This past March, our team gathered in upstate New York for a D*S retreat to brainstorm new content ideas and have some much needed face time since we all work remotely with one another. We were lucky enough to stay at Hasbrouck House in the historic hamlet of Stone Ridge, an 18th-century Dutch Colonial mansion turned boutique hotel. For our team of design lovers, the property was pure magic from an aesthetic standpoint — unique wallpapers, brass fixtures, original fireplaces, marble, and sumptuous textures blended together — but we left the trip even more in awe of the attention to detail for us as guests. We were particularly impressed with how all of our needs seemed to be anticipated before we even expressed them, surely a tall task for a smaller operation. Orchestrating all of these details behind the scenes was Hasbrouck House’s General Manager, Ruth Hevelone.
Ruth’s story is one that career-switching hopefuls dream of — she jumped ship from the corporate world into an industry she didn’t know much about: hospitality. There was no backup job, no prior experience in the field, just her blinding desire to change her life and follow her gut. Now Ruth runs her own tight ship with her stellar staff at Hasbrouck House — albeit, a smaller, far more relaxing ship — where, “honestly, the most stressful day I’ve had here never even holds a candle to the stressful days I had in my former career.”
Today Ruth’s telling us the motivations and fears she held in leaving her corporate job behind, the assurance she discovered in her own skills to make it in hospitality, the whirlwind path that led her to working at Hasbrouck House, and more. Scroll down to read her remarkable story, and stay tuned for a recipe from HH’s delicious restaurant, Butterfield! —Kelli
Photography by Kelly Merchant, except where noted
Image above: Ruth, far right, with her Hasbrouck House staff.
How did you come to work at HH? What was your path here and what were you doing before?
I’ve always loved hospitality — I’m a midwest girl from Indiana — so hospitality is in my blood! But my career path brought me to NYC where I spent 13 years working in corporate brand marketing, experiential marketing and small business management. I thrived on the hustle of NYC, was a workaholic and lived a high-stress life. In 2011 when I met my husband, we went to the Catskills together and I fell head over heels in love with the country life! I knew I wasn’t destined to live in a cramped, roach-ridden apartment for $2,000/month for the rest of my life. We spent the next few years exploring the ins and outs of the Hudson Valley and Catskills. We fell in love and got married in the Catskills and soon after bought a modest weekend cottage in the heart of the Catskills, tucked away on a mountainside. I always dreamt of moving upstate full-time, but never thought it would be a reality. The hustle and financial security of my high-paying job in NYC had me sucked in.
When I was at my last gig in NYC I was a VP at a digital media agency and had built a whole department of incredible women doing great work — then one day my boss called me into his office and told me I had to fire half of my team that day because of budget cuts. I stormed out of the office so upset, and had to refocus myself. When I came back into work that afternoon, there was a package for me on my desk. It was the advance copy of the book Pivot by Jenny Blake that’s all about navigating a big change in your career. It’s hands down the best life-career tool that I’ve ever been given. (I had met Jenny when I hired her to teach a course the previous year for a corporate event for Microsoft.) When I walked into the office that day to find the book on my desk I knew I had to make a change. After a lot of soul searching, I put in my notice without knowing what was next, and I spent the next month reading and experiencing that book. I filled an entire notebook with the exercises it takes you through and it literally guided me to this career path. I immediately started working on a business plan to open my own hotel in upstate NY — exactly where I wanted to be full-time.
After two months of full-time R&D and talking to potential investors, I had a complete mental meltdown. I freaked out and was having panic attacks. “Who was I to think that I could just open a hotel [in] upstate NY when I had never even worked for one?!” My husband talked some sense into me and told me to just reach out to the small hotels up here and ask them for a job! Even if only to volunteer to get my feet wet to make sure this was the right move. I had met a handful of hoteliers upstate from staying at various places over the years, so I did just that. I sent a couple random emails, then sent one Facebook message (ha!) to the GM at Hasbrouck House seeing if they needed any seasonal support. He responded five minutes later saying it was perfect timing because he was leaving his job and that I could be a perfect fit as the new GM of the hotel. Within two hours the owner, Akiva Reich, was calling my cell phone for an interview and within three days I had accepted the job.
It was SUCH A LEAP. I was scared shitless but I knew I needed to take a risk. I had spent three months focused solely on ME and figuring out what I wanted out of life, and here it was being handed to me. That three months of “retirement” focusing on exploring myself and my career path was the best gift I could have ever given myself. One visit to Hasbrouck House and I knew this was exactly where I was supposed to be. I couldn’t say no! So I packed my bags, moved to the country, built a garden, got some chickens, and the rest is history.
I knew I had to make a change. After a lot of soul searching, I put in my notice without knowing what was next.
What is the best part of your job?
