Living in Pismo Beach – Noreen Martin

Living in Pismo Beach, where we connect you with some of our favorite people who live and work on the Central Coast. Those community and business leaders who make living on the Coast such a unique and diverse experience.

Episode #5

Noreen Martin
President and Chairman of the Board of Martin Resorts Inc

Noreen Martin, President and Chairman of the Board of Martin Resorts Inc, joins Ashlea Foster Boyer, Shannon Bowdey & Jordan Hamm on Living In Pismo Beach.

Ashlea Boyer:

All right. Hey guys.

Jordan Hamm:

Hey.

Ashlea Boyer:

How’s it all going?

Shannon Bowdey:

Going great. Yeah.

Jordan Hamm:

It’s June.

Shannon Bowdey:

I know it’s hit with the usual coastal, June gloom, but today it’s gorgeous.

Jordan Hamm:

I know. Yay. And you’re going camping in this gorgeous weather.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yes. It’s going to be nice and toasty out at the lake and hopefully get a chance to put the paddle board out in the water.

Jordan Hamm:

Fun.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. It’s been a year. That’s crazy. All right. Well, let’s talk about our next guest. We’re so excited to chat with Noreen.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah.

Jordan Hamm:

Noreen Martin is president and chairman of the board of Martin Resorts, a boutique hotel collection with properties and Paso Robles, wine country, and our coastal resort communities, Avila and Pismo beach. Martin Resorts was founded in 1998 by Noreen and her late husband, Tom. And then as a widow with a young child, Noreen succeeded in building a highly respected hotel brand specializing in enhancing the experience of its guests, creating a culture where people thrive and watched the company double in revenue all while giving back to the community. Martin Resorts properties include the iconic Paso Robles Inn, the Avila and Pismo Beach Lighthouse Suites, the Shore Cliff Hotel, and the latest edition in Paso, an intimate small format property called the Piccolo.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah, so most recently Noreen spearheaded a restoration project in Pismo Beach along the California coastal trail, when completed it’ll span 1200 miles from Oregon to Mexico. Since the project began in 2015, Noreen and her team have tackled 12 individual site projects from the restoration of bluff top walkways to the creation of additional beach access in a pedestrian bridge. The project will ultimately allow guests and locals alike to enjoy the ocean front walkway that stretches all the way from Northern Pismo Beach and beyond the newly restored pier in Pier Plaza.

Jordan Hamm:

Noreen brings her expertise and passion for tourism to the state level as well. She has served as a chief fiscal officer and vice chair person for Visit California, the official state of California tourism board. She currently serves as Visit California commissioner.

Ashlea Boyer:

Awesome. Well, let’s welcome in Noreen.

Jordan Hamm:

All right.

Ashlea Boyer:

Okay. Noreen, we’re so glad to have you on the show with us.

Noreen Martin:

Well, thank you. I’m excited too.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah, and Michael and I have known you for many years and a lot of our philanthropic circles have overlapped, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked you how you came to the central coast. Would you tell us that story?

Noreen Martin:

Oh, of course. I have a short story. Typical of Cal Poly I came at 18 years old in 1971 to go to Cal Poly, finished in ’75 and just was so enamored by the community I found a way to stay here. Mostly working for myself because there weren’t many jobs, you couldn’t get hired anywhere. So I was from that era that doesn’t even know the word failure. So I always said, Oh, well, if I lose $5,000, that’s in a lifetime. So, after I finished school, I just started in different businesses.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s awesome. That’s fantastic. Well, another gem that Cal Poly gave us is you.

Noreen Martin:

Yeah, Cal Poly does have the can do attitude, there’s no doubt.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah.

Shannon Bowdey:

That’s a great story, thank you. And so I recently wrote a post in our Live Pismo Beach blog and it highlighted the history behind the iconic Stairway to Nowhere off the beach beneath one of your properties, Shore Cliff Hotel. I know the pedestrian bridge is a big piece of that project. Why is this portion of the project so significant to locals and guests of the hotel?

