Closed after an unexpected dousing and severe damage from a burst water pipe in May, Kirkland’s and its are shored up, shined up and open for business.
Staff, working busily to get thing ready for more than a week, are eager and overjoyed. Guest rooms at the hotel and the restaurant reopened Friday at noon.
“It’s been terrible being closed in summer,” said Trellis hostess J.L. Haman. “But we’re going to be back full course!”
Added Heathman General Manager Les Utley, who to the dismay of many in Kirkland departs almost immediately after Friday’s reopening for a new job as GM at a San Antonio hotel: “We’re ready to rock ‘n roll. We have 50 to 60 guest rooms booked, bookings for August and September are on pace for a normal August and September, and October is looking great.”
But it’s been a long, hard road for the Heathman, Trellis and staff since the sudden closure at the beginning of the peak season.
“It was incredibly hard emotionally for everybody, from the owners down to staff, to have something like that happen so suddenly,” said Utley. “It’s kind of bittersweet for me to be leaving now. I would have preferred leaving in a normal business situation instead of the disaster this was.”
As, the water line break caused extensive damage to the hotel’s first floor, including Trellis and the Penterra spa, as well as the floor below, which hosts the hotel ballroom. One major change is that the spa will not reopen. The space it took will be filled by a new meeting and intimate dining rooms.
But it was a calamity with a silver lining. The hotel’s British owners, who prefer to maintain a low profile, took the opportunity to make needed repairs and remodeling. They include a new, expanded fitness center, the new meeting space for luncheons and corporate functions, and the intimate dining room with an adjoining larger event space. Those will all open later this month.
Remarkably, although a small number of staff left for other opportunities as usual, the core of the Heathman/Trellis crew remains intact; no one was laid off through the two-month closure.
“Almost every single one of our staff is returning to work. We didn’t lose any staff,” said Utley. “Everybody is real eager to get back in the game.”
There were other rewards to the closure as well. Award-winning took the time to upgrade the kitchen and focus on the restaurant’s farm in the Sammamish Valley.
“We were graciously offered the use of the kitchens at —which is a great organization in the valley,” he said. “We’ve been there processing, freezing and making our relishes. We were able to put product away. We deep-cleaned all of our equipment here. We’ve got great new equipment in the pastry room. Everyone is biting at the bullet to get back.”
The crew also discovered how much Kirkland residents value the hotel and restaurant. “I can’t go anywhere in town without someone saying ‘when are you going to reopen, we love you, we miss you!’ said Scheesher.
As for Utley, GM of the Heathman since it opened at 220 Kirkland Avenue downtown in 2007 and active with the Chamber of Commerce and the affiliated Kirkland Downtown Association, he’s moving on to greener pastures.
An Ohio native who has been in hotel management all over the United States, Utley is returning to San Antonio to manage Benchmark Hospitality’s 265-room Hotel Contessa.
“I managed a hotel in San Antonio, the Fairmont Hotel, and I absolutely fell in love with that part of Texas. It’s a place where I felt really grounded,” said Utley. “Most people want to go around the world or something. But I want to build a ranch in San Antonio.”
Utley waited to close this door on his career until he and the staff would get the doors reopen at the Heathman and Trellis.
“I have a deep sense of responsibility to the Heathman in helping push this to the finish line,” he said. “The culture of the Heathman will continue. The ownership is committed to the hotel and to Kirkland.”