Spotlight: Zack Martin former drug dealer, gang member, turned chef -new food and beverage director of Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans

By: LaTonya Simon

The staff at Royal Sonesta Hotel, located on Bourbon Street in the New Orleans French Quarter, is welcoming a new food and beverage director. Zack Martin the 44-year-old native of New Orleans, accepted the position earlier this month. He is scheduled to start his new position later this month.

The former drug dealer and gang member started his career 20 years ago as a chef’s apprentice under the world famous Emeril Lagasse.  After a year, Martin was hired as an assistant chef at Commander’s Palace in the Garden District of New Orleans. Commander’s Palace is a well known New Orleans restaurant owned by the Brennan family, another notable family of restaurateurs in the city of New Orleans. 

“I developed an interest in cooking in 96’, I was 19 years old, and my then girlfriend was pregnant with my first child. I decided to make a change in my life because I didn’t want my baby to grow up like me without a father,” says Martin.

While Martin was in prison, he lost a childhood friend to gang violence, which he describes as the most devastating experience in his life so far. “My boy was killed by another associate of ours, the pain was so excruciating, there was no way I could get back in the game I couldn’t trust anyone,” Martin explained.

Martin, who left his position as the general manager at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, Washington is currently in transition from Washington with his wife and six children. “It’s a pretty big move, hopefully, it will be my last. I’m old now, I’m tired of traveling,” says Martin. 

Martin credits his career shift from culinary to hotel management to his wife and kids. In 2014, Martin was an Executive chef at the Westgate Lakes Resort in Orlando Florida. Almost a year after moving to Orlando, he learned his wife was pregnant with their third child.

Martin said his wife started complaining about how he was never home, and how all of the moving was affecting her.  He realized he had to make some decisions concerning both his career choice and their living situation.

He decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in business management at Valencia College. Martin graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Business Management from Valencia College in 2016. 

After he graduated, Martin moved his family to Seattle, Washington. Martin’s wife was raised in Seattle, and her parents still reside there. “At that time it was the best choice for us, she was freaking out about not having any friends or any help with our kids we decided this would be a great move, and I would do anything to make her happy,” says Martin.   

Martin was offered a position as the food and beverage director of the Edgewater hotel in Seattle, Washington. “That was a dream come true, the Edgewater is a very nice property, working there gave me the hands on experience I needed to in order to solidify myself in this industry,” said Martin.

According to Alarms.gov, New Orleans violent crime rank is three times the national average. 

The Economic Perspectives On Incarceration And The Criminal Justice System, list the cost of criminal reform at over 270 billion dollars in 2016.

Martin believes criminal reform is worth the price. He said, “the benefits of criminal reform can help reduce the number of criminal offenses this means lives can be saved, and that applies to victims as well as criminals”.

Although it has been over 20 years since Martin’s arrest, he says he understands the desperation of the criminal mind. Martin said, “It’s a cold world, and many people don’t know that there are options and resources out there that can change their lives, I’m grateful for the system and the people who believed in me—without them, I would not have been able to achieve this level of happiness”.

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