The Inn at Whittier: A Fresh Approach
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Todd Perez, Owner/General Manager of The Inn at Whittier, is a mixture of hospitality, ambition and quiet confidence. Now in his second season running The Inn, these traits guided Perez and have allowed him to shape it in his own vision.
A hotelier all of his life, Perez started in the business at the Seattle Sheraton 35 years ago. He transferred throughout the West Coast, Mexico and the Carribean before ending up back in Alaska where he has family. These experiences led to acquiring The Inn after taking over its operation during the 2017 season.
“I had an opportunity to buy this property this past season,” Perez said. “It ended up being a great move. We’ve been very fortunate the property has turned around. Now it is a profitable venture.”
The hotel was overbuilt back in 2004, Perez said. It was impossible for the past owners to make a profit. In 2008, Hoopers Bay Native Corporation bought the property and ran it by its subsidiary Sea Lion Corporation.
Perez is understandably proud of the turnaround he has performed at The Inn and the effects it has had on guests.
“It’s probably the prettiest setting on the entire peninsula,” Perez said. “It’s a hotel, a seven-million dollar property for a far lesser dollar number. It’s nice to have customers walk in and fall in love with the building and the atmosphere. Our staff, there really isn’t anything they won’t do for the guests. We try to make their stay memorable.”
Perez credits his staff with buying into the philosophy of working a lot of hours while making the guest experience at The Inn better than the rest of Alaska.
“The reviews have gone through the roof since we took over and our customer returns have probably quadrupled,” Perez said. “We have 250 regulars now.”
As a seasonal property, there will always be transition, yet about half of the staff returned from last summer. This core staff provides product consistency and gets to know return guests. The remaining staffers are a mix of students on cultural visas from other countries, Anchorage staff and those from the Lower 48.
Being aware of the guest experience has allowed Perez to create an enticing atmosphere, which is a part of the job he cherishes.
“The nice thing about a 25-room inn is you know every person,” Perez said. “If you make them feel like they are at home, then they’re getting a vacation within a vacation. We like to get that casual, relaxed environment. We’re not looking to be a four-star Michelin ranked property. We’re thinking to give good food, nice people to provide it, and try to make guests feel special. If you do that, you’re going to be successful in any business.”
Another element of the Inn’s ambiance is recent renovations, with more on the way. There is all new carpeting, every room now has a flat screen TV and new linens were purchased. Later this year, Perez will be remodeling first floor, and he is thinking further into the future about developing The Inn.
“We’re looking to build more rooms here in Whittier,” Perez said. “We would like to see it where we have that opportunity to possibly double our room count in order to provide more amenities and also build rooms a little bit larger in size, which accommodates charter fishing groups and families. Hopefully we’ll be in a position where we can acquire some more property and go from there.”
With The Inn a key component of Whittier as a destination, Perez wants to build on the town’s reputation. He wants to see Whittier grow into more of a tourist destination where there are enough restaurants and gift shops and spaces for people to walk around.
“When they come here,” Perez said, “customers want to see things they can wander through. By finishing the Boardwalk and the Triangle and the Loop here, that can be pretty cool experience. For the business owners in this town, it’s kind of a challenge to bring our game up and finish off things. This is like a little gem down here.”
Perez said he hopes The Inn’s growth and success has a positive effect on other restaurants and businesses by increasing their customer base, which may lead to expansions or remodels in existing buildings.
“We need volume through the town,” Perez said.
Perhaps the most significant change made to The Inn is its revamped menu and a complete change in how the kitchen is managed. The restaurant seats 125 upstairs and down while the bar seats 50. Perez acknowledged the food has come a long way with perfecting items and serving them consistently.
“We wanted to offer a big menu because we are the only game in town as far as full service dinners,” Perez said. “As a sit down, sizable restaurant, we’re the leader in that area. We built the menu from the ground floor up, where you can cross-utilize products. We shop every other day in order to keep those products fresh.”
All seafood is purchased from Fee’s Custom Seafood on the Triangle in Whittier. Fishermen bring in their catch from Prince William Sound to Fee’s, where it is processed and sold.
Another new feature is live music on Friday and Saturday nights, which encourages people to stay longer. By bringing in local and state acts, Perez hopes he has added something to make Whittier weekends more interesting.
Perez enjoys the daily challenge of exceeding people’s expectations of their stay at The Inn and creating unforgettable memories.
“It’s fun to try to make someone’s experience memorable,” Perez said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘These are the best nights I’ve had here on my vacation.’ We’re going up against some pretty big boys. We’re just a 25-room inn, but when you have that size, you can give that experience.”
After the interview concluded, the Gazette went into the bar to review the revamped menu and taste a few items. The starters feature twelve items such as crab cakes, hummus plate, smoked salmon, and steak nachos or quesadilla. There are oysters on the half shell or Rockefeller as well as steamed mussels. Green, Caesar and spinach salads can add grilled chicken or salmon.
Then there are the king crab options of dinner or solo. The seafood entrees are sautéed sockeye salmon or halibut and jumbo shrimp, cod, salmon or halibut fish and chips are offered. Then there are steaks, surf and turf and an assortment of burgers including crab and salmon. The menu finishes with pastas and pizzas.
I began with Whittier Famous Smoked Salmon and Clam Chowder and the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms. The chowder was creamy and rich, with a subtle depth of flavor. There was the tender chew of the clams and soft chunks of smoked salmon from Fee’s. The potatoes and carrots complimented the nicely balanced chowder.
The Crab Stuffed Mushrooms were delightful. The lightness of the crab contrasted with the robustness of the mushroom. The stuffing was mostly crab mixed with finely diced celery, red pepper, onion, and just enough bread crumbs to bind it together.
The starters were accompanied by a Whittier Bay IPA, a custom brewed beer by Cynosure Brewing. Served on draught by the pint or 20 oz. imperial pint, the IPA is smooth with subtle depth of light malt and hop mix. It is easily enjoyed and would pair well with much of the menu.
The full service bar added eight beer taps this season, including Double Shovel Cider, Glacier Razzberry and Twister Creek IPA. There is also a selection of bottled and canned beers, specialty drinks and wines.
The Alaska Sockeye Salmon has a selection of sides, and I went with the wild rice and mixed vegetables. The sockeye was very fresh, flavorful and topped with garlic butter. As fine as the fish was, the lightly steamed or simmered, then sautéed mixed vegetables were a flavorful surprise. They were composed with a blend of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, red pepper, purple cabbage and zucchini. The mix of wild and white rice served as a savory counterpoint.
With a successful second season underway, The Inn at Whittier shows consistency, continuity and long-term commitment. The changes feel like an exciting, brand new restaurant and inn have opened in the region.
See it and taste it for yourself.