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Peaks of Otter Lodge reopens

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By John Barnhart

    The Peaks of Otter Lodge is open again after being closed for six months. The restaurant began serving meals on July 15.

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    “The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Marcus Story, the Lodge’s interim manager. “They are just happy to see the Lodge open.”
    Story is serving as interim manager while Delaware North Companies, the firm that has a 10-year contract to operate the Lodge, looks for a permanent manager. Story, who has a master’s degree in recreation administration and hotel management from California State University at Long Beach, is in charge of customer satisfaction and quality assurance for the entire company. Right now, his temporary job is to get the Lodge up and running.
    Story said Delaware North has  lot of experience working with the National Park Service (NPS). The company either owns or operates the concessions at a number of National Park sites, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Yellowstone.
    “The National Park Service has been a great partner of ours,” he said.
    Story said the 10-year contract Delaware North has to operate the Lodge is a standard NPS contract.
    He said that the company got the keys to the building, from the National Park Service, three weeks ago and is currently in a soft-opening phase. Currently the goal is building the level of customer service that the company wants to have in place. The plan was to get the Lodge open quickly and renovate along the way.
    “There are going to be some kinks,” he said.
    One of the challenges to a fast opening was the fact that the building had been neglected during the six months that the Lodge was closed. Story said there was a lot of work to do, and the company wanted to open quickly because of the high level of community support that the Lodge has.
    The Lodge has 72 seasonal employees, most of whom previously worked there.
    “We tried to hire as many previous employees as we could,” he said.
    “Calvin’s back,” he added. “Calvin [Rice] is our new guest ambassador.”
    Rice has worked for various concession operators on this part of the Blue Ridge Parkway for nearly 60 years and is noted for a phenomenal memory for guests’ faces and names.
    The gift shop has had a facelift and is stocked with new products. Most of these are made in Virginia, part of Delaware North’s philosophy of “buy local” as much as possible. The restaurant serves Virginia wines and Story said that the company wants to locally purchase as much of the bulk fresh food as possible.
    The company is putting TVs with DirecTV in all rooms and expects to have this done in August. Story also expects to have WiFi in all rooms by that time. Each room has a Keurig coffee maker so that guests can brew gourmet coffee in each room.
    Each shower has a bulk soap dispenser. Story said that using bulk soap dispensers, instead of bar soap, reduces waste. The Lodge also has a recycling program.
    Story said that there is a cross-promotion deal with Big Meadows Lodge, another concession that Delaware North operates in Shenandoah National Park. People who stay at either Lodge will get a discount at the other.
    “We are thrilled they are open again,” commented Sergei Troubetzkoy, the county’s director of tourism, about the Lodge reopening.
    Troubetzkoy said that the Bedford area gets a lot of tourists from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Having the Lodge back in business is important because, the longer tourists stay here, the better it is economically for the area. The timing is also good. He said the second half of the year is always the area’s busiest time for tourism.
    He’s been at the Lodge’s restaurant a couple of times since it reopened and has been pleased with what he saw.
    “Every time I’ve been up there, they have been very busy,” Troubetzkoy said, “So that’s a good sign.”