Capital Region People To Watch


Andrew Catalon

hances are, you ve been watching Andrew Catalon for years.
The 35-year-old Catalon first appeared on local television screens in 2003, as weekend sports anchor for NBC affiliate WNYT NewsChannel 13. Now he is doing play-by-play for NFL and college basketball games on CBS and cable channel CBS Sports Network. You also might catch him covering a golf tournament or tennis match.
They keep me busy, said Catalon, who lives in Albany with his wife, WNYT anchor Jessica Layton, and their 8-month-old son, CJ. It is a wonderful job. It is everything I wanted when I was going to school. Even more, to be honest with you.
He especially enjoys not having to report to an office every day. He simply flies to the site of the event, provides the necessary coverage, and comes home to his family.
This means Catalon could live anywhere in the country. He has chosen to stay in the Capital Region, he said, in part because Layton is established at WNYT, and in part because I really love the area.
I ve lived here now almost 12 years and I ve developed some wonderful friends here, he said. I m a golfer and there are great golf courses around here. Jess family is here. This has become home for me.
He noted, in fact, that he has lived in Albany for almost as long as he lived in Short Hills, New Jersey, where he grew up.
It s crazy, he said. When I came here in 2003, I didn t know how long I would be here. I am so happy that we started our family here and things are going really well. I feel fortunate.
Catalon left New Jersey to attend college at Syracuse University s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. While there, he did a lot of play-by-play for sports radio.
That was my foundation, I was announcing Syracuse football, basketball and lacrosse games on the radio, he said. For whatever reason, senior year I decided to try the TV route and did an internship in TV.
He graduated from Newhouse in 2001, and took his first broadcasting job at the ABC affiliate in Burlington, Vermont. Two years later, that station dropped its news operation, and Catalon found himself out of a job. His resume found its way to WNYT, which hired him as weekend sports anchor.
For a while, he was very content as he moved his way up to become a main sports anchor.
I liked the idea of not traveling around, ironically, he said. [I liked] just being in one place, establishing a base there and going the TV route. And for a long time, that was really what I wanted to do. But eventually I started missing the adrenaline of being at a game, and I really missed doing play-by-plays.
So, with the blessing of the WNYT management, he started pursuing freelance assignments.
They were very cooperative in allowing me to not say no to a lot of opportunities that came my way, he said of WNYT. That really drew me back in how much I enjoyed doing it, how much I missed doing it.
His freelance assignments included coverage of the Beijing, Vancouver, London and Sochi Olympics for NBC.
It was while he was doing play-by-play for a curling match in Vancouver, in 2010, that Catalon had one of his most exciting experiences.
I ll never forget, I got a tap on the shoulder as we were going into a commercial break and it was Wayne Gretzky s handler, he said. He said he was going to bring Wayne over so I could interview him during the curling match. I would say that was probably my most famous interview. I was totally blindsided by the fact that Wayne Gretzky wanted to talk to me, and I had during the commercial break to decide what I was going to ask him. We came back from commercial break and away we go. Here we are with Wayne Gretzky. That was certainly one of my fondest memories of the people I ve met.
During his last year at WNYT, Catalon stepped back into a part-time position to make room for more outside work, including some jobs for CBS. In July 2013, he made the full-time transition to play-by-play, taking the job at CBS.
So I ve kind of had two paths anchoring and being at a local station and now I ve flipped back to play-by-play, he said. I m glad I made that choice.
This past fall, he called his first full season of NFL games, as part of a trio with former football players Steve Beuerlein and Steve Tasker.
When the football season ended, he transitioned to college basketball, doing play-by-play for games on CBS and CBS Sports, the cable channel.  Between the two networks, he will call about 30 college basketball games this year.
While NFL football and college basketball are his main responsibilities, he also has covered the Masters and the PGA golf championships, both for CBS, as well as tennis for CBS Sports.
What I like best about the job is you never know what s going to happen, he said. You can t script a sporting event and no matter who s playing, if it looks like a good game or a bad game, you don t know what s going to happen. And I like that element of it. Every time I show up for a game or an event, we could see history.
At the 2012 Olympics in London, for example, he announced the longest tennis match in Olympics history, between Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro. Federer won after nearly 4½ hours.
Who would ever have thought that? Catalon said. So I really enjoy the element of what s going to happen today?
He said there are good and bad sides to the constant travel. It is not easy to be away from his family for a few days a week at least during the football and basketball seasons but the good about it is that once I m home, I m home. I don t have to go to an office. I can literally land and start hanging out with my wife and son. That s beautiful.
The most difficult thing can be the travel itself. Delayed and canceled flights can make for long hours in airports.
It can be frustrating but I think I ve developed enough patience where I realize these things can happen and you ve just got to roll with it, he said.
Catalon believes his personal attitude is part of the reason for his success.
I feel like I ve always been a pretty honest guy, and straightforward, and I treat people the way I want to be treated, he said. I know that s cliché and something my grandmother probably told me when I was 5 years old, but I still try to put it to use today and I think that in the long haul people want to work with nice people. That s who I want to work with.
What does the future hold for Catalon? He is not sure. Right now, he is happy where he is.
I always wanted to call NFL games, and I m doing that now and hopefully will continue to do that, he said. I look back at the road that led me here and you know, it s been a great ride.



