How this Sonoma County serial businesswoman thrives after hit to sales from October wildfires
Over the past year, health care professionals and other leaders in the North Bay have made clear that the firestorm of October 2017 in some way affected everyone who lives or works in the region.
Crista Luedtke, Guerneville resident and chef-owner of Boon Hotel + Spa, Boon Eat + Drink and the El Barrio cocktail lounge, didn't physically lose anything in last year's firestorm. But the emotional impact changed her in ways she didn't expect.
Luedtke said the aftermath of the fires has heightened her awareness of the housing shortage, keeping her employees happy and avoiding turnover as much as she can.
'One of the things it has done for me is really being mindful of what's a livable wage and being able to take care of my people, and it's hard,' she said. 'And I don't want to have turnover because that affects the quality of the product I'm putting out, whether it's at the hotel, the restaurant or the bar. The more consistent my product, the more likely I'm going to drive business.'
From an economic standpoint, Luedtke said her three businesses combined took a hit to the tune of about $80,000 in lost sales for the remainder of October and all of November 2017. In the months following, she has been able to recoup the shortfall, which she attributes to a combination of factors: good weather in January and February, her loyal client base from the Bay Area coming up to support, and Sonoma County's 'open for business' messaging that has continued since the fires, though less intensely these days.
For those who haven't visited, Guerneville is a resort of sorts and not easily commutable for workers. When Luedtke began building her mini-empire there 10 years ago, the businesses grew to become integral to the town's tourism and hospitality economy.
Luedtke in 2008 opened Boon Hotel + Spa, a 14-room boutique hotel situated among old redwoods and just off the main drag in Guerneville. Luedtke said she chose the name boon because it means 'a gift, or a blessing.' She opened Boon Eat + Drink on Main Street the following year, and in 2014 launched El Barrio.
When the fires broke out, many of Luedtke's employees — of which she has a total of 50 — were affected and couldn't get to work. She housed several of them at the hotel, along with their friends and evacuated neighbors from Santa Rosa, until they could get settled.
'After our guests had found places to be, we started housing first responders through the state program,' Luedtke said. She witnessed the firefighters working day in and day out, and kept them fed and warm when they were at the hotel, she said.
Over the last year, Luedtke has become actively involved with the Guerneville community, attending meetings and lobbying for change in a town that she describes as not ready for a future disaster.
'We lack first-responder support out here,' she said. 'Both of our firehouses, in Monte Rio and Guerneville, are not seismically retrofitted … so we may not have first responders respond in a real true emergency because they're in buildings that, in theory, are unsafe.
'I never thought I'd get into the political side of things, but now I'm getting more engaged,' Luedtke said. 'I'm much more aware, and having those firefighters here when we were housing them made us much more connected to them in a way.'
Luedtke has built a name for herself as a businessperson and chef, having won an episode of local celebrity chef Guy Fieri's 'Grocery Games,' a cooking show on the Food Network. She remains friends with Fieri, and joined the Santa Rosa native for several days after the fires to cook thousands of meals for evacuees, volunteers and first responders.
'I feel like the biggest thing that came out of this is the elevated sense of community,' Luedtke said. 'Everyone felt a sort of sense to rise up and do something.'