DARTMOUTH — Mike Melenchuk left the security of a brand to strike out on his own with three properties in Atlantic Canada, all under the Hearthstone Inn banner. From myriad four poster beds to rooms themed to match locations in Dartmouth, Sydney and Port Hastings, these hotels are truly one-of-a-kind.
Melenchuk has been in the hotel business since 1975. He purchased the 54-room Dartmouth property out of receivership. It was then called Le Marquis, an upscale European French hotel with French provincial decor. Melanchuk changed it and ran it as the independent Mic Mac Inn, then as a Best Western for 10 years and later as a Quality Inn for 10 years. In the meantime, he acquired a 70-room property in Sydney and a 50-room motel in Port Hastings, N.S.
“The brand was not doing anything for us and was costing us a lot of money,” he told CLN. “We dropped the brand and started looking for a theme that would make us different and help us stand out in a competitive world.”
He credits his business partner, Holly Robinson, who has been involved with the company for the past eight years, with coming up with ideas that would make every room special. “She was the driving force.”
“I have to warn you that I get very excited, very passionate when I talk about the hotels,” Robinson warned CLN at the beginning of her interview.
“When I entered Dartmouth, I got ideas of how to start building a new brand with a different guest experience, so that the guest would feel like they were coming home,” she said. “The lobby had such enormous potential — it could look like a grand old estate, with sophistication.”
They started in 2014 with the Sydney property, making a deal with a decorating school to upgrade and create five theme rooms based on top Cape Breton attractions: The Fortress of Louisbourg room, Alexander Graham Bell room, Miner's Museum room, Celtic Room and Cabot Trail Room.
“That launched us on a path,” said Melenchuk. “Once the contract was up in Dartmouth, we did the same thing. It was much easier to do the renovations because we are located there.”
In Dartmouth, Robinson took on the design role. “We wanted a different vibe for the hotel. It's loaded with antiques, with many different, carefully chosen, unique decorative items. We wanted a feeling of elegance and comfort — like the guest is dining in someone's upscale dining room or staying in someone's mansion,” she said, adding that they have golf, nautical, Asian and jazz-themed rooms.
The Dartmouth property has several four-poster beds with canopies or sheer draperies, Port Hastings has one, and some are also being added in Sydney. All of the rooms have wood floors.
Each floor has library nooks at either end of the hallways, with books and board games.
In the breakfast rooms, guests dine in an old world style like an English tea room, with real china and crystal sugar and cream sets. Many of the food items are home made — baked beans, tea biscuits and hash. The music hearkens back to an earlier era — Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin or Benny Goodman. Cookies and sweets are served on silver or crystal plates.
“These are the special little touches that make it like a second home,” said Robinson.
Guests and staff get involved with the hotels, donating pieces of furniture from their own homes. They have pumpkin-carving contests at Hallowe'en and gingerbread houses at Christmas.
The clientele differs according to season and property. In Sydney the winter guests are commercial travellers and sports teams, and in summer there are tourists, largely because of the Cabot Trail.
Port Hastings is at the start of the Cabot Trail and close to golf at Inverness and also attracts commercial business.
Dartmouth has commercial trade all year round. It's close to the Mic Mac Mall, IKEA and industrial areas. Guests can try out a canoe or kayak on Lake Banook or visit museums dedicated to art, history or oceanography. It also caters to tourists during the summer months.
As an independent hotel company, “we can execute and make changes right away,” said Robinson. “We're more nimble. If a guest asks for a change, we can make it happen. The furnishings are what we want them to be — antique ice buckets and wine glasses, unique bed scarves and shower curtains. We can think outside the box.
“A lot of hotels have contemporary design with straight lines — they don't have the warmth that we have — a unique, eclectic vibe. It's really fun and it's very much a team effort. We have many long-term employees and some guests have been coming for more than 40 years. It's very much like coming home,” said Robinson.
“We will never stop changing,” said Melenchuk. “Every time a customer comes in, we want them to see something different, something more exciting, a point of interest. Our evolution of change will never stop.”
Projects include upgrading rooms to include four poster beds and fireplaces; renovations in Sydney's lower-level units to create private decks off the rooms starting this fall; and creation of additional units overlooking the causeway in Port Hastings next spring.
“We will continue to upgrade, and if the right opportunity comes up, we would have no hesitation going outside the province [to buy a hotel],” said Melenchuk. He added that he would like to create an association of boutique hotels in the same style as his three properties, in order to get the message out to the customer.