When a flustered Ethan Hawke needed his laundry done, Layne Wheeler took it home and did it on his own time. Six months after their first meeting, he remembered Bill Paxton’s Whataburger order and, unsurprisingly, Bill remembered Layne.
But perhaps what is most special of all about Wheeler is that his humble servitude is not reserved for celebrities. In fact, it is the day-in-day-out dedication to every single person who approaches his desk that sets him apart. When you need help, you’ve got his full attention. When people fear being a nuisance, he reassures them with a saying: “The moment you become a nuisance, I’m out of the job!”
Layne Wheeler, Hotel Drover Concierge. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
Over dinner at La Playa Maya, I got a chance to sit down with Fort Worth hospitality veteran Layne Wheeler, Hotel Drover concierge, and his lovely wife Kayce. For nearly 25 years Wheeler’s worked to serve both tourists and locals alike and, simply put, make things happen.
While Wheeler certainly does fun things like assist in finding the perfect place to pop the question, things aren’t always bright and shiny in the hospitality industry, and he embraces that side, too. His emotional intelligence is regularly put to work, one time even stepping in to assist a guest experiencing ideation.
Things aren’t always bright and shiny in the hospitality industry. [Wheeler’s] emotional intelligence is regularly put to work, one time even stepping in to assist a guest experiencing ideation.
Wheeler’s passion for what he does was properly honored in a big way when he took home the Heart of the House Award at a massive Marriott gathering at the Gaylord Texan. He’s a class act, lives and loves to serve, and Fort Worth is lucky to have him. Heart of the house, indeed.
Of course, Wheeler knows Fort Worth like the back of his hand. And boy, does he have some stories to tell. Keep reading for the good, the bad, and the ugly, and his perfect day in Fort Worth.
Bailey Aldrich, Owner/Publisher, Fort Worth Key: So, what the heck happened with Bill Paxton?
Layne Wheeler, Concierge, Hotel Drover: Oh, Bill. My favorite actor, born and bred in Fort Worth. I get calls from everybody who are shot callers. This is exactly what he sounded like: “You know me, I’m Bill Paxton.” “Okay.” “I’ve been in the movies Twister and Apollo 13?” I’m over there going god, this is him.
I picked up Bill and it was so much fun. He said “Well Layne, I bet you woke up this morning and said to your wife that you were driving Miss Daisy.” I looked at him in the rearview mirror and said, “No Mr. Paxton, I told her I was driving Chet.” Chet from Weird Science. The bully brother. He busted out laughing. I take him back to the airport and he says “Layne, I know I’m supposed to be this celebrity, this hero, this actor, but you know what? When I go to Texas I always ask the driver: ‘Where’s the nearest Whataburger?’”
BA: The guy just wanted some Whataburger.
LW: About seven or eight months later he came in with his children, and he wanted to show them the lay of the land where their father grew up. I saw him standing with his back toward me, I walked right behind him at the valet at the Worthington Hotel and I said, “Mr. Paxton, you still get your #2 with Dr. Pepper?” He goes, “Layne! How’re you doin’ buddy?”
[Jane Seymour] came in one day and she was asking for assistance. One of her nails had chipped. I said, “Is that natural or acrylic?” and she said “How do you know this?” and I said, “It’s my job!” She was very nice.
I credit Bob Jameson who was the general manager at the time at the Worthington who is now the [Fort Worth] CVB president for my hospitality. I see him every once in a while. He was in the hotel August of last year and I saw him. I was gonna give a handshake to him, and he was like [stretches arms out wide] “Give me a hug!” Great guy.
Making things special for guests. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
LW: I don’t need everything to be perfect, but I always err on the side of the guest.
Kayce Wheeler: He just wants to make people happy.
BA: And sadly, that’s very rare.
LW: This was at the Omni in Los Colinas, someone had asked me about a particular thing I did for a guest, and they weren’t happy about it and asked me for the story. I said “Well, I can see how you thought I did something wrong or made a mistake, but if I erred on the side of the guest, where’d I go wrong?” None of it’s ever going to be about me. It will always be about the guest.
Helping coordinate a proposal. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
BA: Who is Layne Wheeler?
LW: I am a gentleman [who] loves hospitality, loves to serve, and loves to make people happy. If someone asked me, “Concierge, what do you do?” I break it down to two questions. One, “How can I make your day?” Two, “If it’s rotten, how can I ease your pain?” I like to do above and beyond things, people are not expecting it.
I break it down to two questions. One, “How can I make your day?” Two, “If it’s rotten, how can I ease your pain?” I like to do above and beyond things.
I’m surprised when men come to me for anniversaries or weddings. I know their heart means well because they’re calling me about amenities and I say “What should I say on your behalf?” And they get tongue-tied. I say, “May I make a suggestion?” “Sure.” “I told this to my wife on her birthday and her anniversary, and it’s really simple. I say ‘Honey, thank you for saying yes.’ That’s it!
BA: That’s succinct.
LW: This one you’ll enjoy. I was the concierge at the hotel, this was early 2001. A man didn’t have a wall charger for his phone. No big deal, I had access to the hotel card. Go to Radio Shack, get it, 15 dollars and change. I go to him and said, “Sir, here you go!” [He] gives me a hundred dollar bill. “Okay sir, I’m gonna get you some change.” “No son, you can have it.” “Sir, this is a hundred dollar bill, it’s way too much.” He goes, “Son, would you consider what you’ve done for me a blessing?” “Yessir.” “Would you consider what I just did for you a blessing?” “Yessir.” “Son, don’t stand in the way of a blessing.” I said, “Yessir.”
