CHATHAM — The new man in charge at Chatham Bars Inn not only has his own ties to the town, but also wants to strengthen the inn’s connection with Chatham.
Gary Thulander started work last week as the inn’s new managing director. He takes the place of John Speers, who served in that capacity since 2014.
Thulander comes to CBI from The Woodstock Inn and Resort in Vermont, where he was president and general manager. But his career in the hospitality industry started decades ago in Wellfleet, at the Yesteryears restaurant.
“I was a dishwasher,” he said with a chuckle. He eventually was entrusted with making appetizers and salads, and eventually became a busboy. “I just loved the energy of the restaurant” and the team spirit it involved, Thulander said. He was studying economics at the University of New Hampshire at the time and decided to change his major to hospitality management.
But Thulander’s ties to the Cape go back to his childhood, spending summer weeks with his grandparents at their home in Chatham’s Riverbay neighborhood.
After college, Thulander started work at the Williamsburg Inn in Virginia, where he helped boost occupancy levels and revenues. He has led a number of resorts at various times, including the Landings, Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain in St. Lucia, and at Cap Juluca in Anguilla, where he was named Hotelier of the Year. Thulander was also the general manager of the Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vt.
His tenure at the Woodstock Inn was a special one, Thulander said. Established by Laurance and Mary Rockefeller, the historic inn had lost some of its luster, and with the support of the owners, Thulander helped oversee a multi-million-dollar transformation of the property, helping it once again match its original vision. It was a remarkable opportunity, “and I left it,” Thulander said.
“We always wanted to come back” to the Cape, he said. Having worked at the Chatham Bars Inn 28 years ago as the resident manager, responsible for rooms, recreation and reservations, Thulander said the opportunity to return as managing director was one he couldn’t ignore.
“Our goal is to be a Forbes five-star hotel,” Thulander said. Achieving that means a renewed focus on employees and managers, and he said he is eager to recruit top employees who are “seeking a good work environment” and who value the inn’s high standards of grace and hospitality, he said.
Chatham Bars Inn now has just under 90,000 guests annually, but Thulander hopes to see that number top 100,000. His strategy, and that of owner Richard Cohen, is to boost year-round occupancy by marketing the resort to weddings, meetings and special events in the colder months.
The inn is fortunate to have guests of all ages who come back year after year, but recruiting new guests is “even more critical,” he said. The key is providing the amenities that modern guests demand, while honoring the history and tradition of the 104-year-old inn.
Thulander said he is aware of the sometimes-contentious relationship the inn has had with Chatham town officials, and the regular lawsuits between both parties (see related story). He said part of his job is serving as Chatham Bars Inn’s ambassador, building ties with the community. Having grown up in a small town in New Hampshire, Thulander said he knows the importance of working together.
“You support each other,” he said. In Woodstock, the inn did not always have a strong relationship with the town, and he helped build a partnership by volunteering with civic groups, forging ties with the local business community, and encouraging his employees and managers to do the same. Thulander said he is proud that, when he announced plans to leave the Woodstock Inn, he was visited by many citizens and civic leaders who were sad to see him go.
“We need each other to be successful,” Thulander said. He pledged to make himself available to hear concerns from Chathamites.
“I do want to listen to our neighbors and our community,” he said. When it comes to controversial decisions, it is about weighing community concerns with the inn’s business needs. “It’s about finding that balance,” Thulander said.
He and his wife, Mary, have two grown children and own a home in Brewster, and family members are here as well. They have a granddaughter and another grandchild on the way.