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Continued: C.J.: Marilyn Carlson Nelson says TGI Friday's patrons add desserts because they ordered salads

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 10, 2014 - 3:45 PM

A: I haven’t had that happen. My dad used to try [to check on the quality of service in phone calls]. Today you can see who’s calling, you can see a number so it’s a little bit different. But I have had the opposite. One night when I was in Washington, D.C., I had been at a meeting that ended up lasting very late. There was a storm, there was no way I could get to the airport and it was after all the businesses here were closed. I went and checked in at our hotel, a Radisson in Arlington, and nobody knew who I was. It hadn’t come through my office, it was late at night, there was a night manager. I checked in and said, “I am really stuck, I don’t even have a toothbrush. Is the store open?” No. So I went up to my room and got ready for bed. Didn’t have any real change of clothes. There was a knock at the door. That made me uncomfortable. So I said, “Who’s there,” and voice said, It’s the bellman. I said, “Can I help you?” because I still felt uncomfortable. I opened the door with the chain across and he said, I had to wait to my break but I ran out and got you a toothbrush. It made me so proud and I didn’t tell him on the spot who I was. When I came back, I sent him some recognition. It was the opposite of what you’re saying; it was when I was surprised by someone absolutely going the extra mile, who didn’t have any idea who I was.


Q: That’s what you want.

A: That’s exactly what you want.


Q: Is there another family-run business empire you look at and think, That would be fun?

A: I guess if I was looking, it would probably be in travel and hospitality, because I love these businesses so much. It makes me so proud when some of the emerging countries [embrace us]. In India we are one of the biggest global brands and were very early there, bringing jobs.


Q: Have you even been walking around some foreign country and noticed the name of one of your businesses you didn’t remember being located there?

A: It’s so funny because my colleagues would say, Oh, you know where all of them are, but the truth is we were traveling as a family, the rest of the family were tired, my Mom and I could hardly wait to see St. Mark’s Square in Venice. I’ll never forget it, just as we came around the corner, it happened to be dusk and the lights went up. That was magical. We sat down at a cafe and looked across and there was Carlson Wagonlit Travel with a storefront on St. Mark’s Square. I have to say there are certain moments where you just get a real thrill to think, “My dad borrowed $50 to start a company here in Minneapolis.” There we were years later looking at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, which by the way is now the largest corporate travel company in the world.


Q: I love the name Radisson Blu. What other names were considered?

A: Do you want to hear the truth? The truth is the most elegant hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where the big gorgeous new properties were redefining Radisson … were originally Radisson SAS. We had a partner SAS. It would say “Radisson” and then there was a blue box, that said SAS. We bought them out and took the company public. We went to take the blue boxes off and there were shadows on all these properties and it looked terrible. Radisson with an empty square of brick or marble or whatever the front of the building was. We decided we had to keep something there. We thought about a heart symbol. Some of us thought it would be nice to have a C for Carlson. The internal working name was Radisson Blu, because of the blue box. All of sudden everybody says Yeah, Radisson Blu. Now it’s sort of having a jewelry box. We’ve got a blue, we’ve got a green and now we’re going to have a red! It is absolutely the most exciting. Blu will be more sophisticated. Red will be probably more for the millennials — high-tech, fresh, very tomorrow. That’s why I love the business. [Minnesota has one Radisson Blu, at Bloomington’s Mall of America, but there’ll be a second in downtown Minneapolis when the renovation of that Radisson is completed this summer.]


Q: Do you have a favorite TGI Friday’s menu item?

A: They have a kind of dee-vine chocolate dessert that I don’t even let myself think about. I’ve been real excited because the new menu, thanks to some of us women executives at Carlson but also thanks to our customers, we now have a lot of salads. For a long time we had loaded potato skins and all kinds of dangerous but wonderful items. So now you can go to Fridays, even if you are not celebrating something and have a great salad. You know what we found? When we put the salads on, we sold more desserts. So people think, “If I have a salad, I can have a dessert.” [Laughter]


Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to watching television?

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