By Karen Billing
Blending tradition with upscale upgrades is a challenge the new ownership and management team at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is taking head on. The beginning of September marked the start of renovations for the historic hotel, which was purchased by JMI Realty in April.
The new ownership group, including local residents John Kratzer and John Moores, is passionate about preserving The Inn as a true community asset and they look to create a hub of activity for residents, enhance traditions and bring a whole new set of visitors in to experience Rancho Santa Fe.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for both the new ownership group and the community,” said General Manager Gordon MacMitchell. “The ownership is injecting $12 million to bring luster back to the property, not taking away any of the historical integrity but adding so much more to it.”
MacMitchell said the property has such “great bones” that the real focus is on taking time to improve the interiors of the guest rooms — the front bungalows will carry a “starlit nostalgia” while the rest of the resort will have a perfect “country elegance.”
“Every single aspect of the property is being touched,” said Pamela Devaney of The Inn’s public relations team Resonate PR.
Construction work has already quietly begun at The Inn inside the Honeysuckle and Azalea suites and model rooms should be completed in about eight weeks.
The renovation will also come with a spa, a resource that The Inn has never had before, with five to six treatment rooms. Devaney said that the spa will offer unique treatments and they have their eye on a spa director who will be a perfect fit for the community.
The pool area will be refreshed and the front entrance made more of an arrival experience. There will be valet parking and the Art Jury has recommended and approved the removal of two trees near the front of the lawn to recreate that historic view from the front of The Inn through Paseo Delicias.
“What started as this 1924 12-room guesthouse to where it’s going to be in 12 months is very exciting,” Devaney said.
Most of the major construction work, such as on the lawn, entrance and spa, will likely take place in January or early February, but management doesn’t see it as being an inconvenience or disruption to the guests. The Inn’s layout of separate buildings means that they won’t have to close for multiple months for its renovation and they hope to have all renovations complete by June 2013.
Where people will notice the most change the quickest is likely at the restaurant.
The front terrace, dotted with outdoor tables for some very scenic dining, will be completely refreshed and the current garden room will become a part of the new restaurant, enhancing the indoor/outdoor feel.
Where the restaurant is located now will be transformed into private dining and a small meeting space. The footprint of the bar will remain the same, but it will be opened up to more of a living room environment, visible when you walk through the front lobby rather than tucked into a corner.
The Inn has scored the “talented, young, hip, cool” new executive chef Todd Allison, most recently of Anthology downtown whose resume also includes The Phoenician Resort and Spa, St. Regis Monarch Beach, Bollinger’s in Laguna Beach and Checkers in Los Angeles.
“We’re really lucky to have Todd here,” MacMitchell said.
Allison specializes in sustainable, locally raised and organic products.
“I’m really excited because they’re building me a garden,” Allison said. “A lot of places say they are ‘farm to table’ and we are really striving for that here.”
Allison will infuse his own tastes into the menu but will be mindful that regulars don’t want to see a complete departure from their favorites.
As an example, the Royce Salad, named for one The Inn’s original owners, will remain on the menu.
It’s possibly the Ranch’s most famous salad (lettuce, avocado, bacon, Parmesan and Ranch dressing with the choice of chicken, shrimp or salmon) and Allison said it’s part of the tradition of The Inn and he will just put a little twist on it.
The restaurant will host Monday through Thursday evening specials starting on Oct. 1. Mondays will be an opportunity for patrons to bring their own bottle of wine with a waived corkage fee; Thursdays will be chef’s tasting nights; and Wednesdays will be family-style dining.
“We want to reintroduce The Inn of Rancho Santa Fe to people who moved here with young children and maybe didn’t have a reason to come here,” Devaney said of the family night concept. “We want to change that.”
Allison was rushing off to design meetings last week as the interior concepts, name and menu are all still in progress.
“It’s always exciting to be a part of a new restaurant and a new concept,” Allison said. “It will be a brand new restaurant in four to five months.”
Landscape plans are also in the works for The Inn’s historic lawn — the lawn will be restored to its original look of pristine, green grass. Rob Stirling, director of sales and marketing and most recently from the Grand Del Mar, thinks the lawn will be the perfect spot for croquet and champagne events.
The east side of the lawn facing the village has a slope to it currently and Devaney said the hope is to smooth out the grade so it will be more amenable for outside events.
“One of the things that is most important to the management and ownership team is to be a great community partner, ” Stirling said. “Obviously there’s going to be some changes with repositioning and renovation, but the idea is to really embrace the history and culture of what The Inn represents to the community of Rancho Santa Fe.”
Some elements already added like a fire pit on the front terrace and Adirondack chairs beneath the trees on the lawn are already being heavily used. Devaney said people enjoy having those little pockets for spending quiet reflection time, reading, visiting or sipping a glass of wine and they hope to create more spaces like that around the property.
Also in the works is an outdoor equestrian ride-up. As The Inn bellies right up to the Rancho Santa Fe trail system, people will be able to call or text The Inn from horseback and have a picnic brought to them to enjoy in the grove. Devaney also sees the new grove as a perfect locale for private functions like wedding rehearsal dinners.
Stirling hopes to increase the exposure of Rancho Santa Fe, bring in corporate retreats and board meetings, encourage guests to dine at village restaurants and develop a new partnership with the Rancho Santa Fe Golf and Tennis Clubs for guest access.
“The recreation component is really important to us,” Stirling said of the assets of the golf course and tennis courts nearby as well as the “phenomenal” trail system.
They hope to have sunrise yoga on the lawn and maybe bring in a croquet pro for lessons or games.
“We want to do fun things like that,” Stirling said. “We want The Inn to have some energy and some vibe, but also be respectful of its history. We hope to achieve that balance.”
As the nearby Rancho Valencia Resort is ready to unveil its new renovated grounds, the team at The Inn sees it as a positive.
“To have another great hotel in the area, we’re thrilled because it helps the destination,” Stirling said. “We hope that they hit it out of the ballpark. The more they benefit the more the community benefits.”
For more information on The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, visit www.theinnatrsf.com.