Winter Park – As soon as Deanne Gabel graduated from high school in Oregon, she flew to Hawaii and took a job as a lifeguard at the Intercontinental Maui. She knew then that she wanted to work in hospitality. She was 19.
On Aug. 11, the career that has taken her from Seattle to Palm Springs to New York and all around the world, has led her to an unique and exciting resting place, The Alfond Inn at Rollins College.
Gabel, 57, is the General Manager of the much-anticipated Alfond Inn, which sits in the space long-occupied by the Langford Resort Hotel on New England Avenue across from campus. It opens on Aug. 18, just a week before classes begin on Aug. 26.
“I call it the trifecta of good things which are incredibly important to me,” Gabel said. “I’ve always been in the convention and hotel business and I wanted to run a boutique hotel that would allow me to add my own hospitality and flair.”
Gabel and her partner, Nancy Tobin, 62, a freelance photo editor, were at their home in Punta Gorda working on their sailboat when Gabel received the call from Rollins College officials asking if she would be interested in the position.
Gabel, who had worked most recently as a Senior Vice President for Wyndham Worldwide, had taken time off and was thinking of retirement. But she knew she couldn’t say “No” to Rollins.
Gabel moved to Orlando in 1996 to work for the Walt Disney Company. She earned her MBA at Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business and later served on the Board of Overseers. Gabel interviewed with Olympia Management, the Maine company that runs the Inn. With a strong referral from the school, she was offered the job.
“I knew the school and the players,” she said. “It was important in this unique situation to know how the school operates.”
The Alfond Inn is quite different from the other hotels where Gabel has worked, including the Four Seasons in Maui and the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York City’s Times Square. The Yacht and Beach Club has 1,200 rooms, 10 restaurants andÂ more than 100,000-square-feet of meeting space.
By comparison, the Alfond Inn has 112 guest rooms, one restaurant and 10,000-square-feet of meeting space. But there are many things that make this new hotel in the middle of Winter Park a special place. It started with Gabel’s hiring of 120 staff members. She interviewed each one and hired exclusively from Central Florida.
“This is like inviting someone into your home and entertaining them,” she said. “I wanted them to feel a sense of belonging and ownership and that’s what you have when you hire local people.”
Chef J. Christopher Windus was hired away from Todd English’s Bluezoo at the Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin to head up Hamilton’s Kitchen, named in honor of Hamilton Holt, the 8th president of the college. The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and its accompanying bar, will be open to the public.
The Alfond Inn was built with a $12.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation. Barbara and Ted Alfond, who graduated from the college in 1968, have also provided the artwork for the Inn. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art will be shared on a rotating basis with the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College.
With a tip of the hat to the City of Winter Park and its brightly-colored Peacock logo, the entire interior of the hotel lends itself to teals, blues, grays, browns and hues that resemble the bird. The peacock design can be found in the hallway carpet and the accent pillows on the beds.
The rectangular pool and fitness center are on the roof of the Inn’s second Floor. Piped in music and lounge chairs lend to a relaxing atmosphere. The entire hotel has free wireless for guests and 24-hour room service. Every room has a mini refrigerator and coffee maker with Tazo Tea and Seattle’s Best coffee.
The restaurant has a casual dining feel with exposed wood beams, varying mismatched chairs and burnt orange place mats. The Inn is pet-friendly, welcoming four-legged family members in designated rooms and suites. Pets can expect water bowls, a puppy gift basket and signature treats at turn down. The welcome rate for the Inn is $99 for a limited time.
In addition, to family and friends visiting students at Rollins College, the Inn has meeting rooms, conference areas and a large ballroom for business conferences, training and weddings throughout the year. Because of the limited parking in downtown Winter Park, the Inn offers Valet parking to the nearby Rollins garage. Park Avenue is two blocks west of the Inn.
Probably Gabel’s favorite feature about the gorgeous new hotel is that it benefits a Rollins College scholarship fund. The net operating income from the Inn will be directed to the Alfond Scholars program fund over the next 25 years or until the endowment principle reached $50 million, whichever comes later.
“Education is the answer to the future and so I love that all this will help students,” Gabel said. “I believe in trying to effect world peace and we have to do it one step at a time.”