Dede Gotthelf has spent more than a few decades personally seeing to the desires, wants, needs and comfort of guests as the owner of the beautiful Southampton Inn, located in Southampton, NY. Well-known and well-respected among her peers and those in the hospitality and business communities, Gotthelf is the “go to” lady who has always graciously given her time, attention and resources to a myriad of local causes and worthy charities.
Gothelf reveals that she “Grew up (sort of) in NYC, graduated from The Brearley School, then Williams College with a partial MBA from NYU (which I dropped because I was being sent, by Chase Manhattan, to Malaysia during final exam month!), and presently resides in both a historic brownstone in Harlem and home in East Quogue.”
This dynamo “go to” lady is not only an astute and successful businesswoman, but an artist as well. As a classically trained pianist and award-winning artist, she combines both practical and artistic sensibilities seamlessly into her involvement and support of the Southampton Cultural Center, the Southampton Historical Museum, the Rising Star Piano Recitals, and many others.
With a career spanning real estate development and financial consulting, Gotthelf has been operating the Southampton Inn since 1998. Built in 1973, the Inn is located in the heart of Southampton Village on five acres, offering guests recently renovated divine luxury accommodations in 90 well-appointed rooms, (14 of which are pet-friendly!), the Inn also includes a heated 50-foot outdoor pool, all-weather tennis court, ballroom, and private gardens, so if that isn’t enough to keep you happy and entertained there is also a shuffleboard court, ping pong table, green spaces for croquet, volleyball, or badminton, as well as a game room.
Not sated yet? Well, as they say in Gotthelf’s prior real estate career – location, location, location – the Inn is truly just steps from the local Southampton movie theatre, and the many fine dining and casual restaurants, designer boutiques, art galleries, parks, and museums located in the Village of Southampton, and if you are craving sand and surf, the famous Coopers Beach is just a few miles away. If you don’t feel like taking a casual stroll, Southampton Inn offers bicycles too!
Gotthelf was recognized in 2012 with the distinction of CFO of the Year by Long Island Business News, with an award for outstanding fiscal leadership and asset management for her professional commitment and community involvement. Additionally, she founded “It Takes A Village,” which focuses on numerous small businesses operating on the East End to combine efforts for a greater impact on tourism.
Catching up with this busy lady, Gotthelf relayed to Hamptons.com some thoughts as to what “her” Hamptons encompasses:
Congratulations on such a successful and long-standing commitment to visitors (and residents too) with all that Southampton Inn has offered these many years. Why did you decide to purchase and then run an Inn?
DG: A local realtor was having difficulty putting together a sales package on the Inn (in 1997) and asked me to assist in analyzing the numbers. I completed the offering packet for him, my youngest son was then accepted to kindergarten, so I called the broker back and said, “I’ll buy it.” I only decided to “run” the Inn (or as some say, have the Inn run me…) in 2003 when our institutional lender required that I personally take the reigns, set up a management company, and oversee operations.
Southampton Inn has been referred to as a “boutique” inn. What is your definition of that term?
DG: Boutique to me means an individual, creative, smaller in scale, personally attentive place that is different from the chains, flags and franchises; that truly connects to the location and community rather than to a set of somewhat homogenous national (or international) sameness.
Hearing some fantastic tasty nuggets about the new Cafe Klyde…how taunting an undertaking was it to open a new restaurant (2016) as part of the Inn in these difficult economic times? Can you tell us a bit about the restaurant such as menu specialties?
DG: We will continue to serve the “best” breakfasts and provide catering services for corporate meetings, social events such as weddings, family reunions, birthday parties as we have for 20 years. We will not be “Klyde” anymore as a company with a trademark in Idaho objects. (Even though that is the name of the Inn house cat and in no way was meant to steal business from an Idaho trademark), and we have already started looking for the chef and concept for 2017 on our annual pop-up food outlets. What will we be next year?
Tell us a bit more about “It Takes A Village” and your involvement. Does the organization work directly with the Hamptons Visitor Council as well?
