Making Accommodations

Luxury lodging is their specialty

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

garrett_hotel0819Christie Garrett, president, and David Garrett, chairman and CEO, the founders of Garrett Hotel Consultants in Charlotte, have been the spark behind a group of luxury boutique hotels across the country, including Lake Placid Lodge. Their dog, Lexie, greets everyone who visits.

Back in 1985, David Garrett was chatting with the owner of The Point, an elegant, small hotel in the Adirondacks. David and his wife, Christie, had stayed at The Point every year since 1980, when an article in Forbes magazine had led them to celebrate their wedding anniversary there.

“The owner told me he was going to move to London,” says David, “and I asked him, ‘What are you going to do with The Point?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to sell it,’ and I said, ‘I’ll buy it.’”

David, then in the investment business, put together a business plan and a group of Burlington investors and bought The Point. “My accountant, Mike Flynn, said, ‘You’re out of your mind. How are you going to make a little money for a little B&B?’ I said, ‘I’m a Wall Street guy, it’s just how much you charge for a room.’”

The seeds of their Charlotte business, Garrett Hotel Consultants, were planted, and would grow to encompass a garden of luxury boutique hotels around the country, including Lake Placid Lodge. David had an ace in the hole by the name of Christie Garrett.

She had completed her independent design major in landscape design at the University of Vermont in 1977 and worked in landscape design in Boston, later joining The Office of Dan Kiley, the country’s leading landscape architect, who also called Charlotte home. She handles design, she says, “and all the little touches that make that possible — everything but food, but within the room and the hotel.”

garret-caitrin0819Caitrin Garrett, the youngest of the Garretts’ three daughters, is chief operating officer.

David is chairman and CEO, Christie is president, and working with them as chief operating officer is the youngest of their three daughters, Caitrin.

Caitrin’s well-equipped to handle things. Her first job, in 1994 at age 15, was in the pastry department at Lake Placid Lodge, the Garretts’ next venture. During college, she had summer jobs in Ireland and South Africa, and following graduation from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, began “real work,” she says, at the Four Seasons Washington, D.C.; the George V in Paris; and the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan, in management capacities.

Christie hails from Minneapolis, the daughter of a newspaper editor and a ceramic artist. She was 20 when she and David met in New York, where she was working as a flight attendant for TWA. “I loved New York,” she says, “and I came to love David, too.”

David is a native of Westchester, New York, where his dad, an entrepreneur, was in the printing business. He also graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, in 1966, with a major in business administration and a minor in economics.

They married and moved to Paris, where they lived for a year. David was teaching English at Berlitz, but after Erin, their first daughter, was born, Paris became an expensive place to live, he says, and they decided to come home to New York. It was 1969.

David worked for his father for a while, but didn’t enjoy working in the City and began looking at other jobs. He and Christie were returning from Montreal, where David had interviewed for a job, and stopped in Burlington to see an old friend of his. They found they really liked the place, he says. “I looked in the phone book, and lo and behold, they had investment firms in Burlington.”

He accepted an offer from Walston & Co., then one the country’s largest stock brokerages. Two years later, he was recruited by Moseley, a Boston-based firm, to be general manager. “I found out that was a real forte of mine, the investment business and management of investments.” Several promotions later, he was working in Cambridge, Massachusetts, overseeing 10 to 12 company branches.

By then, their second daughter, Moriah, had come along. They moved to London — “A working sabbatical,” David calls it — where he oversaw the company’s European branches. They returned to Burlington after a year, seesawed back and forth for a period, says Christie, “then we moved back to Charlotte in 1983, and we’ve been here ever since.” One of the reasons they found Burlington so attractive, she says, was that, the year before they married, David had bought land in the Adirondacks where he built, by hand, a log cabin. “So he was very motivated to be close by to finish it,” she says.

After buying The Point, David continued in the investment business, founding in 1986, with John Sortino, the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. David put the investment team together, and six years later, created the plan to take it public. The Point, though, became his passion.

In 1987, he cut a deal with Albert Roux, “the world’s most famous chef at the time — the former queen’s chef — the one who started the culinary explosion in England,” he says. “I learned very quickly that food was a major component to making The Point successful.” As executive chef, Roux never worked at The Point, but would alternate his best chefs between Le Gavroche in Paris and The Point — “chefs who might like living in the wilderness,” quips Christie.

David’s interest in the hotel business grew, and after five or six years, he decided to leave the investment business to focus on the hotel industry. He had founded Black Willow Investment Co., and Fred Marks, his investment partner, took on Vermont Teddy Bear, and David took over the work on The Point. In the early ’90s, Zagat rated it the Number 1 resort in the United States, “a rating it maintained for at least a decade,” says David. “This helped us raise our rates.”

