A Personal Perspective on the O. Henry Hotel and
the Green Valley Grill
many people have asked about our new hotel and restaurant in Greensboro,
that I decided to answer the questions en masse, via this neighborhood
letter. So here goes
I guess this venture really got started when Nancy King (my wife) and
I were fifteen years old. We both started our careers in the hospitality
business: she with Disney in Florida, and I in Montana at the Red Lion
Hotel in Missoula. Nancy went on to Cornells hotel school, and
I played various roles in several different hotels, mostly for the same
company, and primarily in the West. Then, in 1978 1 moved to Greensboro
to open Franklins Off Friendly with Bill Sherrill. We hired Nancy
during one of her Christmas breaks from Cornell, and then, well
that is how Nancy and Dennis came to be Nancy and Dennis.
We both stayed in the hospitality business. Nancy worked with Marriott,
Guest Quarters, and with John Q. Hammons at his Embassy Suites and Holiday
Inn Hotels. For the last three years, she has been with us at Quaintance-Weaver,
focusing on our menus and on the O. Henry. I stayed in the business,
and ten years ago I teamed up with the greatest guy and greatest partner
in the world and started Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels. Along
with Mike Weaver, we own three Lucky 32 restaurants, the Green Valley
Grill and the O. Henry Hotel.
The Community-Centered Hotel
Nancy and I have long observed a gap in the hotel business. Years ago
communities had locally-owned, passionately run hotels that were in
and of the community. These old hotels were close to where people
lived and worked, and even though they served the traveling public,
they also served their neighbors. They were real centers of community
life and a source of pride for the city. Then came the interstate highways
and commercial aviation, along with some technical advances in hotel
facility design, and poof, the community-centered hotels disappeared.
In their place came national, corporately-owned, brand name hotels,
situated along the highways or near the airports. These hotels dont
seem to fill the place that the old hotels filled in the hearts of their
neighbors. They are in the city but not in and of the community
and neighborhoods. So, we thought, Lets bring back the neighborhood,
community-centered hotels of old. Wouldnt several North Carolina
cities love to have a small, tasteful, locally-owned, passionately run,
boutique hotel located near where people live, yet convenient for travelers;
a hotel that is in and of the community? We are certain
the answer is YES!
The O. Henry In and Of Greensboro
We decided to begin our hotel venture in our home community, Greensboro.
First we asked, What is our community about? Our answer
is: its about education (five colleges and universities) and culture
(a rich history of writers and artists even the N.C. Poet Laureate);
its about cooperation and collaboration between industry, government,
education, and society in general (I guess meaning cooperation and collaboration
between neighbors for the greater good); its about
beauty natural and man-made beauty; and its about blending
tradition and innovation. So, with this definition in mind, we set out
to design and, of course, eventually operate our hotel paying dutiful
honor to the unique character of Greensboro.
Our in and of Greensboro idea goes further than the design.
First the name. O. Henry, the distinguished and world-renowned short
story writer was born in Greensboro as William Sidney Porter in 1862.
He authored The Gift of the Magi, The Last Leaf,
Of Cabbages and Kings, and The Ransom of Red Chief,
to name a few. He attended his Aunt Linas school in Greensboro
before leaving for Texas. (His Aunts schoolroom has been replicated
at the Greensboro Historical Museum.) After his death in 1910, a local
group decided Greensboro needed a modern hotel. So, in 1919 they built
one on Bellemeade and called it the O. Henry. With this
history, we couldnt resist naming our hotel the O. Henry. In
and of Greensboro, wouldnt you say? Additionally, our largest
banquet room will be called the Caldwell Room for our forefather
and esteemed educator, David Caldwell.
We wanted the new O. Henry to look like the original O. Henry, but the
way it would look had it been built in 1998 rather than 1919 (tradition
and innovation). We honored the rustication and arched windows of the
first level, and the old-fashioned, double hung windows in the guestrooms.
