November 14, 2013

A Word with the Boss: Camden Harbour Inn owner’s attention to detail pays

Raymond Brunyanszki leads the hotel to membership in the exclusive Relais & Chateaux association.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Raymond Brunyanszki is originally from the Netherlands and came to the U.S. nearly seven years ago to buy the Camden Harbour Inn with his partner, Oscar Verest. They renovated the inn and this year, it was accepted into Paris-based Relais & Chateaux, a marketing association of about 500 luxury hotels and restaurants worldwide – the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk is the only other member in Maine. Hotels and restaurants pay application and annual fees. The association pays anonymous visits and requires detailed financial and operational information before accepting a property. The inn employs 25 people year-round and 40 in the summer and sells about 4,500 room-nights a year. The restaurant serves about 16,000 customers a year. Brunyanszki declined to provide revenue figures or disclose his income.

click image to enlarge

Raymond Brunyanszki’s Camden Harbour Inn in Camden now belongs to the exclusive Relais & Chateaux association.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Q: What’s the history of the inn?

A: It was built in 1874 by a local carpenter, apparently as a private residence, and he turned it into the Mountain View Inn because at that time it was not very desirable to be near the harbor because it was smelly. Right now the harbor is much more desirable and the name was changed in the 1970s. When we bought it, it was really run down. I recall in late 2006 that I was telling people I was buying the Camden Harbour Inn, they would say, “Where is it?” – and it was one of the biggest buildings in Camden! They had done the utmost to hide the views from the inn, and you didn’t even see the ocean anymore or the harbor. It had 22 rooms when we purchased it and we immediately decided to aim for a higher-end property and create our own market so we would not compete with the other properties in town. We reduced the amount of rooms initially to 18 to give every room a water view and also bought a restaurant that the owner didn’t want and moved it to the Camden Harbour Inn. It was located at the mill in Camden. We didn’t want to add more (restaurant) seats (to the market) because Camden already has a lot of seats, particularly in the winter. We changed the look and menu. It’s a complete new design that fits the high-end market. 

Q: How did you find the inn and decide to buy it?

A: We were here in 2003 for a leaf-peeping trip. It started off with an article in a Dutch newspaper about a four- or five-state tour through New England, and I liked the article so much that I cut it out and put it in a drawer. A few years later, I was cleaning out the drawer and saw it and said, “We should do that.” We were thinking about what we were going to do (professionally) and we were walking on the beach in Ogunquit and talking about it. He said, “I could really see myself living here,” and I could see that as well. So we started looking at some smaller properties in southern Maine, but we realized that we weren’t going to make much money at that – the real estate (market) was high and the competition on room rates was more in southern Maine, so we looked up the coast. The inn was not seriously on the market, but a Realtor told us about it and we were able to purchase it. We went from (looking for) a small property where we could take winters off and go somewhere warmer and now we have 20 rooms and a restaurant and a year-round business. And we have so much fun doing it. 

Q: How do you keep going in the winter?

A: Our rates start at $225 in the winter, but we run some sales and I would say that 99 percent of weekends are filled up and sold out. A lot of those people are coming from Maine and maybe a little from New Hampshire. The rates in the summer start at $425. For a lot of people that can be a little out of budget, so they come up here in the winter. Camden is really nice in the winter, most of the restaurants and shops are open, there’s the snow bowl where people can ski and the toboggan championships and a couple of other things. Also, we have 25 year-round positions and we really like to keep them on the job and make sure they make an income in the winter. It’s a responsibility as an employer that we have. It would be easy to shut everything down, but that’s not helping the town, it’s not helping our employees. 

Q: What sets the inn apart from other hotels and bed and breakfasts?

A: Our guest approach is different. We like the Camden Harbour Inn because it has a structure of a hotel, with private baths and lounges where people can relax in the day and there’s a restaurant. We didn’t want a situation of sitting at someone’s kitchen table in the morning. I really like to be with people, but in the morning I want to have my privacy and drink my coffee. We put a lot of high-end amenities in the rooms. The art is real art chosen for every room and all the rooms were designed uniquely. There’s a lot of furniture from Europe, which we feel fits New England today. It’s extremely detailed: We have 40 people taking care of 20 guest rooms. It’s very personal and we put a lot of thought into what our guests want and their privacy. We tried to combine what we like about staying at a Ritz-Carlton or a Four Seasons – that high-end quality and privacy and attention to detail – with what we like about a bed and breakfast. 

Q: What’s your background? Before you bought the inn, you did some work in the entertainment field?

A: I assisted my mom. She’s one of the most famous comediennes in the Netherlands and still performing, but I am a hotel consultant. I consulted with some of the best hotels in Europe and Oscar, my partner, ran a pharmacy, so we combined our experiences to run our own businesses. The Camden Harbour Inn is a seasonal operation, so it’s different from hotels that I used to work with, with 80 percent occupancy year-round. But as to how to operate a hotel and keep guests happy, there was a lot of experience there. 

Q: Why did you apply to join Relais & Chateaux?

A: I’ve been working the industry and have been very much impressed by Relais & Chateaux. It’s by far the highest-end brand for smaller properties, and it’s unbelievably focused on food as well. A lot of small luxury hotels are focused on the lodging part but when you stay at a Relais & Chateaux property, you have some of the best chefs in the region cooking for you. When we bought this property we weren’t thinking of applying – we were trying to get things up and running – and then in the second year, when the restaurant was stabilized and things became more professional, guests were actually saying “You should consider becoming a Relais & Chateaux property.” So in 2011, I started to have the first conversations about it and we finally applied. 

Q: Why is joining the group so sought after?

A: It’s a group of independently owned hotels that provide a unique experience. Relais & Chateaux decides if you can become a member. If they allow you, you have access to their marketing and they have a huge following. It’s extremely difficult to become a member of Relais & Chateaux. They allow you to be you, but they do look at how your services are performed and how your culinary (operation) is performed. They go much deeper into your operation and they look super, super-detailed. They asked 18 properties to not be a member any more this year because they didn’t think they were working out. I just joked last week that now it becomes difficult – we became a member, now we have to stay one, now the pressure is really on. 

Q: What’s next for the inn? 

A: We are looking into expanding and adding more rooms. We are in the process of talking to architects and would love to see some other amenities here, especially for the winter business. We have some (spa) treatment rooms, but we’d like to have more things like that. We’re also looking if there are other properties available, but it took us three years to find this one and what we love is the unique location of the property and the size of the property. So if we were to buy something else, it would need to make sense and have a similar feeling. Basically, every year we’ve done something and we’re here for the long run, not to make a quick dollar. We want to continue to build one of the best properties in the United States here. 

Q: Where do you like to go on vacation yourself?

A: I’ve lived in Thailand and I love to go back to Thailand once a year. With the business I’m in, hospitality, you learn so much there. They’re far ahead of how to perform services and you see new design concepts as well. I’ve always been like that, since I was 16 – if I was in a city, I wouldn’t look at a monument, I’d go into a hotel and look at what the lobby looks like. I was in Paris recently and stayed in (Le Royal Monceau) Raffles and was so impressed by the hotel, so I would go back to the hotel. I like Paris, but for me I would go back for the hotel.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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