Ron Gorodesky, president and CEO of the hotel management company Refined Hospitality, first entered the hospitality industry as a 12-year-old washing dishes at his local deli, which he considered preferable to the alternative—“drilling holes in flakeboard in my father’s woodshop.” Now, Gorodesky is an in-demand hospitality expert who, through Refined Hospitality, creates and manages high-end properties like The Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, and its new sister hotel, River House at Odette’s in New Hope, Pennsylvania. As the latter opened its doors at the end of September, Gorodesky connected with LODGING to talk about what goes into these hotels and how they are primed for success, even during a global pandemic.
Foundation in F&B
But one doesn’t become an expert overnight; Gorodesky has a lifetime of experience that led to his current role. Considering that he took the deli job mainly because it was biking distance from home and got him out of his father’s shop, Gorodesky was pleased to find that he enjoyed restaurant work and remained at the deli throughout high school and while home from college, climbing the ranks throughout the years. Then, upon discovering that “hospitality was a viable profession” and that his own school offered a degree in it, he switched from a business program to Penn State University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
After finishing college, Gorodesky made several professional moves through which he honed his skills in the food and beverage profession. First, he earned a coveted position in Marriott’s management program. After completing the program, he continued his management role within the organization. But, as much as he enjoyed working at Marriott, being moved four times in one year was wreaking havoc on his work/life balance. He decided to leave and focus his attention to more novel restaurant operations in Philadelphia, including what was then a hot club called Elan and then the Brasserie in Philadelphia’s Warwick Hotel.
Following a short stint running his own catering business called Celebrations, in 1984, Gorodesky decided it was time to try his hand at something very different and worked his way into a position leading the city restaurant division for one of the largest accounting firms in the world, Laventhol & Horwath. He stayed there for six years before deciding to start his own consulting company, Restaurant Advisory Services, which grew exponentially; by 1997, it had offices in Philadelphia and New York and its own design practice.
A New Direction
After eight years of shouldering the cost and responsibility of two offices and 18 employees, Gorodesky decided to go in the direction of being more hands-on with his clients by simplifying his organization. “I worked directly with many owners and investors to develop their businesses and orchestrate successful launches. I would spearhead the entire project, including hiring designers and architects. In this capacity, I worked on a lot of amazing projects with great people,” he describes. He also supported his clients by serving as an expert witness for various cases where there was restaurant-related litigation. “Doing litigation support, I was involved with over 150 cases.” Throughout it all, Gorodesky continued to hone his hotel and restaurant instincts, developing an innate sense of what would work and what wouldn’t in a hospitality environment.
The next step in Gorodesky’s career landed him in his current role and ultimately the expansion of his company, Refined Hospitality. Although this new journey began in the typical way, as a project, meeting investors such as DuPont chairman and CEO Ed Breen gave him the ability to develop larger, more prestigious, high-design hotels and restaurant environments in desirable travel destinations.
Cracking the Code
In 2010, Gorodesky was hired by a group of investors to “pencil out” an economically feasible boutique hotel in Stone Harbor—a challenge that had proved difficult to others. However, decades of restaurant experience helped show him the way. “The changes I made to their design included a bigger ballroom, more event space, and adding an outdoor kitchen so we could offer robust bayside dining. These changes transformed the property into the hottest spot at the shore for sunset cocktails,” he describes. In addition to the 37-guestroom hotel, Gorodesky developed several restaurants as part of The Reeds collection of offerings, including SAX at The Reeds, Stone Harbor Pizza Pub, Water Star Grille, and Buckets Margarita Bar and Cantina. “We serve authentic tacos and upscale cocktails with premium tequila. It exploded right out of the gate. In the summer, there is typically a two-hour wait,” Gorodesky notes. The Reeds is now renowned for its outdoor dining and has three restaurants overlooking the scenic Shelter Haven Basin. In May of 2019, The Reeds expanded once again due to its growing popularity, adding 21 guestrooms, a two-story spa, a fitness center, and a boutique.
While operating The Reeds, Gorodesky and his growing team partnered again with an investor from The Reeds to restore and rebrand a catering facility that nestled in the woods of Parvin State Park in Pittsgrove, Salem County. The Grove at Centerton has 15,000 sq. ft. of private event space, including a ballroom that can accommodate up to 800. “This property easily can host over 100 weddings a year in addition to large-scale corporate meetings, and hundreds of celebratory events,” adds Gorodesky.
New Life for New Hope Property
In 2013, another big project was presented to Gorodesky, again including Ed Breen as an investor. “Ed and some partners asked me to develop concepts for a sister hotel to The Reeds. It would be on the site of what had been a flood-devastated French restaurant and cabaret house, Chez Odette’s, on the Delaware River in New Hope, Pennsylvania,” Gorodesky describes.
Gorodesky leaned on his experience from years ago, at Laventhol & Horwath, where he conducted intense market studies to determine the most efficient hospitality use of individual sites, when first evaluating this project. He quickly observed that New Hope was very strong for upscale corporate and transient travel, a hub for unique dining experiences, and a destination that was very attractive to the luxury wedding market. “What really attracted me was the opportunity to develop a property on a waterfront site in a market that could never be duplicated. As anyone who has ever tried to develop a waterfront site knows, the obstacles to any such development are extremely challenging but after a complete evaluation, it was worth it,” Gorodesky explains.
“We always knew this would be an expensive project. Early on in the process, we realized that the effort to get the approvals to engineer and design on this riverfront footprint, due to its unique nature, were going to drive the soft costs to over $10 million; however, I also knew that if we developed an exceptionally exquisite property that was unique to any other in the area, in this one-of-a-kind location, within a short drive from multiple sources of demand, that it was a great opportunity and that we would experience extraordinary success in the luxury lifestyle market,” he adds.
“I feel good about creating places that make people feel good about themselves and life itself when they’re there. At both The Reeds and The River House, people feel inspired, even spiritual. That’s the kind of experience I want for myself and our guests.”
After seven years in the making, the River House at Odette’s opened its doors on September 28. Gorodesky was able to showcase his unique hotel and restaurant concepts. Each area in the hotel embraces the community with design details that pay homage to the hip artists’ colony New Hope had been in the 1970s, including art from the original building. It also includes a romance-inspired ballroom and a rooftop bar, ROOF, which is open only to hotel guests and those who purchased a membership. “I thought limiting access would reduce crowds and build ADR among potential guests, while adding revenue from the memberships. It has been phenomenally successful—it sold out in a week before the pandemic, and we now have over 500 people on the waiting list.”
But what makes this hotel a good investment, especially in such a difficult time in the hotel industry? Gorodesky speaks candidly about his forecast for the future, “Despite the high cost per key of this hotel, we expect to achieve an annual EBITDA providing a good ROI in the post-pandemic near future. While it will not be a rapid return of invested capital, we expect the uniqueness of the site and property to make it a very attractive long-term investment.”
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, which colors every decision he makes, Gorodesky is still invested in the hotel industry and continues to look for opportunities to deploy his expertise. He says it all comes down to how he feels about creating and operating these particular properties. “I feel good about creating places that make people feel good about themselves and life itself when they’re there. At both The Reeds and The River House, people feel inspired, even spiritual. That’s the kind of experience I want for myself and our guests.”