Noreen Martin:

Well, now there’s at least a mile and a half that starts behind in the Cove all the way down to Pismo Lighthouse behind Ventana Grill and it keeps going behind Shore Cliff. When it was originally begun, I can’t talk about myself without talking about my late husband. He had bought properties that needed a lot of work and he had bought five hotel properties between the year of late 1999 and then he got ill in 2004. So these properties, I call him a bottom fisherman. Those people that know him would know that’s an affectionate term, but we had a lot of coastal issues. And so each property owner knew that they had issues to deal with. So we started out working with the city of Pismo, sometimes California State Lands lease, and then sometimes always the California Coastal Commission, which is the staff really.

Noreen Martin:

So the idea was while improving our properties, also to give the citizen pedestrian use all the way through the back of the hotels. So right now, you can go all the way from Ventana Grill, behind and past Sea Crest, past Cottage Inn, and you can go down to the beach now because the bridge was put in. So the bridge and behind Shore Cliff were originally to protect the properties. And then as I began negotiations and discussions with coastal staff, they liked the idea and we started talking about citizen and pedestrian access. So the bridge was actually to protect a sewer pipe that we have underneath that carries sewer from Ventana Grill all the way down. But when we began to talk about this, it made sense to put a bridge over the sewer bridge just to create more public access.

Noreen Martin:

And I do believe in public access. So it just became hand in hand. So the bridge is awesome. I think people are really enjoying it and it opened about the same time, but maybe a little earlier than Pismo Preserve. So it gives a lot of people more access to walk behind hotels. Now you asked me about the bridge to nowhere. Like every project we’re in negotiations, again, between state lands lease, the coastal staff, and the City of Pismo staff. Unfortunately, we may not be able to bring back that bridge. It’s just been so many years, it took almost four or five years to get the permits and now with the ocean just hitting it so hard, we are probably not going to be able to bring that back.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh, well, that’s too bad. But the benefits of what you put in is amazing.

Noreen Martin:

There have been many benefits. If you go behind Inn at the Cove it’s the best kept secret back there, and you can walk down. There’s no real private beach in the state of California, but if you haven’t been down there, it’s very private back there.

Shannon Bowdey:

That’s awesome.

Jordan Hamm:

That’s so neat.

Noreen Martin:

That’s my explanation, but I don’t want to get people up in arms, it’s just something that I’m not sure is going to work in the long run.

Ashlea Boyer:

Well, and with the ocean beating against it the safety factors have to be taken into consideration.

Noreen Martin:

Yeah. There’s a huge safety factor going on, there’s a lot of behind the scenes things that are very practical that I’d bore you to death with going on with that project.

Jordan Hamm:

Well, this has become such a legacy project, but what would you say is the most difficult hurdle that you’ve had to overcome? It sounds like had that with the Stairway to Nowhere, but has there been other things that you’ve had to deal with?

Noreen Martin:

Well, in those projects, the hardest thing was to get everyone on the same page. Including the private identity, meaning Martin Resorts, I had to work with my own company and what we could do and then the engineering teams, you have to collect people that understand working with the ocean on the coastline, and you have to develop a team around you so that the coastal staff respects what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to do it. But then you’ve got to get it passed through the City of Pismo Beach and they’re under the requirements of the coastal zone. And then if you mix state lands lease, or you mix Army Corps of Engineers in there, it was definitely my hardest project. It was very difficult and took just a lot more patience than I ever thought I had.

Jordan Hamm:

Well, thank you.

Noreen Martin:

Yeah. But sometimes it helps being a woman because you’re looking at that end result and how do you get there? I’m not saying that all of us don’t do that as a collective group, but I think the intentions might be a little softer coming from the female side, possibly. Without offending anyone.

Shannon Bowdey:

Being a woman goes into my next question. As president and chair person of the board for Martin Resorts, what challenges have you experienced as a woman who also happens to be one of the top private employers in the county?

