Best known for wedding receptions, an uproarious Halloween Ball, Santa’s Arrival and other community events, the Hawthorne Hotel has created many memories since opening in July of 1925. Built with funds raised through the sale of stocks to business men and individuals around the city of Salem, the Hawthorne is indeed a landmark with a history in our community.

But, with a new general manager installed, what changes — what creative changes — are in store for patrons and business customers? And are these changes necessary to face competition & challenges?

“Running a historic hotel is like maintaining a classic car: you cannot just focus on the exterior, you also have to tackle what’s underneath the hood if you want to drive it daily,” relates Patrick Cornelissen, the new GM.

“On a daily basis,” he points out “we have to maintain not only the physical issues that come with an aging building, but need to invest a significant amount into the heart of the building in both the front and back of the house.”

And Cornelissen knows hotels; now a Salem resident, he grew up in Belgium and has traveled to 40 countries. That translates to a solid insider’s view of hotels. 

He adds, “I also have been to over 30 states within the U.S. During each vacation, hotels played an important role and while I have stayed in hundreds of them since, the ones that impressed most were always the hotels with character. To me, I can imagine that for a local kid walking into the Hawthorne it may have left a similar impression.”

No doubt it has. 

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Cornelissen says, “One of the biggest changes of the past years is the increased visualization of the world. We all post and like photos on Instagram or Facebook and our cell phones have become professional cameras that allow us to capture the world. As such, our first impressions are no longer the actual places we visit, but the virtual images we see and share online.” 

“The saying ‘you do not have a second chance to make a first impression’ thus applies for our very own website, and changing it was one of the first projects I took on when I started at the Hawthorne, as our current site looks fatigued and not very inspirational due to the lack of visuals and too much text.”

“Our new website will set the tone for some of the changes we hope to make at the hotel, in that we are a vibrant part of the ever-changing community of Salem,” states Cornelissen.

For example, over the next few years, he also sees major improvements being made to guest rooms, such as faster Wi-Fi, new fabrics and furniture to enhance the looks of the rooms. 

“Running a historic hotel is like maintaining a classic car: you cannot just focus on the exterior, you also have to tackle what’s underneath the hood if you want to drive it daily”  – Patrick Cornelissen

And the Hawthorne management will even take a look at the common areas to see how those can maintain old time charm without becoming outdated in setting that ‘first impression’ he alluded to earlier.

Cornelissen explains “For many people, the Hawthorne Hotel remains the place they recall for family occasions: weddings, engagements, birthday parties, anniversaries and even funerals. The Hotel has and still plays a pivotal role in being the venue where memories were created. Because of its imposing exterior and Grand Ballroom, the hotel oozes the atmosphere of the roaring twenties and people are impressed when seeing the historic features.”

 “As I have lived in the area for the past 13 years, I know anecdotally that almost everyone knows the Hawthorne, but not everyone has been to it lately. Because of that, many still have the impression that not much has changed, which is certainly not true.” 

“For me, the change in the website is a crucial first step, to make people more aware, but we need to do more and take a look at all of our public spaces and guest rooms and see where we can improve and invigorate the hotel to those who step inside.”

See the new website here

“I am very proud of the entire hotel team and the subtle changes we have made in the past few months, such as with staff outfits, our menu etc., and I look forward to seeing some more of those changes materialize over the next few months,” Cornelissen states.

For this writer, mention the Hawthorne and I think of the intimate dining experiences at the on-site Tavern and Nathaniel’s Restaurant.

Looking at these areas, Cornelissen foresees, “In the back of house, I would like to see new kitchen facilities and give our chefs the modern technology, tools and space they require to execute the impressive mix of banquets, restaurants and other food requests they already execute on a daily basis and within our Food and Beverage departments, perhaps look at how some of the spaces are utilized and see if there are better alternatives that fit the market demands better.” 

For example, at Nat’s restaurant, those menu changes include adding some new dishes while keeping a few favorites. 

He details the changes “A smaller menu, which has a lot of character and incorporating some traditional European dishes, such as Steak Frites, but also a local cheese selection. One of the biggest misconceptions for locals is that they might recall what it was like several years ago when Nathaniel’s was very formal. With the latest changes in decor and menu we aim for a more casual look and I think everyone would be pleasantly surprised to see the changes; therefore, I would encourage everyone to stop by and give Nat’s a try.”

Which I did, and had an excellent time. While not a dining critic, I will say we were seated quickly, presented our menus promptly and our order though not rushed was taken in a comfortable time frame. Interestingly, my dinner companion had forgotten her glasses, which did not escape the eye of our waiter Cody who promptly disappeared and then reappeared with a small handful of reading glasses from which she could select. 

Oh and the food itself? So much and so good that we could not finish!

Depending on the lighting and number of people dining, Nat’s restaurant operates as a cozy nighttime spot and a professional locale for a lunch time business meeting.

Speaking of the business community, the Hawthorne is synonymous with corporate dinners, fundraisers, meetings and conferences and the hotel has welcomed the top businesses of the North Shore and well beyond. 

Cornelissen says, “The Salem Rotary for instance has met inside the hotel for decades, and to date, the organization still meets weekly in the hotel. Due to a very active ownership, the hotel has always been in the forefront of the political, economical and social activities that took place within Salem and on a regional level, and for many business leaders, the Hawthorne has become a second home.” 

“In the past years, I have also seen Salem taking on a new role as a city destination, whereby business travelers and event planners enjoy the proximity of shops, attractions, restaurants and activities the city has to offer. What businesses also appreciate is the quality and consistency we provide for their meetings with a catering and sales team that is seasoned and focused on the success of our clients. Just like we need to keep modernizing our rooms, the meeting spaces also need to be looked at and I would like to see some upgrades as well in those areas,” Cornelissen states.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Cornelissen  concludes, “As one of the leading historic hotels in New England, we have to embrace change and not be afraid if we want to survive among the increasing competition and the new challenges that face our industry. We have to foresee and exceed expectations of a new type of traveler who increasingly demands more unique experiences and services, yet is also very independent because of the fast changes in technology.”

Even as the luxury car Cornelissen alluded to earlier needs to have periodic oil changes and tires rotated to provide good service, so does the Hawthorne Hotel need to balance tradition with progress. It is not always easy, but it is necessary to provide service that consistently creates great memories.

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