This is file #39, cycle 3. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is June 20, 2018. I am interviewing Kevin & Michelle Bousquet at the Interlaken Inn. They are going to answer some questions about their history with the inn, the inn itself and anything else they want to talk about. But first we will start with…
JM:Kevin, what is your name?
KB:My name is Kevin Bousquet.
JM:Michelle, what is your name?
JM:Kevin, how did you come to the area?
KB:I was at a place called Arrowwood in Westchester County, New York. I worked with Maggie Slagel there. Maggie ended up leaving Arrowwood and coming up here to work with her husband Bob Slagel. As soon as they got up here, they called me up at Arrowwood and said, “We need someone to be our assistant up here.” (See file #36, cycle 3, Bob and Maggie Slagel)
JM:When was that?
KB:That was in 1984.
JM:Were you the assistant General Manager?
JM:What were your responsibilities?
JM:I love that answer.
KB:There is not difference between an assistant general manager and a general manager.
JM:You just do it all. How long have you been at the inn?
KB:It has been 34 years now.
JM:Michelle, I am going to ask you the same questions. You are a local lady, are you not?
JM:Where did you work before you came here?
MB:I worked at Noble Horizons for about 3 or 4 years.
MB:I was in dietary. (1987-1001 Ed.) I loved that, but a friend worked here in 1992. She asked me as she had an opening at the front desk as summer help. I was looking for a change and thought it would be fun so I said, OK!”
JM:Good for you. You have been here how long?
MB:I have been here 26 years.
JM:What wonderful history. Do you have any specific responsibilities or do you just do whatever needs to be done?
MB:I have none, Kevin has all of it.
JM:I like that. If anything goes wrong, it is his fault.
MB:I like that too.
JM:The next series of questions either one of you can answer. How much staff do you have right now in the summer time?
MB:Probably about 75 in round numbers.
JM:How many rooms do you have?
JM:What is the size of the property?
JM:Do you use Countryside for anything?
KB:Yes, as it is set up now it has 8 guest rooms and a Pilates space.
JM:How about Woodside?
KB:Woodside used to be the garage a long time ago for the townhouses and now it is our “pet friendly” area. It also houses one of our honeymoon suites.
JM:What have been the different trends in business over the years?
KB:Since I started in 1984 we were very heavily in the conference business; it was a very different time & era in the world and in the economy. Now it is 93% destination weddings. That has been a big change for us. WE have been doing wedding for 10-12 years now. Conference business is starting to come back; not like it was, not a lot of personality training meetings but people are getting together.
JM:Workshops, seminars and so forth?
JM:Buildings? Have you done any new buildings or changed buildings? You gave me a wonderful time line of various building changes.
KB:You would not recognize the property back in 1984 to now.
JM:No except it is in the same spot. As I came into what was back then the main dining room, there was no tree in the center. Now you have turned this into a meeting room and built on a front deck and installed large picture windows. The lobby area is all changed. I am assuming your staff changes too.
KB:It is very difficult holding on to hospitality staff. It is really a training step program because people don’t use it other than your mainstays. Most of your staff comes from college summer help. Unfortunately not everyone is looking for a career in hospitality, so you are constantly have turnover of staff. It is very difficult.
JM:Different from what I would have expected.
KB:I am very fortunate as I have a handful to a couple dozen people that have stayed with me for 20 plus years. That makes it a lot easier.
JM:Oh sure because they know the routine. If you have worked in a place for a long time, and then someone wants to change something that is also difficult. You have recently done something different in the kitchen. You have gotten new chefs. How has the dining changed over this period of time?
KB:It is funny because I just wrote about that in the Lakeville Journal this past week. It has changed a lot. Now it is time for another change because of the investment into these two individuals, James Corcoran and Daire Rooney. They don’t mind being out in the dining room. The chefs we have had in the past wanted to hide in the back. That is one change. People want to know who makes their food. We knew instantly that they were right for us. Jim was in Gt. Barrington at “Allium” and then moved on to Stockbridge to “The Red Lion” as the chef there. Daire was the chef at “Allium”. Then she moved on too. Lucky for me it was a time that they were looking to start their flame and get married. They did not know how they were going to do that as they were both working 7 days a week where they were and at different jobs. I saw them 3 days after New Year’s 2018. I said, “How about you come to work for me?” She said she liked the idea. She was going on vacation and getting married in Mexico. Michelle and I were going to the Cayman’s. I kept communicating back and forth. We were able land a deal. The biggest attraction is the two of them being able to have a life together in the Hospitality industry and chefs and make this their dining room. They will make it work.
JM:That is wonderful.
KB:In the early years I was all for it also but I never had the commitment from the chefs.
JM:How about marketing and sales, that must have changed.
KB: Marketing and Sales has changed. Maggie did all of that back in 1984. She hired an assistant.
JM:Dan Bolognani? (See file # 28, cycle 3, Dan Bolognani)4.
KB:No I hired Dan, actually back in the 1990s. We ended up building a team with Maggie. Then when Maggie and Bob left to take over the track (Salisbury Catering Ed.), I went out and hired an outside sales staff. I decided that I didn’t want somebody here.
