The juxtaposition of having a modern hotel in a traditional Amish Country setting could be a risky endeavor, but for The Wallhouse Hotel, the investors made it work through their vision and inclusion of the community.
WALNUT CREEK, Ohio—The term “Amish Country” brings up images of traditional, no-frills buildings and country-charm décor. For the developers of The Wallhouse Hotel in Ohio’s Amish Country, veering away from that traditional design—while embracing locally driven hospitality—has resulted in a hotel that guests and locals love.
Investors Robert Schlabach, Tom Miller and Dave Schlabach said it was first all about easing the property into the location in Walnut Creek, Ohio.
The 62-room hotel, built in 2013, incorporates more of a modern, European design—an aesthetic the local investors found they preferred, thanks to their love of traveling. Still, the owners wanted to create something that would be versatile anywhere, said Kala Hoover, the hotel’s director.
“This is definitely the most modern (hotel) in the area; it’s not your typical design … that you’re used to when you come to Amish Country,” Hoover said. “We’ve got stainless steel (accents) … neon green on the walls. But it’s locally made and built, so it’s that same Amish quality, just a different style and design (than what) travelers are used to seeing when they come to the area.”
Robert Schlabach said the development team knew it was going to be different than anything else in Amish Country, but they wanted to go for something more unique.
Establish the vision
Hoover said that once the community realized that The Wallhouse wasn’t “a huge corporation that just plopped this hotel down in Amish Country, it kind of eased them in a little bit.”
The hotel’s operators said maintaining that local, independent spirit throughout the hotel, from its design to its operations and service, would be important when it came to fitting into the community.
“From the owners to all of the staff there, we have this similar goal and our goal is to serve. We are very passionate about hospitality, the customer service that we provide,” Hoover said. “And even if (guests) are unsure because of the design, the hotel is just a hotel. It’s the people inside of it that help make that experience. We have plenty of people that have come to the hotel not really sure about it, and those are the ones who are repeat guests.”
Include the locals
Hoover said the hotel has a lot of support from locals, and Amish families will even come and stay for a night away. The Wallhouse offers its community residents a 15% discount.
Tourism plays into the hotel’s programming, as well. A local Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center draws hotel guests who want to learn more about the local culture and way of life. The hotel also partners with tour buses to take guest out in the town, even giving them an opportunity to have dinner at an Amish family’s home.
“We do some research, we call around and then word of mouth gets out there and the people who put on these little backroad trips and (offer) dinner in Amish homes … kind of come to us,” she said.
Key into what guests are asking for
Once the vision was established, the hotel needed to focus on its guests’ needs. And as a fairly new hotel, Hoover said the management team has found great success in listening to its guests and taking action on their suggestions.
“Our front-desk team, as our guests are checking out, we always ask them, ‘How was your stay?’ ‘Any suggestions for us for improvement for next time?”’ she said. “It’s helped us out a lot, and (we’ve) made a lot of improvements.”
From suggestions, the hotel has transformed its breakfast offerings, and even been nimble enough to respond to guest requests for things like shower hooks in the bathrooms.
It’s “the management company and the ownership company that allow us to do these things to make our guests happy, and that makes them feel like they are being taken care of,” she said.
By having amenities like a fitness room, a breakfast area, indoor pool, conference room, lounge area with fire pits, board games for families and an area with computers and a printer for guest use, Hoover said the hotel can appeal to many different generations and guest types.
Go above and beyond for the guests
Hoover said working to go above and beyond is how the hotel team has built a great relationship with its guests.
“If a guest is there for an anniversary, (he or she) doesn’t have to ask us to put something (extra) in the room,” she said. “We’re going to try to do the little things that people don’t expect. We want to set ourselves apart.”
For instance, at check-in, the front desk offers families with kids a toy to choose from a basket, at no extra cost. The key is to focus on the overall guest experience, not just the profit, she said.
“If we have somebody who mentions they really love (local Amish restaurant) Der Dutchman (or) their favorite thing is peanut butter pie, we’ll put that pie in the fridge,” she said. “We want to constantly think about how would we feel, what would blow our socks off?”
By being an independent hotel, both Hoover and Robert Schlabach agreed that they have more freedom without brand standards, meaning it doesn’t take a long time to make decisions.
This year the hotel ranked in TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Hotels in the U.S., but they don’t want to stop there. Hoover said the next step is moving up on the list. And Robert Schlabach said he hopes to add more rooms and expand to offer a sit-down restaurant.
“We’re just doing our own thing,” Hoover said.” “We’re creating that experience.”