Gateway Lodge, located in the heart of Cook Forest, has been a fixture in the park area since 1934. Its original design was meant to harmonize with the Forest, and by all standards it has succeeded and maintained that harmony over the decades. The Lodge is constructed of pine and hemlock logs, with genuine wormy chestnut walls and trim and solid oak flooring. Gateway has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Best Inns in the United States, and earned Money Magazine’s Top Travel Pick.
Gateway Lodge Resort, Spa, Bed & Breakfast
Innkeeper Deb Adams took a few minutes out of her very hectic schedule to talk about Gateway Lodge and share her experiences as a business owner in Cook Forest.
Q: Deb, you’re (relatively) new to the area How did you end up becoming the Innkeeper of Gateway Lodge?
A: Well, I don’t really feel new to the area – I have been coming to the Gateway for over 20 years. I fell in love with the area, and it’s really always been a long-term goal of mine to have a business in the Forest. When I found out the Gateway was for sale, the idea crossed my mind immediately. But to be honest, I hesitated because of the size of the property, thinking about all the responsibility that taking on such a great establishment would require. But in my heart, I knew it really was my “next step” – that I needed to take a leap of faith and see what God had in store for me and for this property.
Q: A lot of people would be nervous about a “leap of faith” like that…
A: I think my father probably helped lay the groundwork for that. He created such a love of the Forest in my heart. I grew up in Johnstown, and my dad worked for the railroad that supplied Bethlehem Steel. He was laid off as much as he worked during the sixties and seventies, and was an avid hunter and fisherman. In fact, I grew up on wild game – I never even had beef until I was 16, believe it or not. My time with my Dad was spent in the woods, picking blackberries or mushrooms, sometimes just sitting on a rock listening to the katydids. So looking back on it, maybe it’s not such a stretch that I’d find myself here.
If I could backtrack on one thing – You’ve used the term “Inkeeper.” I have to say, I see myself more as a “caretaker” of the property while at the same time trying to improve on the great things it already has to offer.
Q: That’s a good term, “caretaker” – I’ve always thought that one of the things a place with a real “character” must take care to preserve are all the great stories associated with it.
A: Oh, absolutely! There are so many. One of my favorite stories was told to me by “Judge” Alexander. If you know Judge, you know he’s got a million tales, some taller than others. Judge told us how during the early years of the Lodge when he was a teenager, he knocked on the front door to ask permission to escort one of the young ladies working at the Lodge to a social event. He said all the young men in the Forest waited every summer for the arrival of the pretty new recruits from Cleveland. The population of the forest was pretty sparse then, so it was necessary to hire from outside the area to staff the Inn.
Q: Are visitors sensitive to change? You have people, families, that have been returning for generations. Are they looking for Gateway to be a constant in their lives, from a sentimental standpoint?
A: They are, to a degree. We love the fact that Gateway holds many special memories for those who have visited over the years. That makes it very important for me to be sensitive to those memories with any improvements we make. But we think the improvements over the years have been embraced, and we’ve kept the same sense of history and character as previous owners.
Q: Tell us about some of those updates.
A: In 2000 a brand new addition was introduced. This addition has 22 fireside jacuzzi suites. Definitely very luxurious accommodations for those wanting to spoil themselves for a few days. More recently, there’s the Great Room, which is a common area with a huge stone fireplace and cathedral ceiling, lit by a beautiful antler chandelier.
Q: We’ve seen it – it’s gorgeous…
A: Thanks. We also recently added a billiards rooms with a “must see” pool table, constructed out of juniper and brought in from the UP in Michigan. This winter, or maybe next winter, we’ll be putting in a state of the art theater and multimedia room. Business meetings and retreats are very popular here at the inn, and we want to take care of those customers too.
Q: We haven’t even talked about the restaurant yet. I remember years ago, this is where I brought my date for the prom.
A: The restaurant is definitely for everybody – we have patrons ranging from retired couples celebrating their anniversaries to prom guests, as you say. I do believe there is a misconception that it is for just for Inn guests. If I can plug the restaurant a minute: We are open every day for Breakfast and Dinner. Breakfast is from 7:30 11 am, dinner from 5 to 9 pm.
The atmosphere is extraordinary, and even though it’s a “fine dining” experience, the casual dress of the Forest is welcome. It probably reflect my personality a little – when I lived in Mercer for the past 20 years, friends knew they could just kind of stop by for dinner. My door was open. So although reservations are recommended, you can feel comfortable stopping by and we’ll almost always find you a place at our tables.
Q: What kind of a staff does it take to make a place like this tick? Seems like it’d be a great reality show – the crew of Gateway Lodge, interacting with the guests, working hard…
A: The first thing to know about our staff is that the words “that’s not my job” are not spoken here. They must all be supportive of each other, willing to help wherever needed. These are people who work very hard, but it’s also true our fun factor is off the charts, too! One of my favorite sounds is the laughter of my co-workers, which seems to fill the hall here at the lodge. And everyday we have an honest-to-goodness family meal together.
Q: No kidding? That’s awesome…are you hiring? Where do I sign up?
A: Ha ha…We’ll talk later. I don’t want to downplay the hard work, though. The maintenance aspect of this business is huge, from operating our own sewage plant to maintaining our diesel engine that operates the generator. In the winter, I’ve plowed and ashed driveways, and in the spring and summer done a ton of planting. I do have a maintenance manager that sets a daily routine for the department. There’s so much – the lodge, the cabins, the conference center, snow removal, planting, the restaurant, the rooms. Lots of things to take care of. But it’s all so our guests can feel right at home and enjoy themselves.
Q: Do you ever just kick back, when the chores of the day and night are done, and enjoy the Lodge yourself? Relax a little, and feel at home the same way your guests do?
A: Honestly, for a while after starting out, I didn’t. There was just so much to do, learning how all the different processes here worked, creating some new ways of doing things, meeting people, even meeting other business owners in the area. But yes, I am now finding some time to appreciate what I’ve got here a little more – walk outside and look out over the River and enjoy the Forest, have a glass of wine, spend time laughing with friends, eating together. It’s been a great, great experience and I love it, I really do. I feel blessed.
Q: Thanks for your time, Deb.
A: You’re quite welcome, thank you!