It takes broad vision, dedication, and steady drive to succeed in the hospitality industry, and CJ Hartwell-Kelly, general manager at Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa, checks each of those boxes. The Highland native’s impressive from-the-ground-up experience has given her deep insight into the needs of the inn and spa’s clientele, staff, and greater community.
Having started as a part-time innkeeper in 2006 while still in college at SUNY New Paltz, Hartwell-Kelly eventually moved up to become manager of the inn, then later the spa; she became Buttermilk Falls’ general manager in 2011. “I made it my priority to learn as much as I could, whenever I could,” she says. The following year she explored other options, but felt she’d found her calling at Buttermilk Falls and returned to the GM position in 2013, where she’s thrived since, bringing an increase in revenue and occupancy during her tenure.
Hartwell-Kelly is involved with myriad community endeavors, from fundraising for local organizations, to hosting events for regional tourism chapters, to serving as co-chair of the Ulster County Lodging Coalition and on the advisory board for the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley; she is currently the treasurer of the Hamlet of Milton Association, contributing to the beautification of the town in which Buttermilk Falls is located.
What qualities do you think are most important for a young professional entering the business end of the hospitality industry?
Rise to the occasion! Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before. At Buttermilk, I learned every aspect of the business. I never declined covering a shift in another department, or volunteering to compose marketing emails. All of which made me more valuable to my employer. Engage with people, and really love your interactions with them.
Understand that you are, at all times, creating once-in-a-lifetime memories for people — a huge responsibility, and very rewarding.
What is your recipe for success?
Hard work, diplomacy, restraint, and building real, and lasting, relationships with your team and your guests. My team is my Buttermilk family. We work when everyone else plays. That’s the hard part of this business. There are guests I consider family. I’ve spent nearly every Thanksgiving with many of them and I cherish those connections.