for overnight stays, and Ramirez is looking into it.
“I want to find a way to accommodate larger families of at least four people comfortably,” he said. “Right now, five people require two rooms. We want everyone to have a chance to come out here. How we make that happen is to be determined, but it’s on my mind.”
Ramirez introduced the lodging staff.
“Lead Cook Daniel Baker has nearly a year of experience preparing meals in our department, and I look forward to working with him,” Ramirez said. “We recently cooked for an Adventure Tour, and we plated everything beautifully for a four-course meal just as I remembered from my time with Donna. The guests seemed very pleased with it, and I enjoy teaming up with Daniel. In addition to specialty lunches and dinners, Daniel prepares breakfast.
“Cook Xavier Wells prepares breakfast, and he also helps with the housekeeping at Safari Camp. Julie White is a housekeeper for the cabins and The Lodge. Pat Pike is the main housekeeper at The Lodge and the longest-tenured member of our department.
“Caroline Hart is a student at (nearby) Tarleton State, but she is also a housekeeper for us on the weekends. Tammy Briggs does daytime check-in at The Lodge. She greets guests on arrival, goes over accommodations, and makes sure guests have what they need.
“Carol Carpenter and Rebecca Gilbreath take turns with our overnight check-in. Those ladies stay up all night to make sure any guest requests or problems are addressed. Through this transitional period for me, I’m very thankful for the staff I have.”
Ramirez took the opportunity to reflect on his years managing the Nature Store.
“I’ll always remember how close our staff was when I worked at the Nature Store,” he said. “Nearly all the current staff has been there at least two years, and we had a really tight bond. They performed so well, and we broke $1 million in sales together in 2015. It’s different now that I don’t get to see them every day.
“Someone would make me laugh daily. I hope to create bonds like that with the lodging staff, because everyone should want a great working atmosphere. I’ll definitely continue to swing by the Nature Store and see how all of them are doing.”
Ramirez can still call upon the experience of someone who has always believed in him.
“Donna is just three digits away (by phone) if I have a question about anything in my new role,” he said. “I think she’ll be a big part of me getting started in this department. She wants the best for me.”
Whether guests have stayed at Fossil Rim many times or are considering their first stay, Ramirez will do his best to ensure it is delightful.
“There isn’t nearly as much wilderness remaining in the world today with an ever-growing population, but we hope to provide you with a bit of that feeling when you stay at Fossil Rim,” he said. “The hospitality is something you will enjoy. I want this to be a place you can always come to be happy. Let’s keep it wild and free, so you can enjoy these animals that we are working to help.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate