Red Lion Inn completes $1.2 million state-of-the-art kitchen renovation

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PHOTO GALLERY | Red Lion Inn Kitchen

VIDEO | A peek inside the Red Lion Inn's kitchen

STOCKBRIDGE — Just in time for the seasonal rush of patrons seeking a traditional, authentic New England dining experience, the historic 125-room Red Lion Inn has completed a $1.2 million renovation of its kitchen. It's the first upgrade of that facility in more than 50 years.

The new state-of-the-art equipment and structural improvements promise to streamline service for the nearly 60-member year-round culinary staff, said the inn's General Manager Michele Kotek during a tour of the vast, efficiently organized kitchen. The staff is augmented for the summer season.

The nearly two-month project, which required closing the popular main dining room to all but inn guests until April 21, results in an elevated experience for diners, Kotek pointed out.

"It ups our level of service because the kitchen is more user-friendly, easier for our employees; it will make a difference in their work environment," she explained.

The inn is back to serving three meals a day, seven days a week, and its popular Lions Den pub, offering nightly entertainment and a more informal menu from its separate kitchen, is open from 4:30 until after midnight weekdays, and noon to midnight on weekends.

The main dining room and adjoining Widow Bingham's Tavern has 140 seats, with 110 more in the outdoor courtyard during the summer season beginning Memorial Day weekend. Last year, the kitchen produced 145,000 meals in all, including room service and banquets, Kotek said.

The concept for the renovation originated because of structural deterioration in the bake shop section of the 120-year-old building, first established as a small tavern in 1773 and reopened in 1897 after a devastating fire the previous year leveled the original inn.

"After we noticed structural damage, we decided why just stay within the bake shop, why not expand the renovation to the entire kitchen?" Kotek said.

New flooring, ventilation, lighting and fire-retardant protection for the walls were installed.

Old tiles were replaced by heavy-duty linoleum, new pipes, drains and, in a major improvement, the floor was made level with the rest of the inn.

New walk-ins, an industrial-strength ice maker, freezer, and a mixer for baking were added, while an eco-friendly switch replaced the air-cooled system with a water-cooled setup that reduces noise, is more efficient and enables reuse of heat transfers.

"This saves on fossil fuels for our domestic boilers," said Kotek.

"We're back open, ready to serve, show off and preparing for our spring and summer season, which is looking really great," she added. Advance lodging reservations for the summer are on par with recent seasons, with the July 4 weekend and several others that month fully booked.

The Clearwater, Fla., native was promoted to general manager last year after two decades working for the Fitzpatrick family, owners of the inn, first at their Blantyre property and stepping up the career ladder to innkeeper at the Red Lion in 2006. Kotek now supervises 100 staffers year-round, more in the summer, and is in charge of the inn's rooms and housekeeping as well as food and beverage service.

A former summer resident of New Lebanon, N.Y., Kotek has been living in Lee with her husband and two children for 13 years. She was president of the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce for eight years and remains on the board, and is also on the 1Berkshire board.

She recently completed the Berkshire Leadership program offered by 1Berkshire, the countywide strategic economic alliance.

"It was a boot camp for leaders, a great experience," Kotek commented.

She has been involved in other major projects for the 82-room main inn, including new property management and phone systems as well as the $6 million south wing renovation completed in 2006. There are nine guest houses, including the $4 million acquisition of the 17-room Maple Glen at the corner of Maple Avenue and South Street (Route 7) five years ago.

The menu, created by Chef de Cuisine Adam Brassard, continues to offer traditional New England favorites under the overall supervision of Brian Alberg, executive chef and vice president of culinary development for Main Street Hospitality Group. The family-owned company includes Hotel on North in Pittsfield, The Porches at Mass MoCA in North Adams, the Williams Inn at Williams College, Country Curtains and the Elm Street Market in Stockbridge.

Nancy Fitzpatrick is owner and chairwoman of Main Street Hospitality, which employs 350 people, and her stepdaughter, Sarah Eustis, is CEO, as well as an owner and managing director of the Red Lion.

The recently completed kitchen project is part of the inn's master plan conceived by Eustis. Over the next 10 to 15 years, she said, the plan "looks at how we optimize the entire property, not just the main inn, including projects within the hotel, landscaping and drainage upgrades, and examining the best use of all our buildings."

Contact correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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