It might seem strange, but the career of nurse practitioner Nicole Brownell proved to be a perfect platform from which to jump into hotel management. So, too, was her husband Doug's varied background in sales and recruiting for the U.S. Department of Defense. Both Nicole and Doug brought along useful skills when they joined Doug's brother Dan who was already experienced in hotel work. Dan, Doug and Nicole make up a dynamic team that, for the last two years, has successfully owned and operated Gauthier's Saranac Lake Inn.
"It's sort of weird," says Nicole, "but we all get along really, really well." But, maybe not so strange after all. Doug and Dan's father and Nicole's father were close friends who lived next to one another in Delmar. There the three of them spent their youth, daily playing together. "I always knew, even back in the sixth grade, that I would grow up to marry Doug," says Nicole. She has always thought of Dan as her younger brother.
Working together as a team, however, was a new adventure. After high school, each had gone his or her separate way. Dan went to Mary Mount College, Tarrytown and graduated with a degree in business. Doug went to SUNY Albany where, in 2008, he received a master's degree in business administration. Nicole went to SUNY Buffalo and transferred to the nursing program at Albany Medical College through SUNY.
From left, Dan, Dylan Doug and Nicole Brownell
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
Nicole and Doug did eventually get back together again and had a son, Dylan, born in 2000. For many years, they lived in Albany while Doug worked a variety of jobs, one of them as a salesman for Miller Beer.
While attending school, Nicole also worked as an administrative coordinator at Albany Medical Center, scheduling 24 operating rooms and the post-anesthesia care units. To escape from their busy lifestyle, Doug, Nicole and Dylan would come for weekends to a vacation camp they had purchased in Lake Placid. They enjoyed the beauty of the Adirondacks and the chance to ski, paddle and hike. Together, Dan and Doug have paddled the 90-miler and the 'Round the Mountain races; Doug has competed in the Ironman races.
In 2005 Dan had started working with his father, Douglas Brownell Sr., who owned and ran Gauthier's Inn. When his father died in 2008, the business passed on to his two sons. As the Adirondacks had long since become a favorite place for the whole family, it was decided that the Albany branch of the Brownells would move here permanently and join the business, which they did in 2008. Nicole brought organizational and administrative skills learned in her prior position; Doug brought his business experience as well as his ability to anticipate and satisfactorily meet the needs of customers; Dan, a resident here of several years, had already established contacts with the local community and the tourism trade along with the knowledge acquired while working the business with his father.
After their first year, the three of them tallied up the overhead. It was horrifying. The heating and trash bills were appalling. Something had to be done. It didn't take long to figure out that going green could save money while also contributing to making the planet a healthier place to live.
Several years earlier, Nicole had converted the family to eating an all natural food diet in an effort to boost the immunity of their son Dylan, who was diagnosed with an immunoglobulin production deficit. She had fed him only organic meals, made all his baby food and paid special attention to maintaining highly sanitary surroundings. Additionally, her education had emphasized an holistic approach to healthy living with an emphasis on prevention.
With Nicole's belief in the benefits of eating only organic foods, going green with the Inn was a natural next step. The family immediately set to work and soon had reduced the energy bills by replacing all windows and doors with double-hung, more energy-efficient units and all lighting with compact florescent bulbs. Enormous trash bills were minimized by introducing recycling. The cost of heating the pool was completely eliminated by installing a solar cover. All sheets and towels were replaced by organic linens which are sturdier, stand up well to repeat washings and cause few allergy symptoms.
As a result of their efforts, they are now on sounder financial footing and feel they are contributing to a more sustainable economy. Gauthier's Saranac Lake Inn has been recognized by New York State and Audubon Internationals third party certification for Green Leaf Hotels. Theirs is the second property in the High peaks Region to receive this certification and one of four properties in tge state to hold a Four Leaf Rating.
How do the three partners share responsibilities for this 31 bed motel? The brothers are responsible for daily operations, maintenance, laundry and the front desk. Nicole takes care of marketing, promotions and their eco-program. Dylan, when not in school, is an energetic and enthused helper, constantly bouncing about helping wherever he can. And as a matter of note, Nicole is extremely grateful for an experimental approach to Dylan's health, in which he was given an extra dose of the pneumo-vacination. Since the age of 6, he has been free of illness.
"This kind of work makes for a difficult but enjoyable task. We get to meet a lot of nice people every day and try to steer them to all those Adirondack sights and activities which we enjoy so much ourselves," Dan said. "We try to be heavily involved in the community," added Nicole.
Indeed they do. Dan is a board member of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce; Nicole is an alternate on the village planning board and they have held fundraisers to help pay for the flower baskets on Main Street and they created a donation program with St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center.
In order to remain so out-going, vivacious and charming, these family members do require occasional vacations. Once a year they all (amazingly still together) take a ski trip to Utah. Dan has managed to get away to Mexico and Doug, Nicole and Dylan to South America. As necessity causes so many American families to live far apart, it is especially heartening to see that this one has managed to stay close and work successfully together.
Based on an interview with the Brownell family.