The Schaubmayer family, owners of Mammoth Lakes’ iconic Alpenhof Lodge, had a little work done on the old place recently, as the Travel Channel cable series “Hotel Impossible,” now in production on its second season, paid a visit to our little hamlet. Not only did the crew document a makeover of the lobby area and one of the rooms, but “HI” host, Co-Executive Producer and noted hotel operations expert Anthony Melchiorri, consulted with the family on how to spruce up the Alpenhof’s business model. The hotel, as it happens, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Also brought in for the project was nationally known Interior Designer Blanche Garcia, who also owns her own successful New Jersey-based design firm. As is standard “HI” practice, a local contractor was brought in to execute the makeover portion, in this case Tim Flynn Construction.
The traveling crew arrived on Monday, Jan. 14, and started production two days later. For Flynn and Garcia, once the work started on Thursday, it didn’t stop until the “Big Reveal” on Saturday. “For Blanche’s crew and my crew, it was basically 24/7,” Flynn said. “We did about two weeks worth of work in 2 days.”
According to Robert Schaubmayer, Jr., how the Lodge was selected for the show actually goes back to 2012. “We were approached last year by another show, but they didn’t think there was enough ‘drama’ for them,” Robert recalled. “That must have put us on the radar, though, because later on we got an email from ‘HI’ and sent in a questionnaire. Next thing I know, we got a phone call from them saying, ‘If you’re in, let’s do it.’”
Bringing in consultants and doing makeovers can be nerve wracking, especially if you’re not allowed to see what the designer’s doing until after it’s done, but Robert, Jr. indicated he was thrilled at the idea of having such high-profile expertise come right to his doorstep. “I was ecstatic,” he said. “It’s a successful show, and think about it … this is the Travel Channel we’re talking about. Where do some of our visitors come from? People see it. We looked at the show’s style and how it’s done, and asked ourselves if we wanted to put ourselves out there. We decided it would be a good thing.”
While Anthony took the family aside and worked with them on business matters, Garcia’s and Flynn’s crews got to work on the makeover. Garcia’s no stranger to pressure. She was on HGTV’s “Design Star” competition show, has been featured in numerous national magazines and was the go-to designer for the first season of “HI.”
Garcia used her experiences from previous shows, and her own expertise, to formulate her ideas for the Alpenhof. Some of her principal maxims: reuse, repurpose and don’t reinvent the wheel.
“I wanted to keep within the style,” Garcia said. “The Alpenhof is Bavarian/Austrian, so I researched colors, style, form. It’s not a generic, chain hotel. Yes it’s in a ski town, but it’s special, family-owned.” She spent time finding out about the family. She also drew from her work on a project being done through her own design firm, a Bavarian/Austrian hotel in Georgia.
“What I do is a reflection of the hotel. Whether I’m in Miami or Napa’s wine country, I have to get the feel and flavor of the hotel, and the people who own it. I talk to them. I like to read people and what they do, as much as what they say.”
Garcia thinks the owners react to seeing the changes the way they do because for them, there’s an emotional attachment. “You can pick up messages,” she mused. “Many owners don’t know how to tell you what they envision, but they can tell you how they feel.”
She explained that her design approach is about what they want versus what they need. “It’s tricky,” she acknowledged. “Owners can be very forest for the trees, they see the hotel every day. Change can be daunting.”
And Garcia is the first to admit she’s not at the top of the food chain. “The guests come first … then the owners, then Anthony and then me!”
Sheet: How was working with Tim [Flynn]?
Garcia: “He was great. I interviewed a few contractors and he was very gung ho, very excited about the town, very into what the show would do for Mammoth Lakes. He drove me around and showed me the lumber store, paint store, furniture stores, introduced me to people.”
As with all of her projects, there are challenges. Remote locations make it difficult to get to stores. For example, a project in Hawaii ended up costing more than the budget allowed, and in Jamaica the hitch was getting things through customs in a timely manner. Mammoth, by comparison, wasn’t so bad … her only observation was that store hours could have been longer, given the round-the-clock production.
Garcia said the experience might also lead to another design job in Mammoth Lakes, which she’s looking forward to. “[Hotel Impossible] is such a unique show, that creates really positive change.”
The Anthony factor
For his part, Melchiorri, while the build was happening, took the family to one side and worked with them. I won’t tell you what transpired specifically during that time; you’ll have to watch the episode to find that out. But, he did tell me what it’s like consulting with owners, the Alpenhof’s Schaubmayer family, specifically.
“It’s like coaching kids,” he assessed. “Every kid needs something, even the star athlete needs pushing. Being in a top ski town, this hotel is in the major leagues, it’s an All-Star. The operation was built 40 years ago, and Robert Sr. wants things to be done the way he wants it. That’s only natural, but he also has to feel secure handing it off to his kids, Kirk and Stacy, Robert Jr. and Heather.
“You have to take the time to sit with him and say, ‘What you’re doing works, but you have to do it a different way.’ You don’t demand; you have to explain ‘why.’”
Did he win Robert Sr. over? “I think so,” Kirk replied. “What he’s doing for our family has been wonderful.” That, Kirk added, also spills over into Mammoth in general. “The exposure for the town is going to be fantastic. Anthony is really pumped on Mammoth.”
On a personal note, Kirk praised Melchiorri as insightful. “His advice went miles deep. Anthony hit it right on the money. He made a huge impact. He really got our family and what we’re trying to do. He’s also a family man himself, and responded to that part as well. It meant something to him.”
“To have experts the caliber of Blanche and Anthony come out and help us with what to do and what not to do was awesome,” Robert Jr. added. “Anthony is an incredible person. He wanted to make sure dad was okay with going on vacation and not worrying about us, that he knew Kirk, Stacy, Heather and I could do this. Anthony provided us with the tools to succeed. He got into what’s happening with us as a family business.”
Look for the episode to air sometime this spring on the Travel Channel.