How Nemacolin Became A Wonderland in the Most Unexpected Place

by Eddie Roche

Whether you’re a golfer or just need a spa weekend, Nemacolin, set on 2,000 glorious acres in Pennsylvania, has something for all! The resort’s affable owner and founder Maggie Hardy Knox tells THE DAILY how the all-season resort, currently seen on this season of The Bachelor, is going through a brand transformation with more magic on the way.

Tell us a little bit about Nemacolin and how it has evolved since opening its doors.
Nemacolin saved my life. In 1987, Nemacolin went up for bankruptcy and went up on auction. My dad [Joseph A. Hardy III] and I were up here two days before the auction, and I fell in love with a little fishing spot. I was 21. Nemacolin at the time was a disastrous place that was fully neglected for years. We didn’t really have the intention of opening a resort, or I didn’t. My dad came home to tell my mom and me that he just recently bought a resort for us. Neither one of us was excited. I just wanted to fish the rest of my life, so I thought. My mom wanted to be in a rocking chair getting old with the love of her life. But from that moment on, I knew that Nemacolin would truly be something that would save my life, my imagination, my relationship with my father, and truly give me the confidence to take on and conquer anything. It was a rock under a piece of coal.

Everyone I met at the property said Nemacolin is a labor of love for you. What do you love most about your role?
It’s truly a labor of love in all aspects and respects. It’s as good as the best marriage and as worst as the worst divorce. The problem is I can’t divorce and walk away. The passion to have something of that magnitude of Nemacolin is all encompassing. There is no 50 percent; it’s either all or nothing with me. It’s an entity, a living breathing entity. I view it that way—the hearts of all the associates, that blood that flows through, the guests who come and push us to our limits. The physical— beautiful estates, the grounds, the golf courses, the spa—that’s all our skin put together. When you say a true labor of love, every day I wake up and think how I can make Nemacolin better. How can I be better? Every day is an evolution, and nothing ever stays the same. With my dad’s imagination and vision and me, I love operations, and now my son [P.J. Magerko] has come in to have the property evolve with him [working as VP of Brand Strategy], so it’s truly the greatest thing ever. The rebranding of today, which we worked on with King & Partners, is not that much different than 1987 because it’s love. Back then, it was a love of my father, myself, and now it’s an evolution with my son.

What did you learn from your father about customer service and the resort experience?
My dad’s strength has been the vision of any company to push to the nth degree. Nothing is impossible. I take those traits and try to share that instinctive way to service guests that my dad has taught me throughout the years. Be curious, be in tune, listen, observe, do not ask, feel, and once you get that, you get out of yourself and care for others on an intimate one-on-one basis, then it’s easy to exceed anyone’s expectations. Whether that be serving a guest or mentoring somebody you’re trying to get to go to new heights.

What’s the new Nemacolin story?
There’s not a new and there’s not an old. It’s an evolution of what’s currently there. It’s the personalities of the people who make the evolution. During COVID in March, I had to make a decision to close the resort. It quickly allowed me and gave me time to evaluate what the resort was built to do. And it was meant to be a boutique resort with all the fabulous things that my dad and I thought were so wonderful in our travels. The missing element that we’ve always had at Nemacolin is how do you tie everything that we have up in a bow and market and let the world know what it is? What is it? How do you define it? During the COVID-19 time, my son came in and raised his hand and said he would like to give Nemacolin a whole new branding and fresh evolution.

Nemacolin has something for everyone. What are the most popular activities?
It depends on the individual. I would love to go to the Chateau room and open the windows and doors and have room service for three days and nights and never leave my room. I might just fall in love with the food by the No. 1 female and youngest chef in the world at our restaurant, or I might want to go skiing. You can’t say there’s a favorite. It depends on what you want to do. But I remember, years ago, we used to always say— smart people, you can’t be everything to everybody. But I beg to differ, we’re trying and it seems to be working.

We hear you’re quite charitable and give a lot back to the local community.
I’ve always given to the local community, but I don’t feel like I’m giving. I’m sharing the blessings that have been blessed into my life. I don’t know why I was given the resources to be able to help other people in crisis, but I take that seriously. To be able to help those less fortunate is meaningful. It makes Nemacolin feel like it’s giving back because we employ about 1,000 people. That is the community.

