Q&A with Sheldon Rice, managing partner of The Rycroft Hotel

Sheldon Rice, the new managing partner of The Rycroft Hotel, and his family – son Damian and daughters Skylar (wearing eyeglasses) and Ariel, and wife Melyn.

Since September 2018, a new team has taken over management of The Rycroft Hotel. Sheldon Rice, managing partner, said he and his team have been making renovations as well as working to improve the image of the hotel, located right in the heart of the Village of Rycroft, making it “a clean, family-oriented location for people to stay, or eat out and buy convenience-store items.” In addition to renovating 12 of the hotel’s 14 rooms, two of the larger rooms have been converted into fully furnished two- and three-bedroom apartments. Moreover, rooms were refitted with gently used furniture that came from a retrofit of The Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Place, giving the hotel a serious upgrade from its dated interior. Broken sewer lines, water lines, water heaters, and furnaces have also been fixed, he said.

Tell us some of the changes that you’ve introduced and put in place so far.
We’ve phased out the old Sonny’s Diner. In its place, we’ve set up a convenience store. But there is still a restaurant within the hotel; it has simply gotten bigger and better. Imitating the Boston Pizza concept, the “old watering hole” has been separated into two halves – one side is being kept as the Pub on Main, and the other half has been transformed into a licensed family dining restaurant.

Our new convenience store has all of the regular items a convenience store typically carries – milk, eggs, bread, butter, frozen dinners, and a selection of hot grab-and-go food items such as battered chicken, chicken wings, battered home fries, homemade soups, sandwiches, smokies, pizza by the slice, and a large selection of convenience store type food and drinks. We intend to stock up on anything and everything that the local people want in their shelves. So, we encourage people to come and see what we have to offer so far, and let us know what they would like to see added to our store inventory. Our convenience store as well as our licensed family restaurant, called The Rycroft Roadhouse, will have their soft opening this month.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up coming to Rycroft?
I’m a native of Rocky Mountain House in Alberta. I had a good track record managing a hotel where I come from, and, out of the blue, I got a call and was presented with an opportunity to come and operate The Rycroft Hotel. My dad and I came for a visit in Rycroft to have a look at the hotel, and we decided to give it a go. I have invested my family’s entire life savings into the improvements of the building as well as the new businesses that I have recently set up within the hotel building. I am a family-oriented individual who is trying to build a family-based business. I’m doing my best to build a place that families can go to and enjoy. Each day, I look forward to the opportunity of meeting more people from our Village and shaking hands with them. I believe that the success of a local business lies pretty much in the support of the local people.

What can people look forward to when they come into the hotel?
In an effort to create a fun-filled family atmosphere in our new restaurant, we have set up a small stage for our Friday Night Family Jam, which is an “open mic” night for people of all ages. So, on Fridays, adults and children alike are welcome to come and sing songs on the mic, or play their musical instruments in front of a crowd. If feedback on social media were any measure, the younger generation just loves the opportunity to be music stars in their own little community.

The hotel relies largely on oil-patch workers for occupancy. How do you make sure you ride out and survive the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry?
I have created different revenue streams to make sure there is constant cash flow in the business. I have also started Triple C Delivery, which operates between Rycroft, Spirit River, Fairview and Grande Prairie, offering taxi services, as well as 2-for-1 pizza delivery from the Rycroft Roadhouse, liquor delivery from the Western Spirits Liquor Store, and convenience store items delivery.

I’m also currently building an e-store, where people can order restaurant food, pizza, beer, cigarettes, and convenience store items.