Nestled amid the high-rise condominiums, international retailers and world-class lodging brands, Volusia County is home to some of the area’s best kept secrets – family-owned hotels.
These gems inhabit a niche in an area of Florida known for speed records, beach lifestyles and world renowned destinations. They are a throwback to days gone by, reminiscent of the “Old Florida Lifestyle”, and bursting with history.
Dating back to the 1940s the Coral Sands Resort & Seaside Cottages is tucked away along State Road A1A in Ormond Beach. You may have driven past it countless times and have never really seen it, but a stop into the property reveals a hidden oasis. Sitting in the gazebo, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back in time.
Philip Smith, general manager of the Coral Sands, started there almost twenty years ago working the front desk. What began as his first job in 1999, has become a lifelong career, and as he shows off photos and postcards dating back to the 1950s, his love for the area is evident.
Once a small lodging stop-over with a handful of cottages in the 40s, founded by William Akers Jr. and his wife Georgia, the Coral Sands has grown to 35 cottages, 68 hotel rooms and 33 recreational vehicle sites, without ever losing the charm of the original property, now owned by Continental Property Services. “The owner we have now is great, he puts a lot into it,” said Smith. “When the hurricanes hit us, our hotel was really damaged and he totally put his backbone into it and rebuilt it all. He’s just a great owner like that.”
It’s this ambiance that draws families to the Coral Sands, and Smith has had the pleasure of seeing families return year after year, watching the children grow up and return with families of their own. He credits the personalized experience an independent hotel like Coral Sands provides, for building loyalty among his guests and a circle of trust among local businesses.
“We try to keep it Old Florida and that’s what they like. They know us by name and they’re almost like family now,” said Smith. “They’ll ask for specific rooms or cottages because they’ve always been coming. We try to personalize everything and they like that,” he said.
“The wonderful and terrific staff and ‘Old Florida’ laid back type of resort is what my family and I love,” said Bebe Burnett, who’s been coming to Coral Sands with her family since 1982. “The welcoming, the kindness, the thoughtfulness and the happiness that we receive here makes us feel like we are coming home to a wonderful family.”
South, along A1A in Daytona Beach, visitors can experience a different type of welcome at the Sun Viking Lodge. Owned by Gary Brown and his wife Barbara, the couple have seen their share of families since becoming hoteliers 47 years ago.
Encouraged by Barbara’s parents, Karl and Carmela Evensgaard, hoteliers in Volusia County, Gary, just 21 years old and Barbara 19, decided to take a chance on their hometown in 1971. Since then, the couple has grown the family business from an 11 unit hotel to a 91 room destination that welcomes guests with their signature Viking and langskip (Viking ship) as they enter the Daytona Beach property, where Brown’s son Greg is currently the general manager.
Three generations in the hospitality industry have translated into a thriving family-owned business that treats its guests as part of the extended family. “We are very fortunate here to have built our business on repeat customers,” said Brown. “Most of them have come back every year since 1971, some of them for five generations and bring their kids, grandkids, great grandkids,” said Brown. “That is very rewarding. It’s like old friends and it’s been the key to our success.”
Over the years, he’s seen locally owned hotels bought out by national brands and says he welcomes the marketing benefits the national brands bring to the Daytona Beach area. “Years ago we didn’t have very many brand name hotels in Daytona Beach, they were mostly independent owner/operators and it’s certainly changed over the years,” said Brown. “I don’t fear the chains coming in, I welcome them. If we have ten new hotels on the beach they’re all chain-affiliated, that’s ten new properties that are marketing Daytona Beach, so that’s a lot more people beating the drum to get people to Daytona Beach. The tide rises all boats, that’s my philosophy.”
New ownership of independent hotels has also provided a chance to save those that had fallen into disrepair, such as the Streamline Hotel, while revitalizing the Daytona Beach area. Few things define Daytona Beach like NASCAR and the Daytona International Speedway, but very few people know the iconic Streamline Hotel is the location where it all came to life in 1947. A recent $6 million renovation by Eddie Hennessy brought to life the picturesque 44-room property. Paying homage to the class and style of the 1940s, while treating guests to luxurious 21st century rooms and service, featuring dining at Oliver’s Hideaway and a rooftop bar with a stunning view of the Daytona Beach skyline and Atlantic Ocean, the Strealime Hotel provides guests the best of both worlds in an intimate setting.
Hennessy saw the opportunity to restore the Streamline as a way to preserve a part of Daytona Beach history while leaving a legacy for his daughters. “Once I saw the view, that’s when my vision kicked in,” said Hennessy. “We are the World’s Most Famous Beach and I’m leaving a legacy for my two baby girls. It’s all about the community and revamping Daytona Beach. This is what my vision is all about, restoring the whole corridor of the World’s Most Famous Beach and starting a new trend,” he said.