The Woodlands Spa is fabulous! What’s your favorite treatment?
The longest massage you can possibly get! At the end of the day at the minimum I like to have the 120-minute full body all senses, including hot stone, aromatherapy, Thai, Reiki, and lymphatic. Whatever they can do in 120 minutes, I like it all. If it could be three hours, I would prefer that.

There are some amazing restaurants on the property. The restaurant Lautrec offers a culinary adventure, the Leap of Faith menu. Tell us how that came about and about your chef, Kristin Butterworth.
I’m not much of a foodie. I’m from the lumber business side of the world. [Hardy Knox is also the owner and president of 84 Lumber.] Over the years, I’ve been blessed to work side by side with the best chefs in the world. But Chef Butterworth is by far the most talented and sophisticated. She’s a chemist, an artist, a foodie, and she’s all of it in one. She is very much a perfectionist. When you’re a perfectionist, you tend to want to do the same thing over and over and perfect it more. But I get spoiled because I want her to do more and more things. I treated her as if she were just a regular chef at the Four Seasons, and I challenged her to change the menu. She looked at me with eyes that could’ve killed me because, again, she’s one of the No. 1 chefs in the world. She’s the only female executive chef who has a five-star status. And I’m telling her to change her menu!? But she did something better— she created Leap of Faith. [Customers are served a seven-course meal designed with their food interests in mind.] It’s an individualized leap of faith. What she has to do in the kitchen to pull that off is to push not only herself but her team with a new creation every night to perfection.

Lautrec

What was your best professional lesson from last year?
Believing in myself, not questioning the decision that I made yesterday but moving on to the decision that needed to be made today and forward. In this everchanging scare, something completely unknown to me and completely out of my control was something and is something that I struggle with the most. I learned not to question myself. The goal in January 2020 dramatically changed on March 13th. [The goal was now] safety for my associates, which was number one. Safety for my father. Safety for my customers. I had to continue to not second-guess and to move forward. A lot of my decisions were instinctive to continue the longevity of the business and the safety of guests and associates. I think it worked out fabulously well. The COVID-19 time gave me time to think what should Nemacolin really be. I’m excited and pleased to see the decision we made is paying off. It’s shining, smiling, and exuding the magic. It makes sense now.

PLUS!

A Moment with…
P.J. Magerko
Nemacolin’s VP of Brand Strategy

P.J. Magerko

We know Nemacolin is working on some changes ahead. Any hints of what’s to come?
We’re always evolving and growing at Nemacolin. One day we may decide to build a water park or an ice-skating rink; you never know. There’s a lot of exciting programming and experiences we’re working on that are more theatrical and immersive. Once the pandemic settles, look out!

Your recent TV commercial is really clever. What was the concept?
Because we were in the midst of reinvigorating the Nemacolin brand, which we worked on with King & Partners, we thought it’d be a great idea to visually represent the exciting updates and energy on the property. I love a movie musical, and our DNA at Nemacolin is both elevated and eccentric. I wanted to take it there and show the world that we’re a wonderland in the middle of nowhere, a place for everyone to play and escape to.

 

Tell us about the shopping experiences here.
Nemacolin features many different shopping experiences. Laurel Lane, our luxe boutiques, feature designers like Max Mara, John Varvatos, Rag & Bone—all the essentials you forgot for your five-star dinner at Lautrec. The logo shop is cute for Nemacolin souvenirs and merchandise to take home to loved ones. We also have an incredible golf pro shop with a customizable club-fitting service to get you ready for a day on the course.

What do you want people to experience when they come to Nemacolin?
An escape from reality. There is never-ending wonder around every corner on this 2,000-acre playground. We’re creating real-life magic.

The Bachelor’s current season was shot there. What was it like having the show take over the property?
It was wild! We paused operations at the property for two months, which was unlike anything we’ve done before. The producers did a great job of highlighting the property.

The Bachelor

The Bachelor (Courtesy)

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