By Mary-Justine Lanyon
“We have to bring the Resort and the community together again. And we need to do it in a peaceful, tactful way.
“The Resort needs its luster back.”
That’s the opinion of Paul Medawar, who has been the general manager of the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa for the past three months.
“We are inhabitants of Lake Arrowhead. My opinion – and that of the owners – is that it is imperative that the Resort and the locals work together. We embrace the local community, we welcome the local community.”
Medawar, who has been in the hotel industry for more than 30 years, was most recently an area general manager in San Jose, overseeing two hotels. He saw coming to Lake Arrowhead as a great opportunity and a homecoming of sorts. “I was reunited with Benchmark (which owns the Resort). I worked for them years ago.” And, he added, “I’m a Southern California native. Janice (his wife) and I aren’t really Northern California people.”
Although Medawar was born in Seattle, his family moved to the Los Angeles area when he was just 1 so he considers himself a true Californian. Both of his parents emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt. His father built up a thriving construction business; he welcomed his son into the business at a very young age. The time came, however, when the younger Medawar knew he had to go off on his own path.
“That didn’t sit well with my immigrant father,” Medawar said. “To see his son leave a business he was building.”
That led to Medawar taking his first hotel job, in housekeeping. He did that for several months, eventually becoming a bellman and working his way up the corporate ladder to the front desk manager.
“During that time,” he noted, “HR was asking all employees to do a succession plan. I said I should be a GM by the age of 35 – I was only 20 at the time. I worked hard and got my first GM job at 33. It was a good feeling – I showed my father that I could do it. I made him proud.”
Over the course of his 34-year hotel career, Medawar has been on properties across the country – in Virginia, Connecticut, the Midwest, the Rockies and back to California. He has worked for many different types of hotels – independent ones like the Resort and branded ones, like Hilton and Hyatt. He has opened three Indian casinos, two in California and one in Louisiana. “I opened my first hotel when I was 25,” Medawar said. “A brand-new Indian casino hotel in Louisiana.”
Rather than being a book learner, Medawar has gained his knowledge through his experience on the job. “I’ve learned from good leaders and bad,” he said.
In addition to the new hotels he has opened, Medawar has also overseen numerous renovations. It was that experience that appealed to owners of the Resort, who have big plans to refresh the property. He does not yet know what the specific plans are but said that “ownership has the full intention of doing a full renovation on the property – everything from the parking lot to meeting rooms to the pool deck to the restaurant. Everything is on the scope of renovation.” Their intention, he added, is to stay open while the work is done.
“This renovation is part of what intrigued me about this opportunity,” Medawar said.
Change is already evident at the Resort. Six months ago, the GM said, nothing was happening on Sundays. “Now we are revamping the Sunday brunch. Prior to my arrival, they created a Sunday buffet. We have merged breakfast and lunch into Sunday brunch with elevated offerings. We continue to elevate those offerings every week.”
They already have nearly 200 reservations on the books for the Thanksgiving brunch. “I feel we are putting our best foot forward with the community. We want to partner with locals and provide a great experience for them.”
Looking ahead to the holiday season, Medawar said they will have storytelling by the fireplace with an elf or with Santa. And “we have exciting stuff coming for New Year’s Eve.”
Medawar is delighted with the team he has at the Resort. One of his first acts was to fill the vacant position of director of sales. The position, he noted, had been vacant a number of years. The new director, Terry Sullivan, came from New Orleans. “He’s a great addition to the team,” Medawar said.
Executive Chef Heath Miller had been the sous chef until Medawar promoted him. “He’s a phenomenal guy. We are working on redesigning the menu for the end of the year. And we have consolidated the lunch and dinner menus so we don’t have to close BIN189 and reset for dinner.”
Medawar added that the chef is “excited about getting more engaged with the community,” perhaps offering cooking classes at some point in the future.
As an example of how his team works with their guests to provide the best possible experience, Medawar told the story of a guest with a dog. It was too cold for him to dine out on the patio and dogs (except for service dogs) aren’t allowed in the dining room. So, the staff set dining up for the guest at a table in the lobby. He was able to eat with his dog at his feet while he looked out at the lake.
“We want everyone – whether a visitor or a local – to have the best possible experience here,” he said.