Old rooming house restored to past glory
As a schoolboy, Curtis Bashaw fell in love with his dormitory and its glorious history.
The storied structure in Cape May, N.J., burned in the historic fire of 1878, was rebuilt, renamed The Virginia Hotel, and catapulted onto the society pages of numerous publications as the glamorous old girl played host to the rich and famous of the day.
But by the time Bashaw roomed in his quarters at the once-glamorous spot, the 24-room venue had long ago fallen out of fashion. When the community of Cape May declined as a resort destination some years after its glory days ended, the fortunes of The Virginia Hotel also suffered.
“Before its owner, Curtis Bashaw and his family, bought it in 1986, the property had been through a lot,” says Patrick DeLaney, restaurant manager of the The Ebbitt Room Restaurant in the hotel. “It was a rooming house at one point, and a school dormitory at another, before it was actually condemned in the 1980s.”
DeLaney adds, “When Curtis lived there … he just fell in love with the property and with Virginia.”
And by the mid 1980s, he returned to Virginia to restore the property and wound up resurrecting an entire community, breathing new life into several other properties as well.
DeLaney explains in this week’s Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand how Curtis Bashaw overcame steep obstacles, including six bank loan rejections, and other setbacks, to seize The Virginia Hotel from the “ashes” and make it a centerpiece of a Cape May restoration effort that has brought prosperity once more to the seaside town.
Q: Give me a sense of the scope of The Virginia Hotel project.
This property was the first one to be taken under Curtis’s wing. For a long time, it was his only property, and it took an incredible amount of work and tenacity to bring it to fruition. At one point this place was nearly condemned. It was in very bad shape. Mr. Bashaw was rejected six times for a bank loan, and the amount of the work to restore the property was staggering. For example, the property has original stained-glass windows dating back to 1879. Rather than replace them, they were fully restored. Those windows have become a centerpiece in the hotel.
Q: What challenges do you face keeping up such an antique structure?
The age of the building is our biggest challenge. A building this old will throw you a curveball day in and day out. There’s something that’ll always surprise you; The Virginia knows how to play some tricks on you!
Q: How has the hotel brought hope and prosperity to Cape May?
The hotel led to the creation of the Cape May Resort Group, which now encompasses several properties, which have been restored and brought back to life. Our biggest property, which is the second one Curtis purchased, is Congress Hall. This property contains two restaurants, The Blue Pig and the Boiler Room. And a block away, we have the Rusty Nail restaurant and the Beach Shack Inn, and many others, including The Sandpiper Beach Club condos.
From the original Virginia Hotel, all of this sprang, including the acquisition of a 62-acre farm in West Cape May called Beach Plum Farm.
Q: Please tell me more about the farm?
It’s the only farm of its size on the island, and is one of the biggest in the county. This is where the restaurant (The Ebbitt Room) gets all our pork products, poultry and produce. The farm is an exciting development in all that has happened since The Virginia Hotel came to fruition. We’re looking into getting into honey on the farm, and it’s grown so popular with tourists that we’ve opened up a restaurant there called the Beach Plum Farm stand. Diners can literally walk out the door and see the chicken coops and the raised beds for growing herbs and vegetables.
Q: How do you get staff on board for all the exciting developments at any of the Cape May properties?
The big motto, the one sentence we’re all told, is to think in terms of the old expression, “Company’s coming!” This is something that Curtis’s mom used to say when she was entertaining. Hospitality was instilled in him at a young age, by his mother Celeste, and is how we all make an effort to treat our guests in the restaurants or rooms as if they’re company.
Q: It sounds fantastic! But, how do you attract customers to your door?
We have a great marketing team, which has helped us to recognize that people who come to us are not customers, they’re our guests. We try to connect with them by marketing our assets from our specialty cocktails and menu to our venue, with porches to relax on, and our attention to making their experience happy and memorable.
We try to dispel the idea that we’re stuffy and high-priced. As soon as they walk through the door, they find out that we’re different. We have a very strong sense of personal ownership that runs throughout the whole company. So, when we welcome a guest, it’s like we’re welcoming them into our own home. — The Virginia Hotel uses Boxerbrand menu covers in its presentation. Thank you!