Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sun Valley says goodbye to LDR

Memories shared at goodbye dinner, brunch

Express Staff Writer

From left, waiters Rick Hoffman, Grady Burnett and Jeff French were invited back for a final shift at the Lodge Dining Room on Saturday night. The longtime staffers were part of the crew that re-opened the Lodge Dining Room during the winter of 1980-81 under Earl Holding’s ownership. The men said the evening was both emotionally and historically memorable. “It was an honor to be part of a wonderful evening,” Burnett said. Photo by Willy Cook

Sun Valley Resort staff and guests said goodbye over the weekend to one of the resort’s iconic establishments, the Lodge Dining Room in the Sun Valley Lodge. After being the resort’s premier dining destination for decades, the Lodge Dining Room hosted a final dinner on Saturday, followed by a final brunch on Sunday.
    At the private invite-only dinner, 166 guests shared one last meal filled with memories and stories. In March, the Holding family—which owns the resort—announced that the Lodge Dining Room would be repurposed to make room for a spa. The spa remodel and addition is part of a broader project to remodel the entire lodge.
    Former resort executive Claude Guigon—who ran the dining room from 1980 to 1998—was in attendance Saturday, along with four of his former waiters who came back to serve many familiar guests for one last night.
    “Being back here brought an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and so many happy memories,” Guigon said. “This has always felt like home to me, and it’s been so fantastic to be back in Sun Valley.”
    After buying Sun Valley Resort in 1977, businessman Earl Holding made it a priority to turn the Lodge Dining Room—which had been converted into a convention room—back into a five-star formal dining room. As maître d’ for opening night of the dining room on Dec. 19, 1980, Erich Steinbach said the Holding family sought to model the expansive room after the formal dining room at the Westgate Hotel in San Diego, Calif.
    “The dining room really hasn’t changed much over the years,” Steinbach said. “The Holdings kept the integrity of the place throughout the years. It’s a beautiful room, and it still was during the last meal.”
    Steinbach later went on to serve the Holding family as the Westgate Hotel’s food and beverage director, and then got promoted to general manager. He said that his experience working at the Lodge Dining Room was a great steppingstone for his career.
    “My experiences at the Lodge Dining Room really helped me during my formative years,” Steinbach said. “Whenever I had a difficult decision of my own, I always asked how Earl (Holding) would do it, and it was usually the right way to go.”
    Valley resident Brian Poster was one of four former waiters in the Lodge Dining Room in the 1980s who returned to work one more night on Saturday. He shared Steinbach’s sentiments of looking back on his time at the dining room as an integral element to his own business success.
    “I learned a lot of important life lessons working in the Lodge Dining Room,” Poster said. “I own a very successful construction business now, and it’s all about service. I owe a lot of my success to the time I spent working for Claude in the Lodge Dining Room.”
    In addition to Poster, Jeff French, Grady Burnett and Rick Hoffman are former waiters who worked under Guigon and returned to wait tables one last time on Saturday night. After dinner, all of them enjoyed a beer with Guigon in the lodge lobby, where they reminisced and shared what Poster called a very special moment together.
    “Claude was definitely the heartbeat of the Lodge Dining Room,” Poster said.
    While Guigon said he is disappointed that the tuxedo and white-glove formal dining that the Lodge Dining Room was known for has lost popularity, he understands that many people desire a more casual dining experience.
    “The legacy of the Lodge Dining Room will stay forever, but times have changed,” Guigon said. “I’m a little sad to see this room go, but on the other hand I’m happy because this is the right thing to do. Sun Valley is headed in the right direction, and the Holdings are going to make this renovation spectacular.”
    Guigon said he has many memories of serving celebrities and household names. One of the keys to the dining room’s success over the years was how the staff treated everyone with the same level of service, he said.
    “To me, anybody who came to the Lodge Dining Room was famous,” Guigon said. “I wanted to treat everyone exactly the same, and that’s why we did so well. We just knew how to take care of anyone.”
    With the dining room having been built in 1936, Guigon quipped during his toast to the guests on Saturday evening that “a lot of us here tonight wish to look as good at 78 years old.”

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