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Embracing the business of vacations

Inn at Haystack Rock

Some people thrive in the corporate world. Antoine Simmons was one of those people.

Working as a middle manager at Intel in mergers and acquisitions, life was good. Antoine had also started to dabble in real estate—buying fixer-uppers here and there on the side, and then turning them for a profit. He and his wife Rocio had also started their family, and by the year 2000 they had two children, Chantal and Rachel, with one more, Elias, on the way, but change was in the air.

As his workload shifted, it became more and more evident that Intel was in the middle of some changes as the company started offering severance packages to employees who wanted to leave. It was then that Antoine recognized an opportunity to strip off his identity of a corporate man living in a corporate world, and venture into an industry he knew little about.

“The writing was on the wall. It came to a point that I had to make a decision, so I finally took off the golden handcuffs of Intel.”

His next life would be as a hotelier.

An organized upbringing

Antoine’s parents were both teachers and owned 10 acres at the edge of Knotts Berry Farm in Cypress, California. The family raised chickens, pigs, turkeys and rabbits, as well as nurtured a small orchard. There, they taught their five boys and three girls the value of a dollar, that hard work was something to be proud of, that horsing around was something you did in the ‘horsing-around room,’ and that—if you put your mind to it—you could become all you wanted to become and more.

“My dad pushed hard. My mom set goals. They were strict and they were organized,” said Antoine. “In high school you are trying to figure out who you are. Trying to find happiness, but it’s kind of artificial. Soon you realize that home is what is real, it’s unconditional.

“My mom was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. She had a monthly planner and she knew who would be doing the dishes and who would be making potatoes a month in advance. She built us a horsing-around room outside of the house for my brothers and me to wrestle in.”

Growing up Antoine worked side by side with his dad and siblings. During the summer, he and his brothers helped his dad build apartments on their property.

“We learned how to work. It was amazing if you look at all the experience we got growing up. When I grew up I knew I wanted to be just like my dad.” Antoine said, as he held back the tears that welled up in his eyes. “I think I am, I think I’m growing up to be like him.”

“My dad is 85, and my mom is in her late 70’s and they still garden and have an orchard.”

After Antoine graduated from high school his parents moved to Hillsboro. He headed off to Utah, where he quickly became a ski bum. He also spent a couple of years in Florida on a mission with the Church of Latter Day Saints, before coming back to Oregon. He has his Master’s in Business at George Fox University in Newberg.

Once he graduated he settled down in Hillsboro where he began working at Intel, the company where he would eventually meet his wife, Rocio.

Antoine didn’t know it at the time. But retiring with a gold watch and a pat on the back was not to be in the cards.

Leaving the corporate nest

On a trip to Cannon Beach Antoine and Rocio stumbled across a house that was in dire need of someone to pull it back from the brink of disrepair. After some research they learned the owner of the home also owned the Blue Gull Inn across the street. They were “absentee owners,” and they wanted to sell both the house and the inn.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.56.40 AMBy May of 2000 Antoine and Rocio became the proud new owners of that home as well as the Blue Gull Inn, and then took over the management of it in July of the same year.

They were now hoteliers.

As anyone who has left the corporate world to strike out on their own knows, this is not a decision to take lightly. It is a decision that has to be made more by inspiration than reality. One that stands to result in utter disappointment as easily as complete satisfaction. A decision such as this is completely life-changing, and once made, the corporate world becomes an ever fading part of one’s past. Something that helped them along the way, but in no way defining who they have the potential of becoming.

“This is where the work began,” said Antoine.

“When we took over, all the reservations were done by hand. There was a big book with all the dates and all the rooms, it was crazy. We cleaned all of the rooms and brought the inn to the modern age with online booking.”

“The first time someone booked online was amazing.”

A flare for function

The husband and wife team soon began managing other properties in addition to their own, and in 2004 they created a new name, Haystack Lodgings, to encompass their entire business. They managed six motels in Cannon beach, including Ocean Spray Inn, Sand Trap, Sand Castle, and Sunset Inn, as well as 15 vacation homes.

Antoine and Rocio bought the Inn at Haystack Rock, and in 2011, they signed the papers to purchase the Inn at the Prom in Seaside.

Inn at the Prom“I was so nervous that day,” said Antoine.

Finally, in early 2014, they purchased the crown jewel, the historic Gilbert Inn in Seaside. The Queen Anne style home was built by Alexandre Gilbert in 1892.

With the Haystack Lodgings’ care and attention, The Gilbert Inn is now an 11 room couple’s retreat just steps away from Seaside Promenade, an 8,000 foot long concrete boardwalk between Seaside and the beach.

Time for more focus

Eventually Antoine and Rocio decided to stop managing other properties so they could just concentrate on their own.

“I am constantly striving to learn more about this industry,” he said, his excitement level more like someone new in the business instead of someone who now has 14 years of experience.

“Some of our guests have been with us for so long. You have to change in this business, people want to escape. Our goal is to surprise, to do something a little different, to keep them coming back time and again.”

Antoine said he strives to provide his guests with an ‘un-motel experience’. The proof is in the properties that he continually upgrades and improves. The tile work and carpentry are a shining example of how much he wants his guests to be able to escape their normal day to day life while staying at Haystack Properties. The oceanfront view from immaculate rooms are just a portion of what some of his properties have to offer.

“The Blue Gull Inn has a hacienda design and all of the furniture was built and hand-carved by our carpenter, Victor Campuzano, and our tile work was created by Domingo Victoria. We have been really blessed in our lives. Most people have been with us for more than 10 years,” he said, referring to his employees. “It is like a family, we take care of each other, and everybody feels like a part of us.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.57.02 AMAntoine has no regrets about trading in his comfortable corporate career for his life as a hotelier. This life choice suits him. He truly loves getting to know his customers and inviting them back to see what new changes have taken place since their last visit. He gets to teach them about the surrounding area, and all of the beauty that is out there for them to enjoy.

“Being able to take something and get this idea of what it could be, and see it come to life. Taking something old and making it new and seeing it come together, there is no better feeling,” said Antoine as he reflected on his chosen career path.

He also knows he would not be where he is today without Rocio, who he credits his success to.

“I get to work with my family. I get to work my wife,” he said with a smile. “She is such an intricate part of this business. We are partners and co-leaders. We have been able to learn how to run a business together; we’ve done a lot of housekeeping together. Having two strong people that are partners, with the same goals, it helps you trust in yourself, have faith and knowing the harder you work the easier it is going to get. It takes a lot of work to survive in this industry; you have to constantly be thinking on how to improve. I have learned we are the sum of all of our experiences. I try to be the best person I can be, but you can ask my kids, they will tell you I am a major work in progress.”

All three of his children are now teenagers. Chantal is 19, an artist and is attending college; Rachel is 15 and plays soccer; Elias is on the swim team and is now 14. They all spend their summers as part of the housekeeping staff as Antoine instills some of the same ‘hard-work’ ethics into his own children that his father instilled in him. He also teaches them to appreciate the land they call home.

“There is so much natural beauty in Oregon. We have the ocean, the mountains, the high desert; it is the variety that we enjoy so much. I tell my kids ‘look at what is in your own back yard. Our back yard is beautiful. We have national parks, running on the beach, hiking trails… I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

For more information, visit http://www.haystacklodgings.com/.

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Lori Kimbel

Lori Kimbel lives in the small town of Elgin in northeast Oregon with her husband, Mark and youngest daughter, Hannah. Lori currently owns and publishes Northeast Oregon Business News, which serves Baker, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties. In addition to her love of writing, Lori is also an artist and enjoys digitally enhancing the many photographs she takes as she travels around the Pacific Northwest.