Always putting the guest first. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
I’ve got wonderful memories, wonderful stories and just… I love what I do. I get down by the way I’m treated and then they bless me with money and I’m sitting here going, “Shit!” A perk. Now, it’s not the money, it’s me taking care of the guest is the thing. The money is incidental. I love it, I’m appreciative of it, but that’s not what I do it for. I do it for the service. I’ve always told anybody I may not ever be rich, but that doesn’t mean I can’t serve those who are.
My very first thing I ever did as far as an amenity, hotel Worthington. “Son, can you find me some… can you get me some jalapeño peanut brittle?” I’m going, “I don’t know where in God’s name to get it, but I’m going to try to find it!” And this was back when the internet was AskJeeves.com.
LW: I got him a case. It was in Connecticut. It was Bob’s Butt-Burnin’ Peanut Brittle out of San Antonio, Texas. I got a case sent. Butt burnin’ peanut brittle.
Layne and a happy guest. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
Fort Worth’s Best Kept Secret:
LW: We are friendlier than those in Dallas. Dallas wants to be like a Miami, a Chicago, a New York, an LA. We’re just comfortable in our own skin. I think Dallas is trying to one-up itself. [Fort Worth]’s like “If you don’t like me, that’s okay.”
Fort Worth’s Worst Kept Secret:
LW: Everybody thinks that Joe T.’s is great. It’s a great selfie restaurant, but that’s it. They’re legendary; they’ve been here for many, many years.
The Perfect Day in Fort Worth:
LW: I’d start in the Cultural District. The museums. Wolfgang Puck even has a restaurant in the Cultural District. Sundance Square: shopping, food… but, the Stockyards is just amazing. It’s wonderful. They say, “Are there good bars?” “Yeah, there’s about 15 of them.” “Good Mexican food?” “Yeah.”
KW: The cattle drive. Like, 360 days a year they do it twice a day!
Step into Layne’s office: concierge desk at the Hotel Drover. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
BA: If you had to pick a restaurant. Say, “I’d have dinner here, and I’d go to this shop, and I’d get my coffee at blah blah blah the next day.” Try to put it together: Layne’s Itinerary.
The Best Food in Fort Worth:
LW: I would definitely go to The Original Del Norte. They’re legendary for their chips. They’re airy, light and fluffy. They’re very, very good. I love it, my mother loved it, so I’m partial to it.
Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. This is an old school restaurant. It’s not upscale. It’s dark wood and red leather chairs, but guess what. I’ve never had to put sauce on a steak. You wanna get the salad. The croutons are the yeast rolls from the previous day. You can use those as a snack!
The money is incidental. I love it, I’m appreciative of it, but that’s not what I do it for. I do it for the service. I’ve always told anybody I may not ever be rich, but that doesn’t mean I can’t serve those who are.
I cannot forget about [Near] Southside of Fort Worth, Magnolia, I call this the cornucopia of goodness. You start off with Heim Barbecue, bacon burnt ends, brisket biscuits, follow[ed] by Cane Rosso, you have to have the Honey Bastard pizza. I can’t describe it other than it’s delicious. And then to cleanse the palette, walk a little bit further to Melt Ice Creams. They have one in front of Hotel Drover, Mule Alley. The ice cream changes every week, it’s fantastic. It’s naturally made. Oh, the cornucopia! (pauses to reminisce about the ice cream) Avoca Coffee [Roasters], we serve it at the hotel. They also have an open store on Exchange.
Scene from the Hotel Drover. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
The other cornucopia is just down the street off of Magnolia to the corner of 8th Avenue and Rosedale. My personal favorite, other than Heim, would be Derek Allan’s Texas Barbecue. You can tell it was a gas station many years ago. Husband and wife duo. The brisket tacos with hash browns and the brisket biscuit are so choice.
One last thing. In the Stockyards: Taco Heads. When I was a residential concierge at Montgomery Plaza, [Sarah Castillo] started as a food truck behind another restaurant across the street. She now has two locations. She also has Second Rodeo [Brewing] which is another fantastic spot. They’re not much on food but the wings… oh my God. The top three are the black garlic, the chicken and waffles and, yes you heard me correctly: PB&J.
BA: You’ve done the legwork, man. It’s part of being good at your job, right?
LW: Taco Heads, you can actually get breakfast tacos in the afternoon or evening. You pair it with guacamole and queso- you have to have ground beef in it- with cocktails.
Always greeting guests with a friendly face. Photo c/o Layne Wheeler.
BA: How long are you going to stay at the Drover for the weekends?
LW: Until I’m over it or until they kick me out. I’m there for the hotel benefits. I say, “You know the two most beautiful words you can say to a woman in a hotel don’t you?” “I thought it was ‘love you.’” “Room service.”
“You know the two most beautiful words you can say to a woman in a hotel don’t you? Room service.”
Layne described his ethos best in 2014:
“What I have valued the most in a service [is] when the sales clerk in the aisle or technician on the phone is committed to getting me the solution I need, not simply performing [their] assigned task. The providers I remember and connect with are the ones who go beyond the question, think through an issue with me, anticipate a need, think beyond the obvious to help me identify a solution, someone invested in my success rather than their performance evaluations and [who] goes out of their way and beyond standard options to help me get results. This is me, it’s who I am, it’s what I do. Giving beyond a damn.”