KB:There is not a lot of corporate business in our community so why have a sales person here when all the business is down in New Jersey, Bergen County, or White Plains. We hired sales staff at that point -Joyce Reeves. That was a very successful venture. At that time mergers and acquisitions were really hot so we found a nice little niche with team building. We became the sales people for all of these team building organizations. At that time Pratt & Whitney with their break-up and down-sizing they spawned four different team-building organizations. I was very fortunate to be able to get business from all of them. That all changed. Nothing lasts but you know what? If it doesn’t change, it means the day the people aren’t going to get married any more. It is going to happen.
JM;Not on our lifetime, I hope.
KB:Right now the wedding business has been the longest run of any market that we have ever had, the destination weddings have been phenomenal. I thought it was fizzling out about 5 years ago. We started to see for about 100 visits. We need about 400 visits in order to get a profit. But this young lady His wife Michelle) selling these weddings has been getting the business. Michelle has a knack with getting the people all about their family, bringing the event together. It is a very special occasion and people are looking for that. They are looking for property like ours.
JM:It is a beautiful facility.
JM:If I came to you and said that I was planning a wedding, what do you do? How do you get people comfortable with this facility?
MB:I give them wine.
JM:That’s a big help! How about me?
MB:It’s 10 am Jean!
JM:The sun is over the yardarm someplace!
MB:They are coming in so happy and excited because they are seeing these venues and they are getting married. I just embrace that really. I am genuinely happy for them. I love this property so much. Just meeting these people and finding the fit here. It starts on Friday and goes right through Sunday at check out. It is a contagious thing. There are times when I just feel like I could just stand in the back yard and the property would sell itself. Going down to the lake and exchanging their vows in front of
the lake is just beautiful. It is like no other place. I find it to be easy, not that we have a wedding every single weekend, but it is one of my favorite things to do. I take them around and treat them like they are my own friends.
JM: That is a wonderful way to do it because people respond to that.
MB:Yes, they do.
JM:You give an aura of warmth and sincerity. If you are getting married, you really want someone like that.
MB:We are invested in their day and their family. We want everything to be perfect for them. It is not just me, the initial impression. It is that feeling as they go from face to face. They meet Winston at the front desk and he is such fun. They are meeting Darie. It is really a whole team effort and they feel that way.
JM:It shows. It is such an important day and it is so special that you have made it even more special. That makes a wonderful memory. Those memories you live with. The photographs go and other things go but the memories stay which is absolutely important.
KB:That is what has changed a lot in this burned-out society we live in now. People are looking for making good memories. If you go back 10 years it is such a rat race and it just continues to be a rat race, in the last 3 or 4 years I have noticed that people are beginning to slow down. You have better take time or you will regret it.
JM:It isn’t the things you do, but the things you don’t do that you regret. A happy marriage ceremony is one of the high points.
MB:Most people do it just once, right?
JM:Will I did.
MB:Good job, Jean.
JM:Visions for the future, Kevin?
KB:Ok I am going to ride this wedding destination/ reunion trend as long as we can. I have started to tweek things. You noted when you came in that this room is being turned into a meeting space. Not because the meeting spaces don’t work downstairs; they just don’t work for the meetings that are coming through now. People want windows, they want lighter rooms. We put on a porch in front. We had a very famous bank which was here just a week ago. They have already given us a second meeting. I wouldn’t have any chance with that meeting if they had met downstairs, but to meet up here in this dining room, this new meeting space, that made it happen. I can still use this as a dining room. I can still do something with that. We are going to start to look for more meetings coming up, different types
of meetings. We are a small property so we don’t need an awful lot. One or two meetings a month will do. A wedding every weekend, and one or two meetings a month and other guests bringing their pets and romantic couples down by the lake, that is what it is.
JM:You also do the race track and the alumni for Hotchkiss and Salisbury so you have other business.
KB:Right. Those are very strong bases, yes.
JM:Michelle, are you willing to go with the wedding venue for as long as it takes?
MB:Oh yes, absolutely because I do believe that marriage should last forever. People getting married maybe one, two, or three times, Yes definitely.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add to this before we close, Kevin?
KB:Last night we just filmed our first commercial in 34 years. It is going to be airing on WTIC/WFSB. The host was just amazed. He had never been up to the area and he had never been to this property. I could see the feeling from everybody that we take these things for granted. He was leaving last night. He was doing his closing statement. He said to me, “It is a remarkable area. You have a remarkable property. You staff was so friendly. You are very lucky.” I gave a deep sigh.
JM:Lucky but also a lot of hard work and a lot of making people feel comfortable in the job that they have and happy in the job that they have. That goes a long way. You wouldn’t have people staying 20 or 25 years if they weren’t happy. No way, even though you say it is a transient business, but if you give them working condition, the flexible hours or whatever works, that makes for a good staff. That is a compliment to both of you. It is important to treat your employees well and you do obviously.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add, Michelle, before we close?
MB:No, you said all of it for me.
JM:Thank you both so very much.