By Sherri Coner
Nearly four decades ago, Antonia Zunarelli launched a career in the events industry.
More than 20 of those years have been dedicated to the Indiana Roof Ballroom, providing seamless events for famous actors, musicians and politicians.
“The hospitality industry is filled with people who spend nights and weekends doing events, six to seven nights a week,” Zunarelli said.
After beautiful weddings, large corporate events, Indianapolis Motor Speedway banquets or other gatherings, thankful people noticed that servers, banquet hall and kitchen managers, caterers, cab drivers and others are rarely celebrated for their impeccable ability to make special moments happen for others, no matter what.
To shine gratitude on the incredible work ethic and professionalism in the hospitality industry, 32 years ago the Rose Awards (Recognition of Service Excellence) were launched.
In front of a sold-out crowd last month, 93 hospitality and tourism workers were honored. And Zunarelli was one of nine workers named as a Rose Award winner, sponsored by Visit Indianapolis.
“I was totally flattered and honored,” Zunarelli said.
This lifelong Southsider grew up in a large Italian family. “They operated produce stands in City Market,” she said.
Her family members also opened sandwich shops near the Statehouse and the first European fine dining restaurant in the city.
Because her schedule is rarely conducive for raising a family, Zunarelli expresses constant gratitude for her husband and aunts’ constant involvement in raising two children.
“It takes a village,” she said.
At work, Zunarelli sees the same dedication.
Several members of her team have been with her for 20 years.
“My team is behind the scenes, putting everything together,” she said.
When Covid-19 struck the state, Zunarelli faced completely new challenges.
“Our goal was to host safe events and adapt to new requirements,” she said.
On March 11, 2020, Marion County Health Department guidelines directed all businesses to shut their doors.
“We reopened in June, but events were limited to 50 people,” Zunarelli said.
While the phones rang with event cancellations, this creative, energetic woman got busy behind the scenes, finding ways to provide a safe work environment and paychecks for employees.
“We kept all the employees that we could,” she said. “We did box lunches, gourmet baskets for hospitals, doctors and nurses. Our corporate community was right there with us.”
As the city gradually discovered a new normal late last year and now, the hospitality industry has followed suit.
“People are planning with a shorter window of time,” Zunarelli said as an example of how the post-Covid events industry has changed.
With plans to retire 18 months from now, these mover-and-shaker’s shoes will be difficult to fill. But if anyone deserves to remove those shoes and put her feet up, it’s this woman.
“It’s been a great journey,” Zunarelli said.