Roxbury Motel owner wins statewide award
By Pauline Liu
According to the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association (NYSH&TA), the owner of the Roxbury Motel is a star of the industry. Greg Henderson beat out numerous giants in the lodging and tourism industries to win the association’s coveted 2012 Outstanding Tourism Executive of the Year Award.
NYSH&TA President Jan Marie Chesterton explained why Henderson was selected. “After reviewing all of the nominations submitted, the judges agreed that Gregory Henderson was the best of the best,” Chesterton said. “All of the winners of this year’s awards are stars in every sense of the word and shining examples of what New York State hospitality is all about,” she added.
A total surprise
Henderson admits he was taken by surprise and never imagined that he would win the prestigious award from the largest tourism and lodging association in New York.
“Huh? Are you sure you have the right person?” he said, were his first thoughts. “It actually leaves me a bit speechless, but also very grateful for the boost in confidence. Recognition like this helps the dreams keep flowing, the hard work feel justified, and the imagination to lose its boundaries,” he added.
Imagination and great hospitality are among the reasons why the 27-room boutique motel has been named one of National Geographic Traveler’s top 100 places to stay and has been ranked one of the top five hotels in New York State on TripAdvisor.com.
Henderson and his partner in business and life, Joe Massa, come from theater backgrounds and it shows in their tasteful interior designs at the motel. Henderson was a New York City actor, who had roles in commercials as well as the soap operas, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” He later worked on Wall Street as an executive for Moody’s Investors Service and as the vice president of marketing and communications for the trading and risk management firm, Kiodex.
Massa, meanwhile, built sets in New York City, including the sets for the television show, “Saturday Night Live” as well as the Metropolitan Opera.
When they bought the old 11-room motel they began tackling the renovation of the rooms as though they were individual stage sets.
“Our first step was taking the whimsicality of theme room to a whole new level of fun, but with strict attention to elegance,” said Henderson. Creating a sense of theater in each room takes teamwork. “I come up with these fantastical ideas and he says, ‘Huh? What?’ I’ll tell him I want a feeling that looks a coconut cream pie and he does it,” said Henderson. ”The creative process is scary just like a show and it usually comes together. He makes all of the beauty happen and he’s better at explaining the ideas to contractors.”
The coconut cream pie design was used for a Gilligan’s Island inspired room called “Mary Ann’s Coconut Cream Pie,” which turned out to be the most popular room in the entire motel.
There are, however, plenty of other eye-popping rooms. After the renovation was completed in 2004, the Austin Powers inspired “Shagadelic Suite,” was extremely popular. One of the highlights of the 2007 expansion included an “I Dream of Jeanni” inspired room called “Genie’s Bottle.” In the most recently completed expansion, the Mozart inspired suite called, “Amadeus’ Bride,” is designed in Rococo Baroque with over 900 linear feet of gold leaf on the walls, a spiral staircase, and a 300-pound Austrian crystal chandelier.
The philosophy and vision behind the Roxbury have turned it into a destination. “We didn’t start out knowing that it was going to turn into a destination in and of itself,” said Henderson, modestly. “We just had a passion for making things pretty.”
While some grand hotels focus on elaborate lobbies and ballrooms, the Roxbury’s owners focused their attention in a different direction. “Our philosophy is because they’re going to spend most of their time in the room, we need to make the room an experience, something that makes their jaws drop when they open the door,” he said. Does that happen? “It happens almost everyday,” said Henderson. “For Joe and I, since we don’t have children and since we both come from theatrical backgrounds, we both want to please audiences.”
Lots of expansion
In seven years, the pair have gone from living in the basement during the renovations with no manager and just one housekeeper on staff to 15 employees and many independent contractors.
To show their appreciation, Henderson and Massa have taken their employees on limousine rides and to Broadway shows. Henderson has a philosophy about employees as well. “I firmly believe an establishment is only as good as how happy its employees are,” he said. In fact, it was one employee, the Roxbury’s General Manager Leslie Black, who nominated Henderson for the award.
Henderson and Massa first became interested in making the full-time move to this region, after buying an 800-square-foot cabin in Andes in 1999, which is still their home today. Henderson said the advice he has for others was actually inspired by some sayings of the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs. “Use everything that happens to you in life, never know where the journey is going to take you,” he said. “Sometimes, you feel like you’re in the wrong place, but use what you learned and it will help you. We’ve put so much of being show people into the Roxbury.”