Tyler Desmond

lthough the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center has been a fixture of the Albany region for more than 40 years, there were no Desmonds here until Tyler Desmond arrived in 2003.
Tyler, who grew up near Burlington, Vermont, is grandson of the late John Desmond, who founded the hotel, at 600 Albany-Shaker Road in Colonie, in 1974. John Desmond loved the hotel and was very hands-on in designing the 324-room Colonial-themed structure, but ran it from Philadelphia.
I would meet people and say my last name was Desmond and they d say that s a funny coincidence, said Tyler, who was named general manager in January 2013. I would say, No, not really, I m part of the family and they would say they didn t realize there was a family. With a typical family business, they live in the area so everybody knows them. With us, people had no clue; they just thought it was a name.
It is a name Tyler is out to return to its former glory. He said that over the past eight years or so, due to the economy, increased competition and other, self-inflicted, issues, we sort of lost some of our grandeur.
Getting back to No. 1 has really been my priority, he said.
He has spent much of the past two years getting the right people in the right jobs and making plans to give the hotel a facelift, with an estimated cost of $1 million. The corner of his office is piled high with samples of carpeting, wall paper and light fixtures.
We are playing around with a couple of different ideas for what we want to do, he said. We are definitely going to be doing renovations; we are trying to decide to what extent. We have a Colonial theme but the Colonial theme just needs a little more of a modern touch to it. We are going to try to get that fresh feel without losing the Desmond feel.
He said his age he is 36 could be an advantage, in that he brings youthful energy to the general manager s role.
I don t have any pre-conceived notions of how everything needs to be done, he said. I m sort of learning and doing it all fresh.
Others also have seen the potential in Tyler. Last year, he was named one of the Albany Business Review s 40 Under Forty, and this past January he was honored as the “Outstanding General Manager of the Year, 150 rooms or more” by the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association.
Tyler did not grow up thinking he would follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father, Ken Desmond, who managed the hotel from 2000 until 2008. In fact, he was advised against it.
Honestly, growing up, my grandfather always said don t get in the hotel business; it is a lot of hours and a lot of work and there are better businesses out there. I recommend you do something else, he said. My father always said the same thing.
After spending a few years in Colorado, where he attended Fort Lewis College and taught snowboarding to kids, Tyler returned to his native Vermont and went to work in the autobody repair business.
I ve always been very into cars, and I ve always enjoyed learning everything hands on, he said. But after a few years, I really got to the point where I was looking for a change.
It was 2003.  His father was managing the hotel, but was still living in Vermont to also run the family s electronics company. He told Tyler that if he really wanted to get into the hotel business, he had a job for him. Despite the warnings he d been given, Tyler decided to take the job, and moved to Albany to start what would become a loosely laid-out succession plan that would have him spending time in every part of the hotel.
His father later joined him in Albany. Ken Desmond has since relocated to Florida.
Tyler started in housekeeping, where he spent just under a year. He then became a front desk attendant, also for about a year, then moved over to the role of banquets houseman the person in charge of all the setting up and breaking down of tables, chairs and so on before and after an event.
I ran that crew for, again, about a year, he said. Then I moved up to banquet manager, then conference center manager, and then I moved to the restaurants and was restaurant manager for a couple of years. Then I moved to maintenance for about two years and then became general manager.
Katy Holland, Communications Project Manager for NYSHTA, said, The fact that Tyler has worked in nearly every department of the hotel and therefore knows the hotel from every angle makes him a unique general manager, leading, in part, to the January award.
As general manager, he has oversight of more than 250 employees including his wife, Bethany Desmond, who holds the title of corporate relations and marketing manager. The couple has been married two years, and lives in Glenville with two dogs and two cats.
Desmond describes his management style as hands-on since he knows every department, he is not afraid to jump in when needed and somewhat democratic.
I like to hear out everybody s ideas, he said. I am very proud of my managers, and they usually have a good idea or solution, or at least the basis of a good solution, to something. I like to do sort of a roundtable, get everybody s input and come up with a solution from there. We have hundreds of years of hotel experience in our management team. It s the most valuable asset I ve got.
Staffing has been his main focus for the past two years. He has made a number of changes in personnel.
I wanted to set it up so we had everybody really take charge of their areas, so I could focus on larger things, bigger projects for the hotel, he said.
This includes the planned renovations, and the general drive to make The Desmond and its restaurants shine amid the growing competition.
I keep a map of hotels and restaurant on Wolf Road, and by the end of this year, there will be 14 hotels and about 40 restaurants, he said. It s difficult to stand out in that kind of environment. We don t have the Hilton flag or the Marriott flag; we don t have a point system. It doesn t exist for us. But that has just made us have to focus more on being great. It s a challenge, but I enjoy that.
He said the positive side of being independent is the freedom The Desmond has. It is not locked into the cookie-cutter dictates of a corporate office and can do what it thinks is right to create the best possible guest experience.
Tyler said The Desmond also is trying to step outside the chain hotel mindset by becoming involved in the community.  He personally serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Economic Growth and the Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau, appointments Holland said also contributed to his being named general manager of the year.
We are a family company; we are invested in the Capital Region, he said.



