By Mary Alice Murphy
The Gila Economic Development Alliance featured two business owners in the hospitality sector, with vastly different experiences.
The start-up business owner speaker was Teresa Dahl-Bredine Crosley, who owns along with her husband David Crosley, the Little Toad Creek Inn and Tavern in the Mimbres, as well as their newest addition, the Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery, which is in downtown Silver City.
"We started with zero experience and a good idea," Dahl-Bredine Crosley said. "It has been quite a learning experience. After a trip to Australia, we thought we would raise sheep. When we saw the hotel out near Lake Roberts, we bought it at a reasonable price.
"I have a degree in theater, and have worked as a bartender and in construction," Dahl-Bredine Crosley continued. "We had no experience in the hospitality industry, but with our construction experience we thought we could fix it up. The distillery license came into the state at the right time for us. We were the fourth distiller in the state when we got our license. We had no business experience, but hired people who did."
At the end of the first year, they were losing money and the whole management staff quit. "We decided we could do it ourselves, because we needed to understand every piece of the operation. We started making money, but we were exhausted. If a business is like a ship and should have a captain, we were in the hold shoveling coal. We stumbled upon a business coach in Albuquerque, that started to train us. It was exactly what we needed. He asked us to set goals for our business and for our personal life, which we didn't, at that point, have. He taught us that a successful business is one that can run without you. We started setting new goals and trying to put people and systems in place. It was scary and hard to let go, but we have to trust that we can hire the right people and not just rely on the recipe book that is in my head."
She noted that those who own a franchise business are given the recipes and the systems.
"It's been an interesting journey," Dahl-Bredine Crosley said. "We got the Lake Roberts hotel and restaurant ready, and jumped into the downtown site. We had to rethink what we wanted to do at the City Toad, as opposed to the Country Toad.
"Sam Castello is our general manager, and we are slowly putting more managers in place," she continued. "We need not to have to be in both places. As part of our system, to keep everyone working efficiently, we provide them with score cards, so they know what they should be doing when.
"It's going very well," Dahl-Bredine Crosley said. "The brewery and distillery are another business, and hopefully, we will begin distributing in about a year. We keep getting requests for our products.
"We are now in a place where we can evaluate the company as a whole," she said. "We have 32 employees."
To a question about when the business began, she said they opened the hotel and restaurant near Lake Roberts in 2012.
Bonnie Zelinko of Workforce Connections said it was really important to have the on-boarding with the score cards.
Tony Trujillo congratulated Dahl-Bredine Crosley for holding a "class act show for a Trujillo wedding. The reason we at the Gila EDA like to bring in businesses is so they can tell us their challenges."
Dahl-Bredine Crosley, to a question about the business coach, said it was happenstance with Action Coach. "It was expensive but worth it. I know there are other resources that we didn't take advantage of and I hope we will. This coach forced us to work."
Trujillo said the alliance members hear a lot about work ethic and asked Dahl-Bredine Crosley what experience they had had.
"Kitchens are tough places to find workers for," she replied, "but we always have someone begging for a job. Providing a happy work atmosphere is important. There is a lot we're still learning."
Bruce Ashburn of PNM said: "You've been successful with your growth. If I would give you advice, it's to be careful with growth in the future. When I owned the Domino's Pizza franchise here, I opened three outlets. I should never have opened the third. Make it structured, and seek our resources here, including the Small Business Development Center."
Paul Leetmae of Lawley Toyota asked why the country and city venues had different menus.
"We call them the City Toad and the Country Toad," Dahl-Bredine Crosley said. "The Country Toad has to be a destination, so people are looking for fine dining. At the City Toad, we serve drinks and good pub food. The challenge has been getting the food consistent, but I think the decision to go casual in town is good. Business has been slower in the country, and we're not sure how else to differentiate the businesses."
Ashburn suggested that on back of the tickets they put a coupon for, for instance, 10 percent off at the other location.
Scott Terry, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce president, noted that another facet of their business is catering.
"So you actually have four businesses—the distillery, the catering and the two restaurants, one with a lodge," Ashburn said.