DG: One of the daunting realities of business in the Hamptons is the extreme seasonality. I have been working with local cultural organizations, retailers and businesses to encourage media to promote people to visit during the most beautiful shoulder and winter seasons. I believe that this is imperative for sustaining our communities, year-round jobs, (even services like the hospital – the doctors and nurses and equipment costs on a year round basis – you can’t furlough the intensive care unit just because there are fewer people living here during the winter months). I work with the Hampton Visitor Council, graciously funded by the Southampton Town Board and LICVB (and business advertisers), to heavily encourage tourism between Labor Day and Memorial Day. The “It Takes A Village” was an informal group dedicated to the same thing – more year-round occupancy and tourism. Southampton is especially beautiful during the Christmas and New Year holidays with the lights, trees, retail window decorations, candlelight cocktails in historic houses and carols sung on the street corners by historically clad members of our community!
How pertinent was your real estate and financial business background to your decision to become an innkeeper?
DG: My business background led me into an “I can do that” mentality that made it possible to put together an offer on the Inn and its adjacent commercial buildings during the late 1990’s. As “general managers” of hotels usually have a specialty focus – some on operations, some on food and beverage, some for promotion and sales, some on décor and furnishings, my background focused on the financials to maintain profitability for ownership during the past 20 years, while coordinating the other aspects of a successful hospitality undertaking. I think understanding the economics of a business is one of the most important aspects of running any business and thank Chase Manhattan for training me in its global credit and accounting program.
What activities would you recommend to a first time visitor to the Hamptons after enjoying a delicious meal and comfortable night at the Southampton Inn?
DG: I enjoy all that Southampton offers in all seasons and try to share this with our guests. Of course a walk on the beach, either in a bathing suit or a down jacket – depending on the season. Bicycling through the estate district out our front door. Visiting the various museums (Historic Rogers Mansion, Shinnecock Cultural Center, Parrish Art Museum), participating in the myriad of recreational activities (surfing, kayaking, boating, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, golf, running and hiking). Visiting the historic sites (Conscience Point where the settlers first landed, graveyards from the 18th century, Halsey House). There’s also lots of great repertory theatre (Southampton Cultural Center, Hamptons Theatre Company, Bay Street), concerts (world renowned Pianofest of the Hamptons, Rising Stars, Bridgehampton Chamber Music, and so much more). The boutique (there’s that word again…) shopping on Jobs Lane and Main Street is so much fun (and after Labor Day the discounts are also so much fun). Bird watching, visiting lighthouses, and just poking through the narrow tree lined streets looking at the scenery. We also share invitations to many of the local charity galas during the season – passing along “member” discounts to tickets so that our visitors can experience the “inn-sider” of Southampton Village.
Given your vast experience in hospitality, what direction do you see not only Southampton Inn leaning towards in the next few years to keep guests coming back, but any projections you would like to venture for the future of the hospitality industry in general?
DG: I don’t pretend to have vast experience in hospitality! But I am concerned that the costs of doing business are rising faster than the ability to increase rates and occupancy in our region. The payroll, insurance, taxes, utilities, and property maintenance are all necessary on a 12-month basis but the occupancy seasonality is becoming more extreme in recent years. The competition from unlicensed and frequently untaxed illegal private home rentals is daunting (good if they are, in fact, code complaint, occupancy taxed, and properly maintained, but many are not). I am also concerned that “The Hamptons” is noted for celebrities, expensive luxury, traffic and tantrums, and that is simply not reflective of “my” Hamptons – which is the magnificent light, the scenic beauty, the family friendly atmosphere, and delicious affordable foods. We need more promotion of the “real” Hamptons – not just the celebrity and expensive zip code Hamptons. Future? I think (and sincerely hope) that visitors will want to experience the Hamptons for many, many years to come. How could they not when we have so much to offer all year long?
Finally, given your artistic expertise, does the Inn have a piano and do you ever just sit down to tinkle the ivories to the delight of guests?
DG: Yes, the Southampton Inn has an old Steinway piano, and although I only play in the deep of winter at our annual New Year’s Eve gala, or at home, we host a dinner for the Pianofest participants in June with the amazing musicians gathered around the piano offering Chopin and Beethoven, Liszt and Mendelsohn much to the delight of our hotel guests and staff. Even our cat, Klyde, enjoys those evenings!
With two children in graduate school (atomic and molecular physics and architecture/lighting design) and two cats, Gotthelf’s idea of a restful evening will find her on her screened-in porch reading a good book. Sounds delightful!
For more information on the Southampton Inn call 631-283-6500, or go to www.southamptoninn.com.