There are so many awesome things about my job. First off — it’s probably the most beautiful work environment I could ever imagine. Every day I get to pull in the driveway and walk up to this majestic, old 1700s home, with these beautiful gardens, is a day I wake up happy. Then there’s the trust that the owners have in me. While I’m not a partner, the owners treat me as one. The decisions are mine to make, the team is mine to build, and the company is mine to run. I get to have the joys and experience of running my own business, and all the while getting to make a call to the owners in times of need and getting their full support. They are incredibly supportive while being very hands-off which is a DREAM. But, the absolute best thing about my job is the people I work with every day. I’ve built an incredible team and could not do this without them.
What is the hardest part of your job?
It’s definitely got to be managing expectations of all guests at all times. 99% of our guests get here and are completely blown away by every single aspect of every little detail of the entire property — inside and out. But then you get the 1% that complains from the minute they arrive and have completely unmanageable expectations. They don’t do the research to realize they’re coming to the country, where they need a car, and where things close mid-week.
Image above: One of the comfy beds at Hasbrouck House, captured by Erin Austen Abbott on our trip in March.
How do you handle on-the-job stress?
Honestly, the most stressful day I’ve had here never even holds a candle to the stressful days I had in my former career. I spent 13 years in corporate marketing being at the beck and call of my clients any time of day — and feeling that any small mistake could cause us to lose a major client. The stress was high all the time and I worked around the clock and I lived in fear of my clients. Here, even the most stressful day is a piece of cake! And I have nothing to fear! I’m able to think back to the kind of stress I used to put myself through, and it allows me to smile, take a breath and keep on keepin’ on knowing that I’ve made such a healthy choice for myself moving upstate and running this beautiful place. I’ve certainly made mistakes since I’ve been here, but I’m able to learn from them and move forward. It’s a new way of living in my career and has been such a mentally healthy space to be in!
Image above: Reception area, photographed by Erin Austen Abbott.
What life skills have been most useful in pursuing a career in hospitality?
What a great question — what HASN’T been useful? Who knew? I feel like every single thing I’ve ever done in my career and life has led me to Hasbrouck House. The top three that have helped me the most aren’t the most evident ones — learning everlasting kindness from my Mother, learning how to listen to people’s needs and react to them, and having an open mind and being open to change.
Tell us about your team - who are they and how did you find and build the amazing team you have?
I’ve got the best of the best! My Assistant Manager Kayleigh Verney is my right hand. One of [the] only jobs she ever had before coming here was working at a brewery as a bartender and server for 10 years. She came to us first as a front desk agent part-time, and I immediately recognized the great talent she was hiding and wanted to empower her to realize it! Fast forward a year later and she’s now our Head of Sales for Weddings and the Assistant Manager of the hotel. She’s got the absolute best attitude and I see so much of myself in her drive and passion to always strive for nothing less than the best. She’s always got a smile on her face and has a complete can-do attitude at ALL times. I would be lost without her.
Meg is my incredible Guest Service Manager and is our only employee that actually had a career in hospitality before coming here! So that’s been truly valuable. She’s always full of great suggestions — and ready and willing to lend a hand outside of her regular role whenever needed, and our guests just love her!
Taylor is the newest addition to our team as our Front Desk Supervisor and used to run a high-end horse camp for kids in the Hudson Valley! She has only been with us for two months but literally feels like she’s been a part of the family for years.
We also have an in-house restaurant, Butterfield, which is managed by Sasha Miranda — former owner of the awesome restaurant “Miranda” which was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for 10 years. She joined the team in December and has been absolutely instrumental to the success of the restaurant!
Then there’s my killer crew of housekeepers! Holy cow, do these women rule and damn are they strong! They work SO HARD and I’ve got so much respect for them. This place would not work without them. So many people forget about the housekeepers, but they are literally the backbone of the business and I cannot thank them enough for maintaining the detail and quality of work that they do that makes our jobs so much better.
And none of it would be possible without Alex. He’s been the groundskeeper of our 55+ acres for 20 years on this property. He knows every single square inch of this place like the back of his hand. We inherited him with the property and adore him.
Image above: A fantastic pattern-on-pattern moment in the lobby at HH, photographed by Erin Austen Abbott.
It sounds like everyone on your team has a can-do attitude. How do you nurture and support that as a manager?
Absolutely, they ALL do. I can’t even hire people that don’t anymore. It’s crucial to any small business. Everyone has to wear many hats and if you can’t, then it just won’t work. As a manager, I absolutely despise micro-managing people. My style is to empower my team with the tools they need to do the best possible work, but keep a “door open” policy and allow them to take initiative to make changes that they see fit to create new or better processes for a happier or more efficient workplace.
If someone makes a mistake or error, I don’t discipline with a strong hand. I just want people to learn from their mistakes. I try to empower them to WANT to do better, not feel like they HAVE to do better.
Photographed by Erin Austen Abbott
You’ve said your management style is to give people the tools to empower themselves - what are those tools and what advice do you have for people who want to grow self-motivated teams like yours?
