Cono Caranna was born and raised in Biloxi. He is the son of politician, Cono Caranna II, who served as the District Attorney of Harrison, Hancock, and Stone counties for 26 years. His mother, Connie Mardis, was a civilian computer programmer at Keesler Air Force Base. He traveled quite a bit in his youth, accompanying his father and family during political junkets throughout southern Mississippi. The young boy paid very close attention to his dad’s style and his ease in communicating with the public. He learned a great deal from the experiences. These constant meet and greets became second nature to him and would set the stage for his career in the hotel and casino industry. Cono has always been extremely comfortable in his own skin, and has always loved getting to know people from all walks of life. He has never met a stranger, just like his dad.
In 1993, Cono began working as a valet at Casino Magic upon graduation from high school. He worked there all summer and was promoted while under the age of 18. He showed promise and impressed his superiors. Cono became manager of the department and put in 80 hours a week, even frequently sleeping in an office trailer located on the valet lot. He was saving for college and had quite a bit of money put away when he began at the University of South Alabama. “I moved right into a fraternity house my freshman year and played around most of the time. My father liked to say that I majored in “Greek,” Cono said. In order to improve his G.P.A, Cono moved back home and took a position as a manager in the valet department at The Gold Shore Casino.
In 1998, Cono graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, with a Bachelors degree in English and Political Science. It took him awhile to settle down and choose his majors but his first plan was always to go to law school and follow in his father’s footsteps. In preparation to enter Law school, Cono worked for the same attorney who had inspired his father to become a lawyer, in the city of Hattiesburg. In time it became clear that entering the legal profession was not what he wanted to do. It just wasn’t the right fit and he was not happy. “I was too far along in my education to change majors. I had been going to school for five years, classes during the fall, spring and summer semesters and working the entire time. I decided to take a break before continuing on with my studies. The next step was my Masters degree but I needed time to figure everything out,” Cono said. He considered becoming an English teacher or professor but decided against it.
Cono worked in the Marketing Department at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Within one year he was promoted to a Casino Host Co-ordinator. He approved credit lines, booked rooms, and comped deserving guests. The following year, he was promoted again, this time to Casino Host. “I was paid to entertain wealthy people. I worked very hard and it was not all fun and games. I really enjoyed the process however andI was very good at it,” Cono said. Next stop, Las Vegas, where he worked at the world famous Venetian for a few years.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Cono took a leave of absence and hurried back to help his family and friends. He traveled by car, loaded down with supplies, food, and as much fuel as he could afford to charge on his credit cards. The leave lasted for 45 days and it was hard to return to Vegas when the time ran out. His job couldn’t wait so he left the Coast with a heavy heart. Friends, who were once co-workers from the Beau Rivage, came to Vegas to visit him just a few months after his return, one being Cono’s future wife, Sousida. “I realized staying where I was, was a huge mistake. I needed to work in Biloxi, not Las Vegas, I wanted to be back home,” he said. Cono was offered a position with the Isle of Capri when the casino was preparing to re-open after the devastation of Katrina. The job was offered to him over the telephone and left Las Vegas as quickly as he could. “I left the Coast a few times in my twenties but it always called me back. There is something really unique about this place and I love it down here,” Cono said. The next opportunity came from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. He longed to be associated with the prestigious property and eagerly accepted a position as a member of their highly respected management team.
Being a Casino Host presents daily challenges and there is never a dull moment. Caranna said rather than managing employees, he managed the players. It was his responsibility to make sure the guests were satisfied and stayed within their monetary limitations. The Host mills around the property, talking with everyone while selling, entertaining, and listening to each and every story, compliment and complaint. He was a mediator between every department as well, making sure everything was properly executed and guests of the casino and hotel were more than pleased with their experience. “The casinos are primarily in charge of their hotels. For the past ten years I also assisted with yielding hotel rooms, setting rates, and selecting comp requirements for rooms and tickets,” he said. Caranna loved his job because every day it was something new and different. He had to be prepared for anything including dealing with cheaters on the floor.
Cono Caranna is going to be the General Manager of the magnificent, soon to be re-opened, White House Hotel in Biloxi. This historical property proudly stands on Hwy. 90. It is the epitome of style and grace which will take guests back to a bygone era. Caranna has partnered with his friend, Bill Yockey, and the development company who owns the hotel. He says it is his biggest gamble to date but he could not be more excited or ready for the task.
The idea grew from numerous conversations between the interested parties. It was a complete surprise when the owner of the property suggested that he and Cono open the bar and restaurant together. This huge undertaking required the experience and knowledge that only Bill Yockey could bring to the table. Yockey has managed restaurants in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Nashville, and here on the Coast. Bill joined the partnership and the ball was rolling. “Together we will run the The White House Hotel. I will preside over the hotel and overall property, and Bill will manage the restaurant and bars. We have all worked together with the development company and the design firm since the very early stages,” Cono said. Caranna is amazed how the project has taken flight and how much he has learned in the process. The team has taken part in everything from selecting artwork to the actual construction. “I am so lucky and honored to be a part of this. We are all making this dream come true and watching it happen has been surreal,” he said.
Cono Caranna is first and foremost a family man. He is the proud father of two young children, ages 3 and 11 months. There is no time for indulging in hobbies or outside interests at the moment because his entire focus is on The White House Hotel and being ready for the grand opening next month. It will be a grand affair that will mark the beginning of something very special indeed.
GTP honors Cono Caranna III as our Mover & Shaker figure for July, 2014. Congratulations!