As is our tradition this time of year, we recently caught up with with COO and Executive VP of Brush Creek Ranch, Mike Williams, to get a behind the scenes look at Ranch life leading up to the 2017 season.
To begin, let’s look back on 2016 – how did the season go?
“2016 was our sixth season being open and it was a terrific year. The Ranch started in December of 2008, when the White Family purchased it, and then we opened to the public in 2011. We were introduced to many new, wonderful guests in 2016 who always provide great feedback which helps us to continually improve our guest experience. We successfully launched our new boutique resort offering––the Magee Homestead and we’re also very excited that we completed the French Creek Sportsman’s Club on the Sanger Ranch and unveiled a soft introduction in the fall with some elite hunting groups. We’ll open it again this year on May 22nd. And then to cap it off, we were named the #1 Resort in the U.S in the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice awards for the third year in a row. That’s kind of the cherry on the ice cream sundae, so we’re extremely proud our team and very humbled. It clearly sets the bar high to repeat. We’re thankful to our ownership, as they give us the tools to do our jobs. And we thank our guests. They get to come here for the vacation of a lifetime.”
Guests now recognize you as the Ranch’s grand host, so to speak. They know you by face and by name. Tell us about your official and unofficial roles and your various duties.
“You know, it’s ironic a little bit that I am the face of Brush Creek. And I take that seriously. Everything that goes on at the Ranch every day is accomplished by a group of very committed people. At the end of the day, it’s the reputation of myself on behalf of Brush Creek Ranch, so I have a duty to be out and about. I have a duty to be at lunches and to walk through the dinners and to be out on what we call my Blue Machine, which is an ATV, and go all over the Ranch to watch activities. Guests really love to see the leadership out on the Ranch, so I take that role seriously and spend time with guests. More often than not, I ask them, “How is your stay? How can we make it better? And I can’t tell you the countless improvements we’ve made to our operation. So a large part of my role as the General Manager and Chief Operating Officer is to be out and about. Look. Touch. Taste. Talk to the associates. Because there’s a lot of moving parts here, and you can’t put your thumb on those moving parts from a desk chair––especially on 30,000 acres.”
Brush Creek Ranch regularly receives the highest of accolades from a number of sources. To what do you attribute this success?
“Well, to begin with, we are very humbled by the awards that we have received. It certainly keeps us on our toes. It raises the bar and it gives us something to shoot for, always. To repeat is harder than achieving the award the first time. But quite simply, it’s the individual associates and their individual moments of truth with guests. They’re the ones who make it happen. Our strength is absolutely our people, and it’s the individual guest contact that is key. Because as I tell our team at orientation, of course I’ll see our guests out on the Ranch, but you will spend a hundred times over more time with them than I will ever be able to. Because when you’re a fly-fishing guide, it’s you and a guest, on the river, for three hours at a time. And that fly-fishing guide, he needs to be charismatic. He needs to be instructional. He needs to be encouraging. He needs to read the guest. And that’s the reason why we, I believe, have garnered these awards and the recognition, as well as our repeat guests. I mean, that’s the ultimate reward, to have someone come back a second, a third, a fourth time to the Ranch.”
In your opinion, what makes Brush Creek Ranch unique and sets it apart from the competition?
“Aside from the two biggest factors—the most stunning piece of property and our incredibly passionate staff—what makes Brush Creek really a terrific guest ranch is that it still is a working cattle ranch, which is rare in the luxury guest ranch world. So one of the attributes of the Ranch is that we have lifelong ranchers who are taking care of that side of the business. And believe it or not, they’re great hospitality people too. Our guests love to be around and to listen to these ranch guys, who really are authentic to what they do. They are Wyoming native and ranching experts. And so I think that completely sets us apart.”
Tell me more about the variety and quality of adventures/activities offered here.
