By Lynne Winter
Anita Kudasik spent her childhood immersed in the hospitality industry. Her parents, Polish immigrants who came to Colorado in 1991, are longtime hoteliers in Salida.
“Growing up, my family always lived on-site,” she said. “Running a hotel is a 24-hour business.”
Kudasik didn’t realize she was destined to follow in her parents’ footsteps until she enrolled in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Hospitality in 2014. But this 2019 graduate didn’t go into the family business; she started her own, buying and opening her Salida spot in 2018 while she was still completing her degree in Hotel Management.
“When I got to the School of Hospitality, I knew it was where I was supposed to be,” she said.
In early 2018, with graduation still on the horizon, Kudasik was presented with a unique opportunity: The retiring owner of Salida’s American Classic Inn asked her family if they wanted to purchase the property.
“He was getting too old to handle everything,” Kudasik said, “but he didn’t want to see it torn down for condos.”
With her parents’ support, Kudasik purchased the worn-out motel that May, and she and her boyfriend Ralph Fish moved back to Salida to become on-site operators. Over the next year Kudasik, made the six-hour round-trip drive to and from Denver each week to finish her senior year of college while she and Fish reimagined what the motel could become.
“(It) was in disarray – probably about six months away from being deemed uninhabitable,” she said. “It had great bones but needed a lot of love.”
Replacing the roof, windows, doors and insulation in all 20 rooms during that first season – late spring through late fall – left nothing extra for cosmetic renovations and forced her to keep room rates low to generate revenue.
“We were one of the cheapest motels in town,” she said.
But following her second season at the helm, the hotel brought in enough revenue to begin room renovations scheduled to be wrapped up by May 2020, just in time for the start of the busy season.
Then, the pandemic struck.
In March 2020, Chaffee County Public Health closed all lodging in Salida for leisure purposes to deter tourists from coming to the area. It crushed the economy of a town dependent on tourism.
“Covid shook me – I wondered if we were going to make it,” Kudasik said. “I knew I had to grit my teeth and try to make every cent I could, or that was going to be the end.”
The hotels that remained open for essential workers and business created a tight-knit community that navigated the pandemic restrictions. They also helped the health department develop a plan for safely welcoming tourists back to Salida.
Now on the cusp of the summer season, Kudasik is optimistic. Renovations on the uniquely designed rooms are finished, and soon, one more with a kitchenette will be added. In the interest of constantly improving the guest experience, the next project will transform an abandoned pool into a sunken guest patio.
Kudasik says her time at MSU Denver prepared her for the pandemic and this moment.
“I’d been in one of the culinary classes thinking, ‘I don’t need this,’” she said. “Now, when I’m taking care of guests during breakfast service, I’m glad I have that knowledge.”
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