Crystal Springs Resort Reopens for Outdoor Dining and More

A $7-million renovation, financed last year, was completed during this year's Covid-19 shutdown.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Springs

The Grand Cascades Lodge, the central facility of the sprawling Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, Sussex County, reopened on Monday after a four-month, $7-million renovation. “Where the rooms and the hallways were dark before, now they are the opposite,” says Robby Younes, the chief operating officer.

In addition to redesigning and refurnishing the lodge’s 255 rooms, all of them suites, the resort also adapted its two outdoor restaurants to socially-distanced table spacing, Younes says. (Find out more about the resort’s current outdoor dining experiences here.) Restaurant Latour, the NJM Top 30 fine-dining destination, which doesn’t have outdoor seating, has not reopened.

“Outdoors we have a lot of space and also an amphitheater, so we can spread people out. As of next week, customers can order food from their cellphones. Around the resort we added more than 350 lounge chairs, so you can pick up your food and, if you don’t want to sit in the restaurant area, you can dine anywhere. It’s like a big park.” One million dollars of the total was spent on landscaping and outdoor improvements.

While Younes, 39, did not see Covid-19 coming, he did see the need to renovate the lodge and its surroundings. Last year, he says, he secured $7-million in funding to be spent this year. When Covid-19 took hold in March, he shut down the entire resort.

Had the pandemic not come along, he says, “we would have shut down one wing of the lodge at a time. The renovations would have taken 10 months. There would have been noise, closing of some facilities indoors and outdoors, upset guests. The pandemic has been terrible. But because we were shut down we were able to complete the project in four months.

“It was more expensive to do it this way,” he added, “because we had to pay above what they were getting on unemployment.” In addition, he said the resort gave each of the 38 workers their own room to live in and provided meals. “They worked in masks and gloves in small teams, and each team was kept separate, not interacting with the other teams. We didn’t allow any outsiders in, and we kept everyone safe and healthy.”

The project manager was Monica McGuire, an interior designer and owner of Designs by Monica in nearby Vernon. “She stayed in the hotel for three months and did a phenomenal job as a project manager,” Younes says. “Without her it could not have been done.”

For McGuire, the project began with the planning stages two years ago. “The architecture of the hotel makes it challenging,” she says, “because the building is curved, the hallways are curved and the walls are curved. There are 11 different types of rooms. It’s not like one room repeated 260 times.

“I hadn’t managed a project this big before. But my thing is, you take a big project and break it into little pieces. And I had great people working with me.

“It was very scary because all around us, everybody was shutting down. Even getting materials was an ordeal. Even from Amazon. Like getting the right glue to fasten the stone table tops to the bases, or the right hardware to mount art on the walls. We said, ‘Well, we’ll go to Home Depot.’ But Home Depot only had so much, not as much as we needed. Even the painter getting deliveries of paint. We couldn’t get 50 rooms worth at a clip. We had to settle for what we could get.

The need to keep each team separate, around the clock, for Covid-19 safety, made the project “like a game of chess,” McGuire says. “I had painters, carpet installers, electricians, another team that installed stone and shower glass, another that did unpacking and assembly of furniture and took it to rooms. Then we had to stage [arrange and decorate] the rooms. Since the elevator was shared, it was sanitized after every use. All different types of talent came together to accomplish this goal. And we still have more rooms to finish.”

On the bright side, “we all got into shape, because with just one elevator we’re taking the stairs and we’re doing fifteen to twenty thousand steps a day.”

McGuire, who moved back home in early June, says she lived in the hotel 12 weeks. “There was nothing else to do, so we worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I’ve been in this line of work for 20 years. I started in residential, then managing different hotel projects at Crystal Springs, and then this. It’s something I will never forget for the rest of my life.”

Younes says he is optimistic that when indoor dining finally resumes, possibly in the latter half of July, “the public will come. They cannot wait anymore to live their lives. They want to go out, enjoy dining. I have heard from 20 or 30 families and couples who are counting the hours to when they can dine, inside or outside, and these are not careless individuals.”

Before the lodge reopened, the resort’s six golf courses did. “Golf has been a superstar for us,” Younes says. “We did 1400 rounds in two days, Saturday and Sunday, the 13th and 14th of June.”

Early this month, before the lodge reopened, Crystal Springs put up a tent and a big barbecue smoker just outside the lodge. “In about three days,” he said, “we sold $57,000 of barbecued meat to go.”

The spa at Grand Cascades will open June 25.

Younes says he is optimistic that when indoor dining finally resumes, possibly in the latter half of July, “the public will come. They cannot wait anymore to live their lives. They want to go out, enjoy dining. I have heard from 20 or 30 families and couples who are counting the hours to when they can dine, inside or outside, and these are not careless individuals.”

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