Noreen Martin:

Well, that’s kind of you, and it’s an honest question. I’m 67. So I’ve really had an incredibly, I don’t want to use the word difficult because that’s too strong, but I’ve really had to maneuver and it takes a lot more energy to be respected whether it’s a government agency, whether it’s the male, not sure if I could do it.

Noreen Martin:

So you have to know your subject very well and talk it. I find myself still sitting in a room in my career path with probably 14 other lodging industry owners that are men. So it does take some patience, but it also, I think at the end of the day, it takes respect. It’s harder to earn respect. I was talking with one of my male friendly competitors just the other day, he’s got girls, and he was noticing how sometimes they’re talked down to. So you do have to take a step back, not take it personally, and really communicate more fact and maybe you come back with the answer, but maybe it comes out in email, but you do, it’s tougher. That’s tougher.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah.

Noreen Martin:

More energy, more energy.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah, exactly.

Ashlea Boyer:

Well, so now this time that we’re in is unprecedented for all of us and so we’re adjusting to the world with COVID-19. It doesn’t appear that it’s going anywhere soon. And how have your business been impacted? How have you had to pivot in this time?

Noreen Martin:

We have been extremely impacted and with many pivots, if my operations officer was on the line, she and I’d be laughing because as soon as it hit, there were new laws coming in by the hour. Not by the day, but literally by the hour. So there hasn’t been much rest with a crisis. And I really mean a crisis because we had to retrain all of our people, we had to figure out how we can stay in business. Of course, then you’ve got the PPP loan, then you’ve got to figure out the laws that aren’t even in effect yet for the forgiveness of that particular loan, but you’ve got a lot of employees back to work. There’s really not enough work because we don’t have enough business for all of them and then keeping everybody busy.

Noreen Martin:

But we’ve resorted, I’m really pleased, because we have an extremely talented director of people and culture, Sara by name, who has brought a lot of trainings. And so these people that we may not have the work for them, they’re getting trained and getting a few hours paid to get these trainings. So she’s been doing three, four sometimes a week. I think that’s a great asset to our culture because even though we do have good pay jobs, we also have entry level positions. But once people have any entry level position that they’re in, when they’re trained well and they understand what it is to be a leader. And I mean a leader from an entry level position to stand up and do what they feel the right thing is within their job description and maybe even cross over into somebody else’s, then they’re empowered and they’re better people and they can work anywhere they want to. I’m very proud of that.

Ashlea Boyer:

Awesome. What a great thing.

Noreen Martin:

I can tell you as early as last night, you might’ve heard about Paso Robles and Paso Robles Inn. We had cars of people and people surrounding our hotels and walking and stopping every seven minutes to kneel. And it was very disconcerting and I’m so proud that we had the National Guard fly in to the airport in Paso Robles. Some of them drove in with big trucks. I don’t know how, we had sheriff Ian Parkinson up there. Our chief Ty Lewis was at the helm. We even had bikers, literally bikers protecting our community all night long, last night. Strange bed fellows, but hello, I’m so grateful for them. Very grateful.

Ashlea Boyer:

That was an amazing turn out last night. I was reading some of the stories and everyone really pitched in to help each other. It was an amazing thing.

Noreen Martin:

I wasn’t going to go. I live in Shelby Beach. I wasn’t going to go out there because I would have been one more person that the police had to protect, but I was prepared to go up there if we had pilferage, because then I could be of help and I wouldn’t be a distraction. [inaudible 00:15:16] one more person that the police had to protect. So I was very proud, very grateful. So anyway, it’s been every day, there’s been new laws by our county officials and then we have new laws from our city officials.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. I can’t imagine because in our industry, just for how we operate as individuals, it changes on a weekly basis and when you’re having to house customers, it’s got to be a whole other ball of wax.