"We're trying to buy a 10-barrel tank for the brewery," Dahl-Bredine Crosley said. "It's a good time all over the state. People want our beer."
"What are you doing marketing your other activities?" Jeremiah Garcia, Gila EDA board president, asked.
"We create special events, such as the hummingbird festival, music, a farm fest," Dahl-Bredine Crosley said. "Since downtown has been so successful, we're almost ignoring the Country Toad."
Leetmae suggested the Country Toad target motorcycle groups.
Michelle Carrillo, who would be the next to speak about the expansion at the Holiday Inn Express, of which she is general manager, noted that groups like to visit the cliff dwellings and the Country Toad is right on the route.
Gila EDA member Arlene Schadel asked what the room rate at the Country Toad is.
"We have 16 rooms, and they start at $55," Dahl-Bredine Crosley said.
Schadel commented that the couple's Facebook promotions are "awesome."
Carrillo showed a board of the colors being used in the upgrade of rooms in the Holiday Inn Express. "We have taken the rooms down to sheetrock, and we will be expanding the breakfast room. We are adding 12 rooms, an outdoor swimming pool and a fire pit. We started this endeavor in 2010 with talking with the corporate office. The Holiday Inn Express is locally owned and operated since 2003. Lanny and Jill Olson brought the hotel to Silver City. Since Lanny's death, Jill is going full force. The new colors are calming, so people feel like it's home away from home. We feel like they're coming home to us."
Assistant manager Brent Steinberg said every room would have a microwave and a small fridge. "The outdoor grills will be for the guests' use. The general contractor is from Las Cruces, but he has a lot of locals working on the project. Christine Rickman did the interior design, and Jay Hemphill photos will be throughout the rooms and in public spaces. A lot of money is coming into our county through the subcontractors."
Carrillo said about 30 percent of the rooms are down on any given day. Right now 20 rooms are down, and the others are full every night.
"The completion date, according to the contractor, is Sept. 19," Carrillo said. "We know construction is never on time, but they're getting it done."
Because corporate decided that the towers were no longer an image of the hotel, in a single day, the peak was taken off the tower and it now has a flat roof. "For our hotel, it's been the part that is visible from farther away."
Kim Clark, Realtors Association, said she feels like the hotel is a phenomenal community partner.
"Lanny taught us and Jill continues to support the community," Carrillo said.
To a question about suites, she said the hotel does not have suites, but offers rooms with double queen beds and with king beds.
Garcia asked if Jill Olson encouraged the contractor to use local workers.
"We actually did bids with local contractors," Carrillo said, "but they all had questions about enough manpower to do the massive job."
"We're survivors, because we support each other," Garcia said.
"Thank you AmBank," Carrillo said. "We love keeping the business here."
Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director, said: "I've seen it in other communities that people will want pool parties."
"Because it's a franchise, we can't have them," Carrillo said. "You have to be a guest in the hotel to use the pool."
"But we will have pool parties for the employees," Steinberg said.
Carrillo pointed out the pool is salt water, so no chlorine smell, and it is energy efficient with solar panels.
She also explained that the pool policy is for risk management. In the past, it was not unheard of for people to use hotel rooms as meth labs. "We usually don't take local residents as guests, although we have provided rooms if the Red Cross calls us and says a family's house flooded or burned down, but not in general for local residents."
"We have a conference room, which holds up to 33 individuals," Carrillo said. "It has been rented every day of the week. We will have an open house when the project is completed."
Terry said the county would be reworking the conference center to hold conventions. "Your having more rooms will be a benefit."
Carrillo said the decision had been made to add more rooms rather than an additional hotel.
Garcia asked Dahl-Bredine Crosley if they could book groups.
"Yes, we use the back space separate room a lot," Dahl-Bredine Crosley replied.
Garcia asked how many employees the Holiday Inn Express had, to which Carrillo replied 23. "We hired two more housekeepers, so they can clean up the building messes. Our main staff members have reached the five-year mark with the hotel. Our turnover has gone down."
Steinberg said the guests have not complained about the construction. "They know they will have a nicer place next time they come."
"There will be bumps, with the water going off, but people are being understanding," Carrillo said.
The rest of the article, which will consist of participant updates, will follow.