In the five years since Sarah Wetenhall became co-owner, CEO and President of The Colony, Palm Beach’s historic ‘pink paradise’, many changes have occurred, from renovating the entire ground floor at the opening of Swifty’s restaurant.
A mother of three children aged 6, 10 and 12, Wetenhall was recently named one of the top 10 independent hoteliers in the world by Hotels Magazine in the Lifestyle Operator category. Recognition is given to hotels not affiliated with a major corporate operator that express unique elements of architecture, design and authenticity.
“We really wanted to preserve the legacy of The Colony, preserve the legacy of gracious hospitality, but at the same time make sure it remains relevant to a new, younger generation of modern, well-traveled and high-demanding guests.” Wetenhall said in an interview this month.
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âWe wanted to remove the veil of the mystique of Palm Beach and provide a welcoming experience that was like staying with a well-connected friend,â she said.
She and her husband Andrew Wetenhall co-own the iconic 90-room British Colonial-style hotel at 155 Hammon Ave. They bought him in 2016 from a previous generation of owners, including his stepfather, Bob Wetenhall Sr.
âMy father-in-law bought The Colony in 1969, although majority ownership slipped out of our family in the late ’80s, early’ 90s. It has always been a goal to bring him back to our family,â said she declared.
The Colony CEO Bruce Seigel was recently named one of Hotel Management magazine’s must-watch directors, an honor bestowed on the best and brightest CEOs in the industry.
Seigel, previously General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, joined The Colony in 2019. He manages day-to-day operations, while Wetenhall oversees creative direction.
Wetenhall said: âI always joke that I live and breathe 100% colony, so it’s funny to say I’m not day to day. I’m more interested in partnerships and branding. How do we sculpt that customer experience and what do we want The Colony to look and feel like?
âFinding someone who can operate in this market and who understands our market and our philosophy has not been an easy task,â said Wetenhall. âPalm Beach is a special market. It is a very seasonal market, although it is becoming less and less seasonal.
What’s new this season?
The season is going well so far, with bookings ahead of where they were in the pre-COVID seasons.
âThe return of all of our activities, such as events and weddings, really contributes to the health of the business,â Wetenhall said. âWe are on track for a bright and vital season. “
What’s new this season? A Sunday Bingo night was launched in October. It draws on popular Monday night anecdotes that started a year ago. Prizes are awarded at each of the game nights, which, like Swifty’s and the Pink Paradise CafÃ©, are open to the public.
âPeople are really drawn and drawn to some of these older world activities. It has been really fun for us to see the multigenerational draw, âsaid Wetenhall. âYou will have your typical bingo participant next to her granddaughter who is maybe in her twenties, to groups of thirties who have left the kids at home, to families. We do this before dinner time, so you can come for an early dinner and eat while playing.
âThis is the heart of the colony – taking these legacies and traditions and making them relevant to modern generations,â she said.
âSwifty’s soufflÃ©, which has long been a longed-for menu item, is back. We have lighter fare options for lunch and dinner to complement the menu, such as grilled fish, âWetenhall said.
Music seven nights a week continues in the living room, which is the lobby, and at Swifty’s.
Wetenhall said people are drawn to this iconic landmark because it is a short walk from the beach and Worth Avenue.
âWe’re kidding, she’s a woman. We say she has a bare foot on the beach and a stiletto heel on Worth Avenue, âWetenhall said.
Who is Sarah Wetenhall?
A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Wetenhall spent over a decade in the fashion industry, where her primary responsibilities at companies such as Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana and Hugo Boss were branding, public relations , marketing and advertising. This experience led her to form strategic partnerships and brand collaborations between The Colony and companies such as de Gournay, based in London.
Working with the daughter of de Gournay’s founder, Hanna Cecil Gurney, Wetenhall designed the living room’s hand-painted wallcovering that showcases Florida’s native flora and fauna. Kemble Interiors gave the room a spirited makeover.
Other collaborations have included projects with Aerin Lauder, Bergdorf Goodman, Valentino and Michael Kors.
Hailing from Blue Springs, Missouri, a small town outside of Kansas City, Wetenhall divides his time between homes in New York City, Sag Harbor, and a tiny bungalow near The Colony. She grew up as an only child and her mother, Cheryl Rau, lives in Palm Beach.
Wetenhall’s first job was after his freshman year at Vanderbilt. Her parents lived in Seattle and she worked nights in the test department at Kenworth, a truck manufacturer. She learned to drive an 18 wheeler.
Her first visit to Palm Beach was in 1997 with Andrew, who she was dating at the time, to meet her future stepfather. The colony was reserved, so it remained at the Brazilian court.
Now, years later, she discovers that one of the biggest challenges is coping with the continued need to modernize the building constructed in 1946-47. Its aim is to retain the old world atmosphere while meeting the needs of today’s travelers.
âWe love The Colony, and we love it for all that it is. Ultimately it’s a run down building and a building that’s been built for another time,â Wetenhall said. âWe don’t don’t want The Colony to be too perfect, too polished and polished. â
“A club without membership fees”
Recent service enhancements include more personal check-in. The tall check-in counters have been replaced by two small secretarial desks. Mobile check-in is also offered.
The hotel uses Zingle, an app where guests can text for room service, dinner reservations and more.
The colony did away with a separate concierge service and instead trained all front desk staff to provide information on the lake trail, area shops, restaurants, or beach rides in the beach buggy at the resort. ‘hotel.
One of the most surprising aspects of owning the hotel has been the number of guests who have emotional ties to it, like marrying a cousin or staying there multiple times, Wetenhall said.
âPeople say we’re a no-fee club,â she said. âPeople are linked to this island by generations of history, whether they grew up on the island, or their grandmother had a home, or visited a family friend in Easter.”
Regarding leadership advice, she says, âIt is possible to lead with kindness while being a successful businesswoman as well as being a wife and mother. “
Wetenhall also sits on the boards of the Worth Avenue Association, Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, East End Children’s Center and is a board member of Central Park Conservancy, Palm Beach’s Old Bags Luncheon and Kips Bay Designer Show House.