TAMPA — By 7 a.m., in his neat blazer and stylish tortoiseshell glasses, Sam Chambers is at the front desk. Everyone knows Sam.
He’s there when the millennials who live at the 22-story Asher, one of developing Water Street Tampa’s newest high-rises, wake to hit yoga or the gym. He’s there when leashed dogs — Winter, Nugget, Mango, Lana, and yes, he knows them by name — exit the elevators on their way out to the city streets for their morning constitutionals, with a quick stop at his desk for a treat.
When guests get out of their Ubers a little too early to check in to Roost, the building’s extended-stay hotel floors, he’s there to suggest breakfast at nearby Edition, where they can get the shrimp soft scramble and a prosecco cocktail, or the Chill Bros. ice cream shop that sells big scoops of cafe con leche chunk.
At the ready at the front desk is a three-ring binder Chambers has labeled his “Savor, Sip, See” bible, filled with anywhere guests and residents might want eat, drink, shop, spa or visit.
“I love talking to people,” said Chambers, 35.
A conversation with Sam Chambers about how he landed here after nine years on cruise ships that went around the world and what it’s like to be a concierge with a whole new neighborhood sprouting up around you. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where did you grow up?
Born and raised in the Philippines, did my schooling in the Philippines.
Why did you pick hospitality as a career?
My uncle was my inspiration. He worked in the hotel business since I can remember.
I ended up in Tampa because of my husband (a nurse at Tampa General Hospital). I met him through common friends.
Cruise ships were my first job. Cunard, then Norwegian. I was a butler, a personal assistant for VIP guests.
What’s the weirdest thing a guest requested on a ship?
Can you get us behind the scenes where the crew is, like where we sleep and where we eat? They’re very curious of the lifestyle.
Where did you go?
I’m so blessed. I did, three times, actual world cruises, New York to New York. It lasts four months. Your cruise ship is like 5,000 passengers.
From New York we went down to Key West … the Caribbean … South America … Alaska … Hawaii to Asia … Africa … Europe.
What came after cruise ships?
My first job here was Marriott Water Street at the front desk. I transferred to the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza. (Then) I joined Roost.
When we visited, it was all like, dirt (still under construction. And then boom, it’s built already.
Who stays at Roost, the six floors that serve as an extended-stay hotel, and who lives at Asher?
Typically who stays at Roost are business people. They have a job in Tampa, they have to stay in Tampa, but not forever. Also people that renovate their houses and need a place to stay. Sometimes (people for) one night or two nights if there’s an event at Amalie Arena.
Living in Asher are young professionals. They are the people that like lifestyle (including the district’s largest pool deck and amenities like classes in cooking, fitness, painting and candle- and sushi-making).
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Recently they did makeup class. A couple of nights ago we did Tomahawk (steak) cooking. They really liked that one.
What do you do as concierge?
They come down to the front desk and ask, “Hey, what is going on around the neighborhood? What’s going on at the Straz?” We have what’s called a front desk bible. We update it every day.
What’s the No. 1 thing people ask for?
Restaurants. I always send them to restaurants I try. If you just recommend and you don’t try it … what if they have a very bad experience and you recommended it?
Most of the time it’s a quick bite. We always recommend GreenWise and Sparkman Wharf. Most of the residents and guests here love sushi. (For that, Greenwise and Noble Rice.) You should try their ramen.
(He’s send people to nearby South Tampa for pasta he likes, but warns them:) It’s far.
If they’re looking for native Tampa, I go for Ulele. For high-end breakfast I go to Oxford Exchange. For a local Cuban restaurant, I recommend La Teresita (in West Tampa). The pork chop is my favorite. And the lamb. They don’t do that every day.
There seem to be a lot of dogs in the building.
Yes, we are very pet friendly. The hotel, too. Most of the dogs that come to the desk, they want to say hi. Because of the treats.
Do you still travel?
I do. Our favorite spot for summer is Boston. I love the North End. And our winter spot is New York because of the Christmas display. We always want to be in the middle of the town so it’s walking distance. Like here.
When you’re a guest at a hotel yourself, are you watching the concierge service?
Yes. I observe how they do the check-in and also the overall stay. When I go to the room I double-check my linen, if it’s really changed or not.
I don’t make it a big scene ... I just say, hey, can I get extra sheets? And I change it myself.
What kind of personality does it take to do your job?
It’s already in your heart to do customer service. You can’t teach that to a person. With all the computer things, we can teach you, but with good customer service, it comes naturally.
A lot of people don’t like dealing with the public.
Not me. My dream job actually was to be a flight attendant.
I love talking to people. I learned from my managers — (people) just want to be heard. Because if you’re talking and they’re talking, you’re not going to be meeting in the middle.
You apologize. Let me see what I can do for you. I always believe the customer’s always right.
Where do you see your career going?
Maybe someday I’ll be a general manager.
What does Water Street need?
More people. I can’t wait until everything is open.
Are you tempted to move here, or is that too close to work?
You know what? We are moving into Channelside. So it will be walking distance for me. I’m driving 10 minutes (to work) — why not walk?
And everything’s here.