Aneesa Waheed

hen Aneesa Waheed opened the Capital Region s only Moroccan restaurant, she never thought people would think she was Moroccan. Or that her name was Tara.
Waheed, who owns Tara Kitchen in Schenectady with her husband Muntasim Shoaib, was born in India. Shoaib is from Pakistan. They did, however, meet and marry in Morocco.
As for Tara, it means star in her native language of Urdu.
I never thought that people would automatically assume I was Tara, Waheed said with a laugh. We built a brand around this Tara person and she doesn t exist!
The Tara brand has evolved over the past few years, from a boutique on State Street to the restaurant at 431 Liberty Street, and now to a line of jarred sauces found on the shelves at Price Chopper, Whole Foods, the Niskayuna Co-op and Honest Weight Food Co-op.  Future plans include a small manufacturing facility to produce the sauce. Though small and open only 5½ hours a day, the three-year-old restaurant is ranked No. 1 out of 266 Schenectady establishments on TripAdvisor.
Best of all, the 38-year-old Waheed said, is that she and Shoaib have been able to build a successful business in a way that allows them to enjoy life and devote time to their two young daughters, Zoya, 4, and Suha, 2.
I just have to pinch myself every once in a while when I think of how incredibly lucky my life is, she said.
Waheed was 16 when her family moved from India to Schenectady in 1993. She graduated from Schenectady High School, and then attended Sage Junior College in Albany and Russell Sage in Troy. She was just finishing college, in 1997, when she met a representative of Quad/Graphics who offered her a job at the printing company s plant in Saratoga Springs. About six months later, she was transferred to Quad s New York City location.
Waheed was still with Quad in 2003, when she decided to take a year off and travel to India. While there, she re-examined her life.
I decided I wanted to start my own business, she said. I wanted to get out of corporate America. The easiest thing to do was to export goods from India and sell them in New York City, at street fairs and stuff. So I started doing that.
At first, this was a side business while she continued to work in publishing. Then came another trip the one that would change her life.
It was 2006 when Waheed vacationed in Morocco, where Shoaib was living.  The two met, and began a whirlwind romance. In 2008, the couple began their life together in New York City, and continued Waheed s business of selling clothing, handicrafts and other items imported from India.
Waheed s parents still live in Schenectady, and on a 2009 visit, Shoaib was struck by the revitalization going on in the Electric City
He said why are we not doing something here? Waheed said. So we moved back to my parents house and opened Tara Boutique.
They continued to import items from India, as well as Morocco. The name Tara was chosen because it sounded feminine, and had meaning in several cultures.
It was Waheed s hope to sell the boutique s items at the Schenectady Greenmarket, but Greenmarket rules state that all items must be made by their seller. It was, however, looking for food vendors.
That got us thinking, let s figure out how we can do food at the market, Waheed said. That was a long process, trying to figure out how you sell food on the street, how you prepare it. We talked to the Health Department and they gave us some tips; then we came up with a plan and started selling in the Greenmarket. I cooked some Indian food and some Moroccan food. I just cooked food that I liked to eat and that I thought was good.
