60 years of hospitality: Stafford’s celebrates its anniversary
In the early 1960s, Stafford Smith’s summer job at Bay View brought him fortuitous circumstances.
While in college, Smith worked summers at the Bay View Inn, a property dating back to 1886. At the end of his senior year, hotel owner Roy Heath brought him back as deputy manager for the 1960 season. It was during this period that he met Janice Johnson, who worked that summer as a hotel hostess and would become his wife the following year.
As they prepared for their married life, the couple sought to start it in northern Michigan, with Stafford seeking an assistant manager position at Petoskey’s Perry Hotel and Janice pursuing a career as a teacher. Perry’s job for Stafford was short-lived – cut off when the hotel changed ownership – although the hotel would once again become part of his professional life decades later.
While looking for a job in 1961, Smith once again found the Bay View Inn offering an opportunity. Heath was looking to sell it and offered Smith the opportunity to buy it. Shortly after the deal was struck, Stafford and Janice tied the knot in June and opened the hotel as owners the following week, both 22 years old.
Over the next six decades, the business that would become Stafford’s Hospitality continued to operate the Bay View Inn and now offers an assortment of accommodation and dining options at four other locations in Emmet Counties. and Charlevoix. To achieve this growth and longevity, Smith believes it has been important to give proper attention to a trio of resources: guests, employees and facilities.
“You have to put a lot of emphasis on those, on every corner of the triangle so to speak,” he said.
Along with a milestone anniversary, this year brings a leadership transition for Stafford, with Smith and his longtime business partner Dudley Marvin stepping down from their respective roles as chairman of the board and chairman. Although they are no longer active partners, both maintain ties to the company, with Smith serving as secretary and Marvin as treasurer.
Smith’s son, Reg, has served as president and will continue to play his leadership role for the company’s hotels, including the sales department. Brian Ewbank, a cousin of Stafford Smith, was recently appointed chairman after holding various positions in the food and beverage side and becoming a company partner in 2005, In addition, Butch Paulsen, a longtime managing partner de Stafford, was named corporate vice president as part of this year’s transition.
Stafford executives note that the growth of the company to its current line of properties has occurred gradually, as acquisition opportunities have arisen. The Stafford’s Pier restaurant in Harbor Springs became part of the portfolio in 1970, with the Weathervane restaurant in Charlevoix added to the fold in 1988, the Perry hotel in 1990, and the Crooked River Lodge in Alanson in 2011. The company would continue to grow. up to date with many of the properties while striving to retain the historic flavor where it is present.
Along the way, Stafford Smith said a few other companies had taken their course – for example, the company abandoned its involvement with the Birchwood Inn near Harbor Springs in the 1970s amid a tough economic climate caused by an oil embargo. Given his long-standing role in community life, he sees the Perry Hotel – a property that originally opened in 1899 – as a particularly important addition to the lineup.
Marvin, who started working for Stafford’s in 1964 and joined management in 1970, said the company has retained some key commitments over time.
“It’s a commitment to the community and a commitment to history,” he said. “A commitment to live in the far north of the country. “
Reg Smith sees the priorities the same way.
“We want our locations to improve communities,” he said.
Ewbank noted that the company has faced some challenges to be successful, such as navigating the seasonal ebbs and flows of accommodation and food service traffic in northern Michigan and taking care of the maintenance its historic buildings require. to withstand the sometimes difficult external conditions of the region. Like other members of the management team, however, he views the company’s staff – and the customer service approach Stafford’s sought to convey to them – as a useful resource in achieving this success.
“There are just a lot of things that we allow our staff to do to take care of our customers immediately,” he said.
Along with some modernization at the Bay View Inn – such as adding private baths to many rooms and updating to allow more wintery use of the site – Smith said an improved restoration program was another priority he was looking for. ‘he had continued quite early in his time. as owner.
“If you want to call yourself a hotel or a resort, you need a very solid, very creative food service,” he said.
The company also saw the opportunity to continue in the event business. For a time, the supply of catering and equipment for gatherings in other places played a key role. But as other venues in the region began to develop their own banqueting programs, Stafford increasingly focused on offering their own properties for events – the Perry Hotel, for example, becoming a popular wedding venue.
As in other businesses in the hospitality industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for Stafford’s, with public health guidelines limiting non-essential travel and sometimes banning or restricting indoor dining. With the increased focus on cleaning and disinfection brought by the pandemic, the company has somewhat reduced the number of guesthouses on offer at any given time. The number of employees at the company was recently in the mid-300s, about 100 below the typical summer peak in the years leading up to the pandemic.
As she sought to maintain a position in the midst of COVID-19, Marvin said the company was able to draw on resources such as the Paycheck Protection Program initiative as well as outdoor dining rooms that she had set up over the years.
“Having those outdoor seats really saved our bacon last year,” he said.
With restrictions easing and data on COVID cases improving in many ways as 2021 progresses, Reg Smith has noticed encouraging trends in room reservations for the summer months as well as ‘some rebound in event bookings – although the number of guests for these tends to be a bit lower on average than they were before the pandemic.
Over the years, Reg Smith has said that four generations of his family have contributed to the operations of the company to varying degrees – with his son, Drew, the current director of rooms at the Perry, being one of the examples. the most recent. He knows several other families in which two or three generations have been employed by Stafford’s, and considers such loyalty a significant accomplishment for the company.
“The people who have worked for us are proud that their son or daughter works for us or that their grandchildren work for us,” he said.
For Stafford Smith, seeing the company provide a starting point for many locals as they embark on hospitality careers has been a welcome opportunity.
“One of the things that makes me as proud as anything… we were the first job opportunity for so many people in this field,” he said.