Athenaeum Hotel sees highest sustained occupancy rates in decades

From left; food and beverage director Paul Sass, reservations supervisor Stacey Utegg, front desk supervisor Kate Lindstrom, and Executive Chef Edward Work are shown outside the Athenaeum Hotel Friday, June 23, 2017. OLIVIA SUN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

These are good times at the Athenaeum Hotel.

This Chautauqua Institution landmark is witnessing its highest sustained occupancy rates in decades even as infrastructure is rebuilt from the inside out and room renovation continues at a steady, predictable rate.

General Manager Bruce Stanton said there are several factors in the hotel’s success.

“We went away from the American Plan (all meals included in the room rate) three years ago, and we really got a strong, positive response from that,” he said. “We’ve seen our occupancy rate right at 80 percent since then. Additionally, we have developed what we feel are several appealing packages, some including food. The group tour business is up, too.”

As anticipated, construction of the new Amphitheater right next door impacted the hotel’s off-season business.

“We still booked weddings, but there were fewer of the traditional, more extensive ones,” Stanton said. “Concern about the construction seemed to be a factor. But looking ahead, the picture is positive. For instance, we’re now at 78 percent booking occupancy for this season. Last year, at this time we were at 73 percent and wound up at 80 percent for the year. So there is reason for optimism this year.”

Stanton said the hotel has only operated its signature Heirloom Restaurant in the main dining room for 27 weeks (three years of nine-week seasons). While he said it normally takes a restaurant at least one year to get established, Heirloom is running well ahead of that pattern.

“We’re gaining some real confidence in the restaurant and in our present model,” he said. “We have also introduced a new color scheme in the main hotel lobby, and we have gotten a good response to that.”

Stanton highlighted two off-season developments at the Brick Walk Cafe.

“First, we now have a smoothie bar,” he said. “And, every morning, Paul Smith, the former owner and baker at the Tasty Acre Diner just outside the Main Gate, will be offering his delicious pastries for our Brick Walk Cafe customers. We know a lot of people regret the closing of the diner; this should hopefully diminish the sense of loss.”

There have been significant staff changes at the hotel as well. Director of Food and Beverage Services Rick Heald left during the off-season to follow the dream of starting his own restaurant, and has been replaced by Paul Sass. Sass, originally from nearby Meadville, Pennsylvania, has worked for the Darden restaurant chain, most recently in California, as a restaurant manager and regional troubleshooter.

“I had great experiences at Darden, which is the largest casual-dining restaurant company in the world,” Sass said. “It was invaluable to see firsthand how they handled management and supervision.”

Through Darden, he was picked to open the Olive Garden restaurant in nearby Lakewood.

“I bought a house there, and came to love the area,” Sass said.

When Sass moved away with Darden, he kept the house and watched for opportunities to return to this area. The Athenaeum Hotel’s food and beverage job was the answer.

At the hotel’s busy front desk, in-person relations with hotel guests and visitors now fall under Kate Lindstrom of Jamestown, now in her third season at the hotel. A marketing and management graduate of Colorado State University, Lindstrom is an avid hockey fan who loves the mountains and downhill skiing.

Lindstrom’s husband is a teacher and the couple has three sons, the eldest of whom is something of a prodigy. He will enter sixth grade this fall at the age of nine.

Stacey Utegg has taken over supervisory responsibility for the reservations staff. She has worked at the hotel every season since 2010, and has been promoted each year. A Ripley High School graduate prior to that school’s consolidation with Chautauqua Lake Central School, Utegg attended Jamestown Community College free of charge as a top 10 percent graduate in her high school class.

She pursued psychology and art at SUNY Fredonia and later at Penn State University.

“I wanted to be a marriage counselor,” she said. “Now, I do a bit of counseling, but only as an avocation.”

She and her husband, a retail manager, share a passion for dogs. They have two rescue dogs as part of their household, and Utegg volunteers at her local animal shelter. Painting (acrylics and oils) and sculpture are among her other interests.

Tags : Athenaeum HotelGeneral Manager Bruce Stantonoccupancy rates

The author John Ford

John Ford is in his ninth year with the Daily. He reports on general news, does feature reporting and writes the weekly Chautauqua Conversations column. A wire service reporter for United Press International prior to embarking on a career as a foreign service officer with the Department of State, he currently writes a regular column on American politics and foreign relations for one of the two principal daily newspapers in Nassau, Bahamas.