His name is synonymous with the highly notable Arizona resorts Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, Hotel Valley Ho and Mountain Shadows. And to add to that list, an exciting launch of a legacy project centered around the Arizona hot springs, coming this fall.
You might say Bill Nassikas has hospitality running through his veins. The son of hôtelier James Nassikas, best known as the founder of San Francisco’s Stanford Court Hotel, Bill Nassikas grew up in a world of fine establishments and exceptional service. Some of his earliest memories, around the age of five, involve joining his father for dinner at his hotel, where the young boy was required to don a coat and tie. “Back in those days it was a much more formal environment,” Nassikas recalls. “My dad was always particular whenever the family came in.”
Today, as president and chief operating officer of Westroc Hospitality, it is clear Nassikas inherited his father’s meticulous attention to detail, as well as the gracious art of playing host to and ensuring the comfort of guests from around the globe at the firm’s renowned Arizona properties: Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa, Hotel Valley Ho, Mountain Shadows, and the soon-to-be-opened Castle Hot Springs.
Hotel Valley Ho
Despite his clear pedigree, Nassikas didn’t commit to the hospitality industry as a profession until he was in his freshman year at Tulane University. Once the decision was made, there was no looking back. He transferred to the respected Cornell University Hotel School, and then followed in his father’s footsteps by attending the prestigious École Hôtelière de la Société Suisse de Hôteliers in Lausanne, Switzerland.
It was a pivotal moment in the young man’s life. “I went over thinking I might be there for maybe a year,” says Nassikas, “and ended up there for three years. I loved it so much.”
Nassikas returned Stateside and continued to build on his experience—including the conception and development of Deer Valley Resort in Utah. When that project was winding down, fate stepped in. Rusty Lyon, founder of Westcor, Arizona’s premier commercial development company, had in mind to develop a high-end luxury resort near his home in Carefree, and Nassikas was just the person Lyon was looking for to help make that happen.
The Boulders Resort opened its doors in 1985, with Nassikas overseeing the accommodations, restaurant, spa, golf and other guest service operations. He also oversaw other prestigious destinations under the Carefree Resorts flag that included The Buttes in Tempe, The Peaks at Telluride, Carmel Valley Ranch in California, The Lodge at Ventana Canyon in Tucson and The Grand Bay Miami.
During his time with Carefree Resorts, Nassikas worked closely with Scott Lyon, Rusty’s son, and the company’s chief financial officer, Pete Corpstein. When the company was sold in 1996, the talented triumvirate put their heads together, determined to make their own vision a reality. In 1998, Westroc Hospitality—a “different” kind of hospitality company with a goal of transforming unique properties into extraordinary destinations—was born.
Their first venture was John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch, perched on the side of Camelback Mountain in the affluent town of Paradise Valley, which had fallen into disrepair and was for sale.
“We first have to identify that a property has ‘good bones,’ a decent location and history,” explains Nassikas. “In other words, it’s something we can bring back to life. The main building of the Tennis Ranch was actually built as the Paradise Valley Racquet Club in 1957. We had to pretty much gut it.”
“We first have to identify that a property has ‘good bones,’ a decent location and history,” explains Nassikas. “In other words, it’s something we can bring back to life.
In 2001, the now-award-winning destination opened as Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa.
Nassikas, CEO Lyon, and CFO Corpstein work together like a finely tuned machine, with Lyon (and to some degree Nassikas) focusing on design, along with construction and city approvals, and Corpstein handling the underwriting and generally crunching numbers to ensure that once renovation is complete, a viable business will remain.
And Nassikas? “I often say when we open a hotel, Scott throws me the keys,” he laughs. “Then I’m off and running.” Nassikas’ realm is the day-to-day operations of each property: food and beverage, rooms, catering, and spa. “We put together our concepts and then we have to implement,” he explains. “There are always changes. As the years pass by, we’ve got to keep up with the trends and the things people are looking for in a dining or spa experience. We are constantly updating.”
On an interesting note, his dad modeled innovation in the food and beverage industry, being among the first to conceptualize a chef-driven hotel restaurant, tapping Julia Child to create the menu and James Beard to run it. That tradition of innovation lives on today in Nassikas’ view of F&B.
Subsequent renaissances for the trio were the Hotel Valley Ho and Mountain Shadows, both landmark locations that had fallen on bad times. Now, Westroc is preparing to open what Nassikas says has been the most exciting project they have ever undertaken: Castle Hot Springs.
Castle Hot Springs
The first resort ever opened in Arizona, Castle Hot Springs came into being in 1896, and throughout the early to mid-20th Century was one of the country’s most desirable resort destinations, allowing people to enjoy the Arizona hot springs. The resort hosted well-to-do families like the Astors, Vanderbilts and Roosevelts. After a fire in 1976, the property was shuttered until Nassikas and team began to work their magic in 2014.
“We always loved the property,” says Nassikas. “And now we feel it’s really going to be special. The natural hot spring there is the real deal, with the water bubbling out of the ground at the rate of 200,000 gallons a day.”
Nassikas says the reimagined resort—featuring 32 luxury accommodations, a micro-brewery, an organic farm and greenhouse to supply the on-site restaurant, a resort pool, and three natural rock grotto soaking pools fed by the hot spring—will open its doors in November 2018. The property will offer the ultimate in relaxation, with guests encouraged to leave their technology at the door; there aren’t even televisions or internet connectivity in the guest rooms.
The enthusiasm with which Nassikas talks about Castle Hot Springs is infectious. “I love history,” he admits. “Castle Hot Springs probably has more history than anything I could ever imagine. The historical passion I have for a property—and being able to give it a renaissance—is a big part of what inspires me. I’m proud that we’re ‘preservationists’ of sorts, bringing properties that had a good past back into the future.”
LAST BOOK YOU READ?
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL?
FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?
Definitely chocolate chip.
FAVORITE BRUNCH SPOT?
Elements at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE?
MORNING OR NIGHT?
WHAT ANNOYS YOU MOST?
THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE YOURSELF:
Honest, energetic, passionate.
IF YOU COULD TRADE LIVES WITH ANYONE FOR A DAY?
Sammy Hagar—he loves food and beverage. There’s something about the aura of a musician and being able to perform, which is something I’ve never done.
WHAT HOSPITALITY TREND DO YOU JUST NOT GET?
The extreme technology, where hotels are eliminating the front desk, where you can download a key onto your phone. It’s dehumanizing the industry. A big sector is losing what I think it’s all about, the glue that holds it all together: the interaction with people.
LAST MOVIE YOU SAW?
I took my three-and-a-half-year-old son to see “The Incredibles 2”—it was pretty good!
COFFEE OR TEA?
BEER OR WINE?
Probably beer now.
SUNSET OR SUNRISE?
Sunrise, although I love them both.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU CONSIDER ICONIC?
A hotel in Paris, called the Georges Cinque—I’m prejudiced to hotels!