Napa’s Westin Verasa Hotel is celebrating 10 years in the Valley and still employs many of the people from its original opening team, according to Don Shindle, the general manager who was also in residence when the hotel first opened on Sept. 18, 2008.
At the time, Shindle was a vice president the Westin Verasa’s original ownership group, Interwest and was based in the Canadian city of Collingwood, Ontario, overseeing seven hotels in the U.S. and Canada.
“I actually was onsite here before we even broke ground,” Shindle said. “We were way ahead of schedule and needed to get a general manager on board quickly. The management at Interwest suggested I move to Napa and take on that role, and I wasn’t going to argue with that!”
Shindle said the Westin Verasa was sold in 2010 to VY Napa Holdings, a company based in Hong Kong.
“I decided I wanted to stay with the property because my family loves it here,” he said. “Our new owners are the best ownership group I have ever worked with, and that’s been a real blessing for us.”
According to the general manager, the Westin Verasa is a franchised hotel with a license agreement with Westin Hotels. “We’ve just extended that agreement for another 10 years,” Shindle said. “The brand is a great fit for our hotel.”
The 180-room Westin Verasa is in the “upper, upscale” category, one step below the luxury category, Shindle said.
The hotel has plans to expand soon.
“We purchased the parcel of land south of us up to the Oxbow commons wall and we’re hoping to break ground soon after we’re given approval by the city,” Shindle said. The new three-story structure, which will look similar to the hotel’s existing building, will feature a 15,000-square- foot spa, 30 additional guest rooms, two more suites and a 30-seat restaurant on the top floor overlooking the Oxbow area.
The restaurant will be operated by La Toque founder Ken Frank, who operates all of the food and beverage operations at the Westin Verasa, including conference business, according to Shindle.
The Westin Verasa’s 10th anniversary celebrations will be focused on associates and in-house guests, he said.
“We are recognizing a lot of employees .... who are celebrating 10 years with us. We hope to have those associates here for their 20th anniversaries as well. We will do a big community event when we have finished our expansion,” he added.
Shindle said there’s a focus on wellness with the Westin brand right now and the Westin Verasa has jumped on board.
“We have a program called ‘gear lending’ that no other hotel group does. We discovered business travelers were giving up working out on the road, because they didn’t want to pack their workout gear in a carry-on,” Shindle said.
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“Westin worked out an arrangement with New Balance where we now provide running shoes, shorts, tops, sports bras and socks that are put in a mesh bag and delivered to your room so you can work out while you are here without needing to pack anything. We have a lot of business travelers who choose us for that reason.”
The Westin Verasa also has among the most modern workout equipment and even offers three run concierges who will help guests plan their runs or even run along with you if you like.
“We also have yoga concierges and even a zumba concierge for groups or individuals,” Shindle said. “A lot of our menu selections are all based on healthy suggestions.”
Another feature of the Westin Verasa is that not only are dogs allowed, they’re welcomed with their own bed, a dog version of the Westin’s Heavenly line of beds.
“We realized people miss their pets when they travel so Westin has become the first fully dog-friendly hotel company,” Shindle said.
Shindle said the hotel employs a large number of local residents, with more than 70 percent of the associates who work at the Westin Verasa calling the Napa Valley home.
“We’re very lucky in that we have good retention — we are recognizing a lot of people who have been with us nine and 10 years,” Shindle said. “A large part of our 2008 opening team, particularly in management, is still here. We’ve always intended to be the employer of choice and our retention rate suggests we’re reaching that goal.”
Another important mandate for the hotel is community involvement, and that means more than just participating on boards and committees.
“We won the 2017 Marriott Hotel Hero Award,” Shindle said pointing to a crystal trophy.
“The award was for our efforts during the period of the fires last year. Even though we lost all of our business after the fires started, we took in 60 families who were evacuated from the fire zones for several months and also accommodated firefighters and PG&E first responders.”
“Recognizing the hardships of the families in particular, we did all sorts of things for the kids: we had a Halloween pumpkin carving contest, we had receptions for the families to come down and get to know each other, and we also bought a big, live Christmas tree and had the kids in the hotel decorate it for us. We even had a baby born (in the hotel) to one of the families,” staying at the hotel. Shindle said, “that was a first for me.”
Schindle has no plans to move anywhere else. “I’m never leaving, if I can help it,” he said. “We have found the perfect place, and even better, I haven’t had to shovel snow in over 10 years,” said the transplanted Canadian.
The name Verasa is a derivative of the French word véraison, which means the time when the grapes turn from green to red during the ripening process. “It’s a good fit for us,” Schindle said.