While the Great Depression gripped most of the world in 1931, Milton S. Hershey built an opulent hotel atop Pat’s Hill overlooking his chocolate factory in Hershey Pennsylvania. The Hershey Hotel is truly a testament to the fact that greatness marches to the beat of a different drum. But eccentricity borne by wealth alone doesn’t explain why Mr. Hershey went ahead with such an extravagant project during hard times. Faced with the decision of either employing his town’s construction workers or providing for their welfare, he chose the former.
In 1903, nearly 30 years before the foundation was laid, Hershey had site plans in place for building a grand hotel. Cairo’s Heliopolis Hotel was Hershey’s initial design inspiration after staying there several times with his wife Kitty. But a prohibitive $5 million construction estimate led him to hand over a postcard along with personal notes to architect D. Paul Witmer describing his stays at a 30-room hotel in the Mediterranean with a U-shaped base and a tower at each end. This was his Plan B.
Using these inspirations as a model, The Hotel Hershey ended up being considerably larger at 170-rooms employing nearly 800 local steelworkers, masons, carpenters, craftsmen, and laborers. The property’s most distinctive feature, the main Fountain Lobby, reflects Milton’s love of Cuba with its Castilian inspired courtyards. Details down to wrought iron lights, railings hand carved from gnarled oak, to the entire ceiling painted and lit as a serene Carribean sky recreate a mood of relaxed gentility.
Although The Hotel Hershey’s grounds boasted extensive gardens, walking paths, a riding stable with several miles of trails, tennis courts, and a 9-hole golf course, it was primarily designed to connect guests to Hershey’s growing amusement park just a 10 minute walk down the hill past elaborate botanical gardens and Milton Hershey School. To this day, the property’s serene ambiance intriguingly contrasts with the theme park action very much present in the valley below.
The Hotel Hershey’s original layout and architecture are resolutely preserved but many additions and enhancements were made over the years including a new 100-room West Tower, opening Spa at the Hotel Hershey in 2001, and embarking on a $67 million Grand Expansion in 2009 which added 10 new luxury guest cottages, multiple swimming pools, year-round ice-skating rink, and 7 new boutique shops. Onsite dining helmed by innovative chefs Cher Harris and Ken Gladysz most notably eccentuate this classic hotel’s ever evolving grandeur.
Executive Chef Ken Gladysz
“For me, Hershey is a fabulous year round destination boasting a strong downtown restaurant scene influenced by nearby culinary hubs like NYC and Philly. You’ve got 3 Amtrak stations within 15 minutes from Hershey Hotel for day trips to Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, Baltimore’s Lexington Market or perhaps a dim sum session in NYC,” says Gladysz.
Since 1981, Chef Gladysz’s kitchen prowess has taken him from Sarasota FL to multiple Four Seasons Hotels ranging from Tokyo, Saudi Arabia, and Bali to Houston and Jackson Hole. Now at the Hershey Hotel for 9 years, he finds that giving his time teaching culinary coop students at the Milton Hershey School just a 5 minute sidewalk down the hill connects him to the property’s longstanding educational mission. Founded by Milton and Catherine as an orphanage, the school is now an institution of academic excellence for underprivileged children.
In the kitchen, staff buy-in is crucial for Gladysz who lays out the basic ingredients and then works with his team to develop menus for all 3 of Hotel Hershey’s on site signature restaurants Harvest, Trevi 5 and The Circular. Harvest was first to embrace the bounties of fresh and local comfort dishes like Anson Mills Grit Cakes and Braised Venison Ragout.
If you dine onsite only once, make sure it’s the The Circular, Milton Hershey’s answer to what plagued him as a solo traveler. Often shunted behind pillars or to a seat with obstructed views, Hershey made sure all his guests would have a great seat by designing The Circular complete with a semi-circular dining area wrapped by 13 floor to ceiling windows anchored by an elegant circular bar at the center with formal garden and fountain views just outside. Craft cocktails have taken off here in a big way using herbs right out of their gardens during summer and of course artfully incorporating Hershey’s signature chocolates into some of their sweeter drinks like their signature Special Dark martini.
“At Trevi 5, we make authentic Italian…our own pasta machine, salads built with locally grown micro greens, fresh panninis, and authentic hand-tossed pizzas that are hands down the region’s best. Dining outside on the terrace weather permiting is my personal favorite with spectacular valley sunsets”, says Galdysz. On the matter of chocolate, Gladysz loves the ingredient for its widely diverse flavors that often take him in more savory directions than the exquisite sweet treats like Trevi’s signature chocolate cream pie courtesy of Pastry Chef Cher Harris.
Executive Pastry Chef Cher Harris
From her award winning open pastry kitchen overlooking The Circular, Chef Harris and her staff of 18 are a veritable baking machine for all the property’s menus. Harris joined The Hotel Hershey in 2009 after a self taught stint at nearby Hollywood Casino baking scratch made pastries. Bread remains her passion and it shows in the seeded and rustic loaves served at dinner as well as Sunday brunch.
“Deconstructing desserts seems to be the rage but to me it goes beyond the requisite foams and specialty frostings to the underlying ingredients like fresh cream and the locally harvested beets I use for the red embossing on our wedding cakes.” She also deftly works Scharfenberger (now Hershey owned) into Hotel Hershey’s signature desserts like Warm S’more Souffle.
Coverage courtesy of a partially sponsored trip. Photos courtesy of Hotel Hershey & Steve Mirsky