Hyatt Regency Saipan executive chef Gabrielle Colombo hung his chef jacket last Friday, ending 14 years of building the culinary scene on Saipan.
That same moment was also Colombo’s 56th birthday, which he spent putting a close to overseeing all the restaurants at Hyatt Regency Saipan, while helping the CNMI become a favored tourist destination and teaching young chefs over the years.
“I’ve had a wonderful career here on Saipan and that’s why it is with a heavy heart that I am saying goodbye. My reason for leaving is personal…I have two children and one has ‘special needs’ [and] the island does not have enough resources to accommodate his needs and that is the main reason,” Colombo said.
He and his family are moving to Las Vegas “because we find it affordable and there are good schools that my children can go to.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Colombo is ready to let go of his toque. “I am looking at different options, maybe an opportunity to work in Hyatt over there or in another company or restaurant, but I plan to take a break for a while and get the family settled,” he said.
Colombo’s career with Hyatt started in 1990, where he earned his stripes by working in cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Osaka, Manila, and then Saipan.
“I chose to come to Saipan because I know this is a beautiful island. My children were still very young, so my wife and I decided to accept the offer to work [on] Saipan and embark on a new adventure.”
When he first came to Saipan, the Japanese tourists were the top visitors of the CNMI. Since then, that has changed, with Korea and Chinese tourists dominating the visitor arrival numbers. The length of Colombo’s stay in the CNMI has given him a unique perspective. “I have seen all the ups and downs of the community and economy but, at Hyatt, we always try to be on top of the situation,” he said.
“I will miss the people and the beauty of this island. My colleagues, staff, and the chefs at Hyatt are family to me. Saipan will remain very unique and special to me because even if it is a small island, people are so welcoming and connection is instant…Saipan has taught me to be flexible and friendship with people is important,” he added.
Hyatt Human Resources director Josephine Mesta said that Colombo keeps everyone’s heads in place. “He is the one that keeps our team calm and his patience and friendliness never fails. If the community loves him, imagine how much more we love him and we are really going to miss him.”
As for Colombo’s replacement at Hyatt Saipan, Mesta said: “We have several candidates from Hyatt International that we are interviewing and our decision will be made sometime really soon.”
Claudine Camacho, who is a Hyatt marketing communications assistant, said it will be “hard to let go of a great man”
“Chef Colombo is like a father figure to all of us. We adore him and respect him. He’s a great person to work with we are sad to see him leave but we wish him the best and we look forward to seeing him succeed in his new life,” she said.
Colombo was a mentor to many chefs at the Hyatt and one of them is executive sous chef Zen Tomokane. “Chef Colombo saw my potential. …I worked with him since he arrived and he picked me up from just being a line cook in the kitchen… he believed and allowed me to make mistakes and today I work alongside him,” he said.
“He is a big part of my life as a chef. He did not only teach me what I know about culinary arts but his mentoring also extended to life lessons, to always push myself to be better,” he added.
Colombo is also considered an intricate partner of the CNMI tourism industry, according to Marianas Visitors Authority executive director Chris Concepcion. “He played a key role at the Hyatt Regency Saipan, the lone international brand hotel in the CNMI.”
“The MVA is saddened with the news that he is leaving …We wish him the best with his upcoming endeavors,” he added.