Michael Samawi: To Serve With Love
April 14, 2017
Spa & Hospitality Management graduate uses new education to help change lives.
Michael Samawi never listened to his parents. It's a
good thing, too. When he told them he wanted to
someday get into the family business – running a string
of cafes in San Francisco – they advised him against it.
Get a nice desk job, they said.
He tried that and was quite successful. But Samawi's
dream of serving hospitality excellence never really went
away. Inspired by fine cuisine and drawn to serving the
needs of others, he decided to follow his passion. And
when it led him 8,000 miles to Jordan, his family's homeland,
his dream became a fully realized vision.
“I was working in automotive marketing communications
and realized there was nothing left for me to
accomplish creatively,” said Samawi, who in 2016
earned a Spa and Hospitality Management certificate
from UCI Division of Continuing Education.
“I felt a need for change, so I packed my bags and
moved to Jordan. I wanted to live like a local, live
frugally, eat the same fresh, homemade food. You can
learn so much about a country's culture by living there,
and Jordanians are well-known for their hospitality.”
The experience was a revelation. Samawi was inspired
by the culture, cuisine and rhythms of Jordan, the sense
of care shown to others. He also met and married his
wife, Lina. Together, their ultimate goal is to operate a
hotel, spa and restaurant in an exotic, natural setting –
not just any luxury property but something far more
The Samawis want nothing less than to change people's
lives and affect them on a deep level.
“You can serve hospitality and food, but we want to
give one ingredient you can't get elsewhere – love,”
he said. “I would want the experience to be an epiphany,
to envelop our guests with love and emotion.”
For now, Samawi is working as assistant general
manager at Hilton Garden Inn in Irvine, a position that
he attributes to his DCE certificate. And his dream, his
calling, is well within reach.
Armed with a BA in graphic design from Cal State
Long Beach, Samawi began his career path in 1997,
designing ads and organizing trade shows. Two years
later he landed at a large Volkswagen dealership in
San Francisco, working as marketing communications
manager. He was an Internet pioneer in the nascent
world of e-commerce, designing multi-platform
campaigns and websites.
Samawi gained a keen understanding of marketing,
how to anticipate and serve the needs of customers.
But he was increasingly restless – and he never lost his
passion for running his own restaurant.
“Little did I know what was around the corner,” he said.
“As you know, my birthplace of San Francisco is a
culinary mecca. And my higher income bracket helped
me discover a whole new world of food and level of
guest service. It was great schooling for my future
calling: to serve hospitality excellence.”
Samawi felt a change was imminent. So in 2006 he took
an 11-month sabbatical to Jordan, immersing himself in
regional culture and cuisine. He learned a great deal
about the Jordanian people and their tradition of
“Traveling around the world is essential to every human's
existence and cultural understanding,” he said. “I took it one step further. I moved to the other side of the world
to better understand those ‘immigrants’ that truly are
our customers and guests back in the U.S.”
After marrying Lina, they returned to Orange County
prepared for a new life – one that followed Samawi's
philosophy of heartfelt hospitality and influenced by
their strong Christian beliefs.
Soon they were running a small restaurant, Coffee,
Tea and Tulips, a nontraditional tea house serving
Mediterranean cuisine that reflected the ingredients
and diet of the ancient Holy Land.
“The idea was to combine Jordanian hospitality with
Christian principles to create a loving and caring
environment for our customers,” he said. “I designed
a menu that imagined Jesus as a foodie. What did
he and his disciples eat 2,000 years ago? Mostly it was
a diet rich with olives, nuts and fruits. They ate off the
land, and we tried to stay as close to that as possible.”
Samawi eventually left the business to work for Living
Stones, a tour service offering study-tour packages to
Israel. Then came the big leap – enrolling in the DCE
certificate program – a move that wasn't taken lightly.
Developed and taught by industry experts, the
15-unit Spa and Hospitality Management program
covers all aspects of the business, from marketing and
financials to management and HR, exactly what
Samawi needed. He was drawn to the experienced
faculty and hands-on projects that helped prepare him
for the day-to-day details of managing a property.
“Once I started to look into it, I just had an epiphany,”
said Samawi, recipient of a UCI DCE Student Achievement
Award for his outstanding work. “It seemed to
cover exactly what I knew I needed. They had the right
people teaching it, and there's no question about the
quality of UCI's brand and reputation. I had taken
business classes and had worked in food. So what I
needed was to learn the business of running and
managing a property.”
It worked. Samawi said the online program was directly
responsible for his position with Hilton Garden Inn.
“Toward the end of the job interview I was able to
reference some of the courses in the UCI program, and
her response was ‘That's what I wanted to hear!’”
He sees his job as assistant GM as perfect preparation
for running his own all-inclusive property within a few
years, preferably located in a beautiful, natural setting
in the Middle East, Europe or even Central Africa, “an
emerging region,” Samawi said.
Regardless of the location, the level of comfort and
hospitality will reflect not only the native culture but also
the spiritual values of the Samawis.
“I want to reach people like they've never been
reached before, change their lives,” he said. “It's not a
place where people will just sleep in a bed and leave
the next day. Every package would include the entire
experience, with spa treatments and fresh, natural
And everything, he said, will be served with love.
“That's the key. You can't do it for the money. If you
give people that type of emotional, immersive experience,
the money just comes naturally.”