NISSWA, MN—Cote Family Destinations, a family-owned business with a collection of resorts, real estate holdings and traditional summer camps, sees aggressive expansion with the help of its new CEO—Tom Juliano.
Juliano came out of semi-retirement for this opportunity. He also moved from Hawaii to Minnesota, where Cote Family Destinations is based.
“I was approached with this opportunity, and what interested me most was this company’s foundation. It began with summer camps,” said Juliano. “I’d never been a camper as a kid, but my daughter did overnight camp, and I know how much of that became part of her life. I was always intrigued by people that would do traditional summer camps, and I was interested in how that would transfer to the resort business.”
The fun and happiness associated with family vacations and summer camp is imprinted on the company.
“We are a bunch of hospitality people with a foundation in youth development. I wish I could bottle up this feeling and sprinkle it around the company,” said Juliano. “Picture in your mind for a moment: 20-something young men and women acting like nine-year-olds unabashedly. The training they do every summer with 200 people—and most are new to hospitality—the feeling is infectious. They enjoy doing what they’re doing. One of my goals is to take the counselors and convert them into hospitality people. They don’t know it, but they’re the best example of what we should be doing on the resort’s operations side.”
With nearly two years under his belt, Juliano has been focused on the company’s sizeable expansion efforts. Cote Family Destinations’ portfolio includes Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, AZ; and Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN; Camp Lincoln and Camp Lake Hubert, brother-sister camps in Minnesota; and Grand View Real Estate, a Minnesota-based full-service brokerage focused on residential development.
“During the interview process, I was asked to give my thoughts about where the company was and could be. The company was willing to embrace change going forward. We have a new board of directors to facilitate the change, and part of the transition is a new CEO,” he said. “The nice thing about Minnesota and Arizona—where our properties are located—we have opportunities around land we own. In the last 10 years of my career, my time has been split between development and operations. You don’t always get that chance in a larger organization or corporate organization. Being able to use skills from development and operations appealed to me.”
Juliano has five large-scale projects that could’ve easily been spread over two or three years. All are underway in just one year. “You have to be careful what you ask for,” he quipped.
Projects at a Glance:
In Minnesota, the company is building a gym at Camp Lincoln as well as a basketball court and weight room facility. At the girls camp, it is expanding the dining rooms. “Both dining rooms were undersized, and we’re investing over a million dollars in expanding this building and redoing the kitchen,” he said. These projects are expected to be completed prior to opening this summer.
Grand View Lodge is also seeing construction activity with a 60-room boutique hotel called North. Slated to open on July 1, 2019, Juliano described the project as an “urban design meets a north woods environment.” It topped off a few weeks ago.
Right next door is NorthPark, showcasing an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, full recreation area with sand volleyball, climbing walls and a tennis court. The pièce de résistance? A cornhole stadium outfitted with 10 cornhole stations, bleachers, lights and indoor/outdoor pools.
The company also started lot sales at Grand View Lodge single-family homes, with 40 homes opening in 2019 in two different neighborhoods on a golf course. “We sold out in eight weeks and have 30 under construction, with the remaining to begin construction after winter,” he said.
“This will add about 150 keys to the inventory, almost doubling the size of the resort. In addition, it will help us attract conference business we had to turn away during our high-demand period in summer,” he said.
At the Tanque Verde Ranch, the company is building a $6.5-million barn to be used primarily for weddings and group activities.
“We will have a view of the mountains and introduce the brand to a new type of customer,” he said. “We’ve traditionally been a dude ranch, and now we’re switching our focus to be a horse-centric and Southwestern resort, adding mountain biking and hiking. We’ve also partnered with Under Canvas to offer glamping (a combination of the words glamorous and camping) on-property.”
While there are numerous projects happening now, Juliano has also sets his sights on the future and how he can usher Cote Family Destinations into a new era.
“I’m asking myself, ‘How do we become a progressive hospitality company and still retain the history and culture that has brought us this far? And, how do you continually work on that?’ My answer is to keep to our roots in a progressive atmosphere,” he said. “I work for a really great family. It’s a family business and the roots are supported by the Cote family, now in the third generation.”