Sev Jones and Christina Dingman are looking on the bright side, but a pandemic is a worrisome time to have stepped into the role of hoteliers in a small town.
The Spokane-area partners — in business and in life, they quipped — purchased Dayton’s Weinhard Hotel on March 16, one week before Gov. Jay Inslee handed down his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
“This coronavirus timing has been a challenge, but it has also given us an opportunity to delay our opening a bit and dive into renovations,” Jones said.
They’re aiming for a May 23 reopening for the 15-room Main Street accommodations.
“We’re following the governor’s guidelines, and we’ve been working with the local health district,” Jones said. “Right now, we could be open, as a hotel. But we don’t want to rush it. We want to make sure we have developed really clear protocols for a safe and clean environment for guests and staff.”
For Shellie and Gary McLeod, the sale of the 10,000-square-foot, two-story, 1890 building was a bittersweet relief.
The McLeods owned the Weinhard Hotel for over a decade, but it had been on the market for about three years. Three previous near-sells fell through last minute, which was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Dayton couple over the years.
They bought the building from Dan and Ginny Butler in 2008, just as the Great Recession hit. Operating the business as a full-time job for both of them, the McLeods grew close to the community as they organized events and welcomed coffee clubs from the lobby to the rooftop garden.
And their four-person staff — two in housekeeping and two running the coffee shop and checking in guests — became like family, Shellie McLeod said. The entire team has been retained by the new owners, Dingman confirmed.
“Depending on volume, we might even have to hire another employee,” she said. The addition would be one she and Jones welcome, she added.
“It is important to both of us that we have an opportunity to invest in the Dayton community, to add value to the community,” he said.
Jones grew up in Western Washington and moved to Spokane about 12 years ago. He is director of planning and development for Northern Quest Resort and Casino. He will help behind the scenes at the Weinhard Hotel, but it will be Dingman on-site during the week.
“I have experience in customer relations, food handling — in fact, I have a bachelor’s in nutrition — and I’ve worked in hospitality a lot in my career,” she said.
Before the pandemic shutdowns, Dingman was an event coordinator for a movie and restaurant business in Airway Heights, near Spokane. Now she’ll work full-time during the week at the hotel.
Right now, the two are focused on preparing the hotel for its reopening. Immediate upgrades include some new furniture for the lobby; modifications to the rooftop garden’s flooring, railing and lighting systems; some modern touches to the rooms with updated, wall-mounted TVs, sleep-aid machines and bedside amenities; and guest enhancements, such as robes.
They’re looking for ways to add at least one king-sized bed, which is challenging since the rooms all have antique furniture, and king-sized beds didn’t exist historically, they said.
Other changes will likely happen in phases. Location-specific themes for rooms will be coming, such as a recreation theme for guests staying as part of their trip to the Bluewood ski resort. And eventually, high-end bathroom renovations are on the project list, to include walk-in showers, for example.
“We are certainly going to honor and maintain the history and integrity of the history of the property,” Jones said. “Although we’re going to add to it, we’re not going to lose the identity of the place.”
The building’s history is what drew Jones, and later Dingman, to the downtown spot originally. He stayed at the Weinhard Hotel about 10 years ago, and since then it’s been in the back of his mind, he said.
“It’s a unique property,” he said. “It left an impression. I remember renting the hotels’ two-person bike, staying in a room with a view onto the rooftop garden.”
Jones was also intrigued by the story of the Weinhard Hotel, including its connection with the empire-building Weinhard beer family. Dayton developer Jacob Weinhard, who lost several businesses in town to fire and finally erected the structure at 235 E. Main St. in 1890 as a meeting house and saloon, was nephew to the famous Seattle brew master Henry Weinhard.
Now Jones and Dingman hope to create a place that will attract like-minded visitors to the Dayton community. They hope the small size of the hotel allows them to get to know their guests and provide a more individualized experience.
They want to install new signs, put in electric vehicle charging stations and be as sustainable and as environmentally conscientious as possible. And they want to recreate some of the memorable trips they’ve had to small hotels during their travels in Europe.
They’re planning to transform the portion of the building facing Main Street that was most-recently a coffee and gift shop into Jacob’s Public House, offering not only espresso and baked goods but also wine, beer and limited dining.
“Seasonal salads, sandwiches, charcuterie boards with things that go with wine and beer,” Dingman said, describing the fare she’s keen to provide.
This will be a flexible space that can be closed off and rented out, they said. And they’re already working with the city on plans to add an outdoor dining area along Main Street, with 15-20 spots for patrons.
“For outdoor, seasonal dining,” Jones said.
Adding a European feel to the hotel is something the new owners are also excited about.
“We just traveled in Scandinavia, and we stayed at a lot of smaller hotels and accommodations,” Jones said. “I tell you, the morning breakfasts they offered as part of the accommodations blew us out of the water. “
They hope to expand on the traditional American continental breakfast to add value to the experience of staying at the Weinhard Hotel with fresh, healthy, tasting options.
“Really going to focus on that,” he said.