She did her cooking in the kitchen of Taj Mahal, the Indian restaurant her parents had just purchased.
Waheed soon realized the draw the Moroccan food had. It was unique to the area, and sold better than anything else she offered.  Customers started asking why Tara didn t have a restaurant.
So, she and Shoaib purchased an old building on Liberty Street, and renovated it with help from the Metroplex Development Authority.  They made their home on the second floor, and, on Jan. 31, 2012, opened Tara Kitchen on the ground level.
Because the couple had a small child, and Waheed was pregnant with her second, they decided to close the boutique and focus their energy on the restaurant.
Tara Kitchen seats 32 people. Open for 2½ hours for lunch and 3 hours for dinner daily, it employs 15 people many of them students from Schenectady High School part time. It has been busy and profitable from day one.
To be honest, it is beyond anything that we expected, Waheed said.
Not that they expected much.
We never printed business cards and we didn t print menus, because I was thinking we are going to close, why print collateral material? Waheed said. That s what everyone tells you, how many new restaurants close. And we were offing a cuisine most people were not familiar with, in a corner of Schenectady that most people said why are you going in that teeny little place with nothing around? We had a lot of naysayers. We really kind of planned to fail and we are shocked we were able to make a go of it.
Customers soon started asking if they could purchase the sauces used in the savory Moroccan stews. So Waheed began researching how she could jar them.
It took a year to figure out recipes that were tasty, that were refrigerator-free, that were low-sodium, etc. she said. There are so many factors you want to consider in today s market to be able to bottle and sell something. It took a long time lots of research, lots of calls but I finally managed to create a line of 10 products. They are all unique flavors that you re not going to get from any other product on the market. You add some protein to it, simmer it in a pot, and you have dinner.
Every jar is hand-packed in the restaurant. But that may change. The sauce is currently carried in eight Whole Foods locations, with a promise to expand to 30 stores if Waheed can meet demand. If that goes well, the line could expand across the country.
We have the potential to be in 360 stores, she said. We can build a little factory in Schenectady to produce the sauce and distribute it. That is where I think we are going to grow the business, rather than having a bigger restaurant or multiple locations.
She believes one of the reasons Tara Kitchen is so successful is that she is always there, keeping a close eye on every meal to ensure quality and consistency. This is something she could not do with multiple restaurants. She also would not be able to spend as much time with her children.
You never know. Maybe when they are a little bit older, we will do something somewhere else, she said. But as of right now, I think the future growth of the company really is in the sauce business.


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