He began looking for other property to invest in, and Placid Manor in Lake Placid piqued his interest. “It was a dump,” he says, “but had a fabulous location.” When the Realtor called to announce that the price had plummeted, he and Christie decided to do another hotel. “So we bought this, put a lot of time and money in, and very quickly turned that into a phenomenal operation, the Lake Placid Lodge.”

It was 1994, and Christie decided to leave her work with Dan Kiley and go full time with what they then called Garrett Hotel Group. A plus, she says, was that “the Lodge was on Lake Placid, where most of the other hotels there are on Mirror Lake.”

Lake Placid Lodge was a great success, and the Garretts began looking at other hotels. “We did a couple of other ones, one down south, out west, were in the process of developing Castle Hot Springs in Arizona, then did Twin Farms in Barnard, our first real all-in consulting job,” says David. “We ended up hiring architects, landscapers — Tom Cullins, Dan Kiley — local people as much as we possibly could.”

John Graham, managing director of Twin Farms, got to know the Garretts well in the years he worked for them running The Point and Lake Placid Lodge. “David was the epitome of a visionary,” he says. “That always amazed me. And David and Christie Garrett define the concept of generosity and spirit.”

Things went well until 2005, when the main lodge at Lake Placid was destroyed by a “spectacular fire,” says David. “We decided to really make a statement and build a world-class hotel there. Two days after the fire, we sat down with architects to decide what was coming next. We put about $40 million into that hotel.”

The company took advantage of an opportunity to sell Castle Hot Springs for what he calls “a very handsome return.” Then The Point was sold to the same buyer, also for a handsome return. “I think the stock market started down the day after we sold,” he says.

Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the Lake Placid–based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, remembers those years fondly. “David had a certain vision,” he says. “The Lodge, when David and his wife took it over, was an old, dated facility, but what happened in the years they were engaged was, it had an influence on changing the market of Lake Placid to a certain extent. They positioned it as more of an upscale lodging facility and showed the success that could happen by going to the upper end of the lodging market.”

When the Great Recession hit, the Garretts continued to sell off their properties, but after they opened the renovated Lodge in December 2008, “there wasn’t a customer in the hotel for the next six months,” says David. “We didn’t need much money to keep it going, but nobody would invest in anything, and banks wanted money back right away. So we gave it to them. After that, we kind of retired, I guess.”

That didn’t last long. Bored and needing income, the Garretts decided to take their knowledge of the boutique hotel business, close Garrett Hotel Group, and launch Garrett Hotel Consultants.

“We started real small,” says David. “Then somebody calls us up one day from Baltimore and asks if we might look into a property down there — a wonderful family wanting to save a historic building.”

The family retained the Garretts, who turned their old mansion into an 18-room, world-class boutique hotel, The Ivy, and a restaurant called Magdalena, which opened the summer of 2015.

The hotel was accepted into Relais & Chateaux a few months after opening, and included in Travel & Leisure’s “Best Hotels on the Planet” and Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List for 2017 and 2018. TripAdvisor now rates it the sixth most luxurious hotel in the United States, “and Number 1 in Maryland,” Christie adds.

The Garretts have a management contract with The Ivy, and their daughter Moriah’s husband, Rob Arthur, is its general manager. Moriah oversees social media for the company, and her sister Erin, in Boston, writes all the marketing pieces.

Three other projects are in the wings, all village-related, leading David to muse that they seem to be accidentally growing into more of a community-advisory capacity. “Lots of places around the country are largely dead,” he says, “and most of them have small hotels that are old or closed.” The hope is to create a resurgence similar to what happened over around The Point and the Lodge.” They’ve had inquiries about projects in Portugal, Germany, Mexico, Belize, Qatar, “all over the world, but we’re kind of selective.”

Except for family members, all participants are brought in when needed for a project, which usually begins with a charette for planning, held in the Garretts’ office in a converted barn on their 15-acre Charlotte farm. It’s furnished with magnificent rustic furniture pieces David has crafted from local trees and corks — his second business, which he markets online at Corkiture.com and on Etsy, Pinterest, and other sites.

Christie grows beautiful gardens on the property, and Caitrin enjoys reading, cooking, and gardening.

When they can, the family takes time to visit the log cabin David built in the Adirondacks 50 years ago. “The family convened, all 13 of us, last September to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its beginning,” says Christie.

Fitting, considering that it was an anniversary celebration that started this whole journey. •