My biggest advice for people is to create strong and efficient tools and systems that work for your business, take the time to teach and train everyone on the systems and tools, then give them a little rope to make their own mistakes. Let them wander a bit — give them some freedom to make it their own — if they get lost, you’ve put the tools and systems in place to reel them back in. I find that when you do this, people tend to feel more empowered and more driven to do better.
The family feel at HH is rare for a modern luxury hotel. How do you want guests to feel when they walk in, and how do you achieve that?
We’re fortunate that it actually was a home for over 200 years. It was built in 1757 (BEFORE WE WERE A COUNTRY!) and was a private home for over 150 years before becoming a bed & breakfast. It only became a full-service hotel when we opened in 2016. When people walk in the door, I want them to feel like they can kick off their city shoes, put on their comfy pants, and relax, all while feeling like they’re being pampered. We practice passive hospitality — we’re not in your face with doormen, bellhops, concierge, at every touch point. But you will find a tiny and friendly hotel lobby, with a happy and smiling face, giving you a warm welcome. I want people to feel like they can wear their Sunday best to dinner at Butterfield, but then stroll downstairs in the morning in their robe and comfy pants to get a coffee and apple cider donut from the front desk team. The heated bathroom floors, Kiehl’s amenities and soaking tubs also help maintain a luxury experience while being in a 260-year-old home.
Photographed by Erin Austen Abbott
Business is always changing. What are some changes you’ve overseen at HH and how did your team roll with them and evolve?
What hasn’t changed in the past year?! When I got here, I was pretty much a team of one running the hotel, with two housekeepers that were both pretty unreliable. It was ROUGH. On my first day off after my first week managing the hotel, my hubby was still living in NYC so I was on my way to visit him after a very long week when my only front desk agent walked out on the busiest day of the week because he was stressed out and had forgotten to have housekeepers in for the day. We had seven rooms that needed to be cleaned — a full house checking in — and NO ONE AT THE HOTEL! That was less of a “roll with it” period and more of a “do everything you can to not let a single guest realize there’s literally no one working at the hotel” moment. I turned my car around — came back up — and called my only friends in the Catskills to come and help me clean those seven rooms. Even the owner helped clean rooms! That day I learned a lot more than just how to clean a luxury hotel.
To say things have changed is an understatement. I spent the next few months building a solid and reliable team, creating efficient systems for every touchpoint of the hotel (from housekeeping, to operations, to finance, to groundskeeping). We’ve only been open for under two years so I still consider us in the development phase. We are still learning new things about the business and about our customers. We’ve now got comment cards in each room which our guests do frequently fill out, which is SO helpful. I review them weekly and we use them as our north star guide to what we can do for the best possible guest experience!
Image above: Hasbrouck House’s restaurant, Butterfield.
Who are people you look up to (in or outside of your field) and why?
One thing I learned quickly when I moved up here to run this hotel is that the other local hotels are not just my competition — but they are my mentors and my confidants. I’ve become very close with a handful of the other hotel owners/managers in the Hudson Valley and Catskills and it’s been SO helpful to have this incredible network upstate. We reach out to each other frequently with random questions and I’m not afraid to ask for help from a neighboring business.
As for my biggest life mentors, It’s a combination of friends I’ve made throughout my career path that were all hustlers in their own right. For about six years, I moonlighted as a NYC nightlife promoter (I actually created the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival!) and my first-ever DJ has grown to be one of my best friends and a big wig at Facebook in California. To this day he’s someone I know I can always count on to give me solid career advice and is always full of a dose of reality when I need it.
My dad was also a small business owner and has been instrumental in my career development. He’s always supported me, helped guide me with hard talks with my superiors, taught me how to value myself in the workplace and how to ask for a raise (and get it!).
Image above photographed by Heidi’s Bridge
How do you connect with and support the community around the hotel?
The support of the local community is absolutely crucial to our business. Sometimes it’s hard to balance supporting the local community while catering to out-of-towners. But we’ve made it a priority to support local charity events, fundraising events for local schools, provide specials to locals at the restaurant, and we work very closely with local artisans for the hotel amenities, keeping many of our best features from NY-based businesses. Butterfield sources all produce from farms within 50 miles of us. Our lighting is all designed and manufactured down the road at Materia, our room keychains, restaurant menus, and more are custom leather work by Jay Teske out of Kingston, custom coffee mugs by ceramicist Andrew Moeller in Kingston, our coffee beans are fire roasted by Fosterbuilt Coffee in Bovina, NY, our staff shirts are made in Kingston at Antiology Screen Printing, and our minibar is full of goodies from local companies like Augie Granola from Pine Plains, NY, and the world’s best chocolate — Fruition — right in Shokan, NY. We try to stay locally focused even down to the detail of getting our daily Apple Cider donuts from the awesome Davenport Farms right down the road and made fresh daily!