“The Big 5 is what we call fly fishing, horseback riding, our gun program, archery and the Spa. And then we have hiking, mountain biking, paintball, ropes course and zip lines. We have outdoor yoga classes, lawn games, a full recreation center that has a full gymnasium and an arcade. We just introduced rock climbing last year and we added ATV riding up in the Medicine Bow National Forest which has been a huge success. We have tons of variety and a little something for everyone no matter what your age. And again, what sets us apart when it comes to the activities, and this is a very important point, is that you’ll go to some guest ranches, and they’ll hire a bunch of college kids with no specialty in outdoor adventure. That is not the case here. All of my fly-fishing guides are Orvis Endorsed. Our gun range program is led by an eight-time US Open sporting clays champion. Our Wranglers have been riding horses since they were able to walk. Our Ranch Manager has been a Ranch Manager his entire career. So we have people who execute these experiences at a very, very high level of instruction, safety and competency.”
The Ranch seems to be expanding daily. Tell us more about the owner’s vision for the Brush Creek Luxury Ranch Collection and what guests can expect to experience for the 2017 season?
“The most exciting news is the addition of our two new resort offerings under the Brush Creek Luxury Ranch Collection which had successful soft openings last year. The Magee Homestead was reimagined and reopened last year in June. It was there before, but we enhanced it. We knew we wanted to create an adult-only retreat with a focus on wellness experiences. French Creek Sportsman’s Club opened at the tail end of the 2016 season, which is our premier sporting destination for avid anglers and hunters. We’re completing new kitchens for both resorts right now, as well as a new private dining room for guests at the French Creek Sportsman’s Club.”
“We also just completed Phase 2 of our Rendezvous Camp/Trailhead Lodge landscape and hardscape plan at Brush Creek Ranch. So now, you’ll be able to walk down flagstone walkways instead of gravel. The traditional circle that used to be down there is now gone and all the landscaping has been reengineered to present a much more tranquil park space for guests to enjoy.”
“On the activities front, we’re thrilled to offer a brand new state-of-the-art aerial adventure ropes course. This course has 40 features and dual zip lines and is absolutely incredible. We know it’s going to be a huge hit with our guests.”
“Added refinements, that both the guests and our staff love, is our destination glamping experiences. We currently offer a glam camp up at Jim’s Yurt at Brush Creek Ranch which has become more and more popular with each passing year. We’re now rolling out a glamping experience at Platte Canyon Camp, right on the banks of the Platte River that features a yurt and two traditional teepees. Both of these experiences get guests out onto the far reaches of the Ranch, literally in the middle of nowhere, and really get them back in touch with nature, and each other, in an incredible way.”
It sounds like there are a lot of exciting changes happening in the Food and Beverage program at the Ranch as well. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
“Yes, there definitely are. First I want to reintroduce two of our Chefs. Dan Grunbeck was our Executive Sous Chef a couple of years ago. He spent the last two years on the Outer Banks as an Executive Chef and he migrated back this way, and he now has joined the team as Brush Creek Ranch’s Executive Chef, and we’re really excited about having him back. He’s probably the most creative culinary inventive I’ve ever worked with. And secondly, the Chef de Cuisine over at the Magee Homestead is AJ Buchanio. AJ was an Executive Sous Chef for us in 2016, and he was promoted to the Chef de Cuisine over at Magee.”
“We’re always looking forward to raising the bar and being more creative and sustainable with our food and beverage program. We are launching a new pasture-to-plate program this year with our Akaushi cattle herd. We are up to about 800 head right now and we’ll start to harvest that beef for specialty beef nights on both the Magee Homestead as well as the Brush Creek Ranch proper. We are also now under construction on a 6,480-square-foot greenhouse, located on the Magee property that will be finished this season. We will be harvesting spices, herbs, vegetables, flowers, even honey. And as soon as we get our feet underneath of us on the greenhouse project, we’re going to start a chicken and egg program.”
“Additionally, we’re offering more menu options, à la carte choices, seating flexibility, themes and entertainment.”
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Any parting words?
“It’s been my pleasure! Well, I would say we realize that as we are in ‘gear up’ mode for our opening, that guests are looking to ‘take it down a notch’. They have incredibly full lives and schedules and we know that time is of the essence for them. Here on the Ranch, time expands. The days are awake with opportunity from sun up to sun down…they are full with uninterrupted time spend reconnecting in meaningful ways with loved ones and family. We feel honored to make those connections happen and can’t wait to open the gates to our guests for the 2017 season on May 17!”