For some people, the 25-year mark of a career is a time for major promotions and doubling down on your chosen path to get to the next level. For others, it’s a time to re-evaluate and decide whether this particular profession is one you want to be doing in your 50s, 60s, and beyond. For Gary and Kathy Friedle, realizing that they had logged 25-plus years in finance and architecture, respectively, in a fast-paced, New York City environment was the kick they needed to take stock and rethink what they wanted out of their careers.
When they were younger, the couple always talked about opening a bed and breakfast. “I like to cook and she likes to talk to strangers,” Gary Friedle says, laughing. “So a bed and breakfast was really a perfect fit for our interests.”
When their college-bound son decided to pursue his education in California, the Friedles quietly started looking into business options on the West Coast. After doing a bit of research, they took their B&B idea and sized up, opting to buy a boutique property in Southern California’s Palm Springs. This was—and then again became—the Monkey Tree Hotel.
Designed in 1960 by famed architect Albert Frey, the Monkey Tree Hotel was a Palm Springs destination for celebrities in the ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s. As the years went by, the property lost some of its luster, becoming The Legacy from 1986 to 1994, and then The Terra Cotta Inn until 2015. When the Friedles saw that it was on the market, they knew it was the property for them.
The Monkey Tree presented both a challenge and an opportunity. Kathy used her background in architecture to restore the hotel to its 1960s glory, with bright colors and furnishings that nod to the period. Once the renovation was complete, the Friedles decided to change the name of the property back to The Monkey Tree Hotel, acknowledging its historic roots.
The refurbished Monkey Tree caters specifically to an active and outdoorsy clientele. “We intentionally developed a property that we would like to stay at,” says Gary. Little touches like facilitating morning jogs and laundering workout clothes show an attention to detail that improves guests’ niche experience. Gary channeled his passion for cooking into the property’s food and beverage program, choosing menu items and consulting on the commercial kitchen that was installed. The Monkey Tree’s cuisine was curated to not only be delicious, but also aligned with healthy choices.
Of course, regardless of their experience as “customers,” the Friedles still had a lot to learn about starting and running their own hotel company. Gary and Kathy aggressively sought out information when they were in unfamiliar territory. “We’re a big believer in doing a lot of due diligence; we know what we know and we know what we don’t,” Gary says. They consulted a former inn owner who provided valuable advice on possible locations and what to expect; he also offered tips from his own experience in the field. Happily, their high-powered careers provided the capital necessary to fund and maintain a challenging startup.
One of the factors the Friedles had to adjust to was how to manage a boutique property so affected by external factors like weather. In Palm Springs, the tourism industry can be just as cyclical as the climate patterns. Knowing to expect a market with ups and downs made planning ahead for fiscal security important.
This couple has channeled two completely different careers to succeed in the hotel space. With their complementary skill sets and willingness to grow and learn, they have worked to master everything from social media advertising to housekeeping. “We wanted to make it successful, and we’re really looking forward to making this a multiple property experiment,” says Gary.