We also turned to other Greensboro buildings for inspiration - for instance,
we borrowed the design of the urns atop Aycock School. The interior
will be wonderful, warm and welcoming, without being standoffish or,
as I call it fancy-dancy. (We sometimes worry that folks
think this is going to be a snobby place, but I assure you it will not.
It will be nice, it will be friendly, and it will feel like a hotel
thats been around for fifty years. But, it will not be stuffy.
No doilies here!) We will have every modern amenity in our oversized
guestrooms, including: impressive electronic data connections; an individual
direct-dial phone number for each guest; two vanities; a dressing room;
a shower separate from a steeping tub; a microwave; a refrigerator;
a coffee maker; a full-sized desk; windows that actually open; and a
complimentary breakfast, along with gardens, a courtyard, and a pavilion.
The Green Valley Grill - A Great Solution
We knew the hotel was a great idea and that people would love it, but
we had a problem. in the hotel industrys evolution, it managed
to give itself a black eye in the food and beverage quality
department. The current perception is that most hotel restaurants are
just okay, and that hotel eateries are expensive, dress-up
places. These are real problems and I think weve figured out a
We will not have a restaurant in the O. Henry, but there will be one
adjacent. The Green Valley Grill will stand proudly next to, and attached
to, the O. Henry. We are determined that the Green Valley Grill will
have its own, separate identity. it will be a wonderful, exciting
building with a great menu and delectable flavors. In fact, it will
be like Lucky 32, only different. It will be like Luckys, in that
it will feature different menus every month menus that relate to a regional
or ethnic cuisine. It will be different, because while Luckys
menu and decor has a distinctive American, New World reference,
the Green Valley Grill will have a distinctive European, Old World
reference. At Luckys, the featured menu might offer tastes from
the Pacific Northwest one month and from New England the next, where
the Green Valley Grill might feature recipes from the Tuscan region
of Italy one month and from the Provence region of France the next.
In other words, at Luckys its mashed potatoes with butter,
and at the Green Valley Grill its creamy polenta with extra virgin
olive oil. (The Green Valley Grill will also handle the catering needs
for the O. Henrys 5,400 square feet of banquet space, and the
room service for its 131 rooms.)
With the Green Valley Grill, our design concept is again a blend of
tradition and innovation. Our idea was that we discovered
an old, abandoned two-story building that was once a mill or a community
store; and time had claimed everything, except the shell and the roof.
We fantasized that this building was designed in a Tuscan style. So,
we took pictures of Tuscan-style buildings around Greensboro
like the Blandwood Mansion, the old store up on Highway 150 at Lake
Brandt Road, and the little pump house on Benjamin Parkway at Lake Daniel
and used them as our inspiration. Then we pretended that we truly
had discovered the old building, and restored it into a restaurant with
a modern, open kitchen, and a huge wood-burning oven, rotisserie and
grill. The Green Valley Grill - in and of Greensboro as
Beyond Design and Name
We believe that a business wont succeed by just having a good
idea. The business must decide what service it is going to provide for
the community, then make providing that service its focus. We believe
that success will he the natural by-product of meeting the communitys
needs. We have developed a five-point mission statement that is our
organizations reason for being. It is what we call
the promises we make to our guests and our staff. (When
we bring new people into our company, we explain that on this team you
are not subordinate to other human beings but you are subordinate to
the ideas held in our mission.) We focus first to serve our guests,
and second to provide rewarding employment. Then, when we do these well,
weve learned that we will naturally be successful. We are proud
that we operate under this idealistic premise, and I can assure you
that these words are not pop culture rhetoric. They are the soul of
Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels. This community-centered approach
seems simpatico with our observation that Greensboro is, to a certain
extent, about cooperation and collaboration.
There you have it. That is my perspective on the O. Henry Hotel and
the Green Valley Grill and our dreams for their future. It is really
incredible that we have the opportunity to build and operate a dream.
Beyond this dream, it is our ambition to bring similar community-centered
hotels and restaurants to other Carolina communities. Stay tuned...