WESTERLY — When Daniel A. Hostettler moved to Westerly with his family in 2008, to head up the $145-million Ocean House renovation project, he thought it would be the final move in his already stellar 25-year career in the luxury hotel and restaurant business — until Michael Dell came calling.
Hostettler, a much-admired, highly respected leader, beloved by staff and community leaders alike, tendered his resignation recently as president and group managing director of Ocean House and its sister properties, to accept the position of president of the Boca Raton Resort & Club, a property owned by Dell's private investment firm, MSD Capital.
"I love Westerly," Hostettler said thoughtfully one afternoon last week as he sat in the lobby of the majestic Watch Hill hotel reminiscing about his last 12 years at Ocean House. "I thought this was my forever job ... but how do you say 'No' to Mr. Dell?"
The Boca Raton Resort & Club, one of South Florida’s most iconic hotels, had been searching for the right person to lead their $350 million rebranding and refurbishment efforts and they set their sights on Hostettler, who is also North American president of Relais & Châteaux, the luxury hotel chain.
The first few times time they asked him, he actually did say no, Hostettler said as he described his difficult decision-making process.
"How could anyone leave Westerly," Hostettler mused. "My daughter was born here, my children and my wife are happy here ... there are not many places like Westerly."
From the "Norman Rockwell-esque" feeling of Westerly to its proximity to New York and Boston, and the sense of community, Hostettler said, Westerly is really the ideal place to live.
"The people here are so incredibly warm and genuine," he said. "Even though we were transplants, we've always felt like this is home."
When the 51-year-old Hostettler explained his dilemma to the people from Dell's team in Boca Raton, they urged him to keep his house in Westerly but to come to work in Florida.
In the end, he said, that's what he and his wife, Katie, decided to do. Katie Hostettler, who is also a hospitality professional, and the two Hostettler children, Will, 13, and Anna, 10, will stay through the summer and join Daniel in September. He'll travel back and forth until then.
When he completes this "one, last crazy challenge," Hostettler said, they plan to return to live in Westerly.
Hostettler's challenge will be to rebrand the 356-acre Boca Raton Resort with its five hotels, two 18-hole golf courses, 30 tennis courts, 13 restaurants, eight bars and a marina into an independent property and help usher in its "new golden era" ahead of its 100th anniversary in 2026.
"I am excited by the scale of the project," said the Swiss-born Hostettler. "The owners want a similar high level of community involvement ... it's similar but a whole lot bigger."
If anyone is up to the task, said financier Charles M. "Chuck" Royce, principal owner of Ocean House Hotel Partners, it's Hostettler.
"Daniel," Royce said in a recent letter to stakeholders, "is truly one of the great hoteliers of his generation."
"Under Daniel's leadership," Royce said, listing Hostettler's accomplishments, "Ocean House is now one of the greatest hotels in the world."
Beginning in 2008, Royce said, "when he took an office in our construction trailer and spearheaded our opening in May 2010, the awards that have been given to Ocean House and its sister properties are due to Daniel and his senior staff's outstanding vision, leadership and creativity."
Hostettler has "consistently achieved Forbes' highest rating," Royce said. "We are thrilled for Daniel and what this exceptional opportunity will mean for his career advancement and for his family."
The search is underway for a new leader, Royce said, a transition team has been created and the Hostettlers will always be part of the Royce-Ocean House family.
During his tenure, Hostettler not only became president and group managing director of Ocean House and its sister properties — Weekapaug Inn, Watch Hill Inn, Preserve Sporting Club & Residences and Inn at Hastings Park — but saw to it that Ocean House collected jewel after jewel in the crown of the hospitality industry. One of only four hotels in the United States — and 13 worldwide — to receive a triple five-star rating from Forbes Travel Guide — for the hotel, spa and restaurant — Ocean House also has a double five-diamond rating from AAA for the hotel and restaurant. Weekapaug Inn has also been awarded a Forbes five-star designation.
"He did put Westerly ... and Watch Hill ... back on the map," said Antonia Korosec, Ocean House general manager.
Twelve years ago, she added, "people used to say we were an overflow for Newport."
These days, under Hostettler's guidance, she said, "we can say with confidence that our guests do come to see us ... we are a destination, because of what we've created."
Not only for hotel guests, she said, but for day visitors and the Westerly community.
"It doesn’t matter if you are from the other side of the world," Korosec added, "when you work here, you have a sense of belonging to a new family ... and a community."
"Daniel has perfected the art of delivering excellence," said Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce. "He is very creative, inspiring to his team and obsessive about the tiniest of details, all of which contribute to incredible and memorable experiences for Ocean House guests."
Some of those memorable experiences were not always Forbes five-star-ish, Hostettler said laughingly as he recalled the first-ever Fourth of July Lobster Boil on the beach in front of Ocean House.
"It was the worse moment of my life," he joked as he described the scene.
"We didn't have a lot of New Englanders at the time, so there we were, standing on the beach boiling lobsters in small pots one at a time, while the line of hungry, unhappy guests grew longer and longer.
"But people are so forgiving," he added. "We never made that mistake again. The Independence Day Beach Ball is now one of our signature summer events."
Hostettler actually added a number of signature events to the calendar, including the now traditional lighting of the Christmas tree in front of Ocean House that many say has forever changed the way locals celebrate the holiday season.
Each year, during the Thanksgiving weekend, the public is invited to gather on the front lawn at Ocean House to watch Santa arrive via firetruck and the lights on the enormous evergreen get turned on while carolers, dressed in Victorian garb, sing songs of the season. Afterward, everyone is invited inside for cookies and hot cocoa.
The weekend before Christmas, locals are invited back for the "Christmas in Song" musical event at the Watch Hill Chapel. The events are complementary.
Hostettler, known for his love of the Christmas season, said he will miss all the hotel events — the children's Disney parties, the wine tastings, the themed-dinners, the fireworks displays — and some of the unusual experiments — the taco truck on the beach and the gondolas-for-fondue. But he will mostly miss the people he has met: the guests, and the people he has worked alongside for the last 12 years.
"I'm going to miss the staff," he said, brushing away a tear. "There are so many people still with us from the beginning."
There's a special pride that comes with training employees in five-star-style excellence, he added.
"Everybody is so proud to work here," he said as he spoke warmly about some of the longest-serving staff members.
The Royces, he said, Chuck and his wife, Deborah, have created "a proud legacy of community involvement" he hopes will continue.
"The Ocean House is a good community partner," said Rhode Island state Sen. Dennis L. Algiere, "and a lot of that is due to Daniel's leadership."
"Daniel has always stepped up to the plate," Algiere added. "Whether there's been a natural disaster or, now, through the pandemic, he's always been ready to help ... whether providing food or resources.
"I'm going to miss him," he continued. "I wish him all the best."
Korosec said during the last days of Hostettler's days at the Ocean House helm, she and other members of the hotel's management team kept reminding one another of one thing:
"It's not a goodbye," she said, "but a see you again."