Associate Editor Susan O’Keefe caught up with Brian O’Day, the general manager of The Hotel Hershey, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and is still as sweet as ever.
The Hotel Hershey when it opened in 1933, and the hotel today.
Hi Brian, Congratulations on Hershey Hotel’s 75th anniversary. We’ve all heard Hershey Pennsylvania is the “sweetest place on Earth.” Is it really true?
Absolutely! It’s a great place to live, work and raise a family. There’s always plenty to do here, yet it still maintains its small-town flavor and feel.
What’s the story behind The Hotel Hershey?
The hotel had long been a dream that Milton Hershey and his wife Kitty shared. Mr. Hershey built his hotel in the 1930s, right in the midst of the Great Depression. It was his goal to ensure that nobody in town was unemployed during that time. He created 600 construction jobs, and the projects he developed are now called his “Great Building Campaign.” The campaign was about building structures, obviously, but also about building hope that the country would recover and life would go on. The hotel is built on the highest point in the area—on top of what’s called “Pat’s Hill”—so it has the most spectacular view of the town below.
Can you tell us about Mr. Hershey, the inspirational man behind the brand? I understand he started a boy’s school that continues to serve kids in the area?
It’s an amazing success story. He gave his entire fortune (when he was still alive!) to establish a school for disadvantaged children. He built the entire town as an idyllic community. It’s wonderful working for the hotel, because we’re owned by the trust that Mr. Hershey established. So we’re all working for a “higher purpose,” as our profits are returned to the trust to help perpetuate the Milton Hershey School. Today there are 1,700 boys and girls living and learning in Hershey because of Mr. Hershey’s generosity and foresight.
In what ways is chocolate used at the hotel?
We’re very creative in our use of chocolate and try to incorporate it into our menus, themes and retail offerings. (Have you heard about our chocolate diamonds or chocolate pearls, which we sell at our Jeweler?)
Naturally we use chocolate in our culinary programs; chocolate desserts are a natural. However, Ken Gladysz, our executive chef, also incorporates it into savory dishes and entrees. He uses it as a rub or in sauces. One of the most popular dishes in our Circular Dining Room
is our Cocoa-Seared Scallops. We also serve chocolate butter (as well as sweet cream butter) to accompany our chocolate cherry bread. And at breakfast you can’t miss our famous chocolate bread pudding. I’m getting hungry just talking about it!
So what does a guest received at turndown?
Naturally…a goodnight Kiss!
How is chocolate used in the hotel’s spa? Any specialty treatments?
The Whipped Cocoa Bath is very popular. In fact, it’s even patented. Other favorites are the Chocolate Fondue Wrap and the Cocoa Massage. Although we’re all about chocolate and confections, we do have a stable of popular offerings that are not chocolate-based. For example, a few years ago we introduced a collection of Cuban treatments. But even those have a connection to Mr. Hershey, who traveled frequently to Cuba and had sugar mills and plantations there for about 30 years.
I imagine the air must always smell like chocolate in Hershey.
The aroma fills the air and it’s incredible. Try to have a bad day when all you can smell is the sweet aroma of fresh cocoa. It sounds like you’d enjoy the area around the Reese’s plant, where the aroma is fresh roasted peanuts mixed with chocolate.
What else in town would let me know I’m in Hershey?
Our street lamps are shaped like Hershey’s Kisses. And the main street through downtown Hershey is called Chocolate Avenue. Mr.
Hershey’s original chocolate factory is near the intersection of Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues. And the side streets, where the original factory workers once lived, are named for the places where cocoa beans grow—Trinidad, Grenada, and Caracas.
When I last visited the park, a new waterpark had just opened. Are there any new things for this summer?
That was The Boardwalk at Hersheypark, which opened in honor of the Park’s centennial in 2007. This year our new attraction at Hersheypark is Fahrenheit, our 11th roller coaster. It features a 97-degree drop, which is the steepest in the United States. So we think our guests will “heat up” with Fahrenheit and then “cool down” with The Boardwalk.
What else is new this summer?
Naturally, the Hotel’s 75th anniversary is a big deal—not to mention our building plans, which we’ve dubbed “The Grand Expansion.” Keep an eye on hersheypa.com to see what we’re up to next!
Photos: The Hotel Hershey