Noreen Martin:

A good hotel is used to being clean. Stepping it up more for the COVID requirements, isn’t that difficult to do. Our first thing is we want our people that work for us to be protected and then of course, right next to that is we want our customers to be served. So they’re more comfortable when it’s clean and were way before COVID and now, it’s all on our website exactly what we do. They have the knowledge before they book, before they enter. We have a great operations team that puts that together. Her name is Margaret and leads that part of our company. I’m very proud of her too.

Ashlea Boyer:

Oh, that’s great.

Jordan Hamm:

Yeah. So transitioning in your many roles on the California Tourism board and with the Visit California campaign, what sets the central coast apart from other California coastal communities?

Noreen Martin:

Lots. We have reason for people to visit. We have open air, we have hiking, we have way more than our beaches. Right now you’re hearing a lot about the beaches, but we’ve got the wineries, we’ve got centurio, there’s so many things in this county for people to do. Morro rock is an icon. Every 20 minutes, you can drive somewhere in this county and get a flavor of a completely different community and I think that’s what makes us really unique. I think that’s why people want to come here because we live like locals. Look at us talking to each other right now, we’re girlfriends. They want to be a part of that and they don’t understand our secret sauce so they come back for more and more and more.

Noreen Martin:

The better quality our hotels become, there’s an attraction to a very curious, educated customer that blends in with our citizen. You can’t even tell the difference in many cases. Did I answer your question?

Jordan Hamm:

Yeah. I love that answer.

Noreen Martin:

Sometimes I get passionate and then I forget what the question was.

Jordan Hamm:

Well, we all love to live here so we can see it every day. I was just curious your take on how it differs.

Noreen Martin:

Visit California was a really wonderful experience because I got to see it from the state and I was on the executive team for, I think almost eight years. I’m just about to the end of my 10 years now. So I got to see a true public private partnership and how it works with the government. So I was able to bring that back here and help, you might know Chuck Davidson, who is CEO of Visit San Luis Obispo County.

Noreen Martin:

So I was able to assist in that process to get him very inclusive up at the State of California. And the type of marketing they do one of the great things that’s going to happen right now is because it doesn’t make sense. They’ve always advertised to Europe or out of our country and brought them here. And then it was each county’s job to bring them in. This year they’re going to start advertising the drive markets. So what that will do is really help our State of California get back on its feet economically quicker, faster. If tourism is back on their feet quicker, faster, then our other sectors are too. And I mean real estate agents, I mean all of everybody.

Ashlea Boyer:

Oh yeah. They come and stay in your hotels and then they want to stay forever. Hand in hand.

Noreen Martin:

Yeah. Or people are able to afford more and buy their own homes. It fits hand in hand and the fingers all go together. So that’s why I’m a big believer in tourism because of my experiences at the state level. And I really wanted them to bring those experiences to this county. And I think Chuck Davidson has really increased that experience for this county. So that there could be more awareness and product. How do you bring product here? Which I mean marketing and what product do you market and who is that demographic that wants to come here? As I always say, or I have said before, if we’re going to trap the person that wants to be waited on at the beach, we’re going to sorely disappoint. Really, Hawaii is the better place.

Noreen Martin:

We need to attract that active tourist that wants to hike, wind surf, surf, walk the beaches. Then we’ve got our right clientele and they’ll be really happy and they’ll go home with lots of great stories to tell and help our social media reach more people.

Shannon Bowdey:

Wonderful. So I know culture is an important factor of the family environment at your hotels and I hear you have a few great stories from your team to share about some wonderful guests in the past.

Noreen Martin:

Well, I really tried hard to pick one of these four stories and I couldn’t. So I really feel this tells the culture of our community. Shore Cliff, Jeff Myers, he’s our GM. I emailed out when you sent me the questions on this particular one, and this is what came back to me from the actual hotel. So this is Shore Cliff’s.

Noreen Martin:

The Barlow family, they’ve been staying for years at Shore Cliff. They said many times that team Shore Cliff was their family. Last year, Mr. Barlow suffered a stroke. The team at Shore Cliff became concerned when they didn’t hear from Mr. and Mrs. Barlow and soon learned he had passed away. Mrs. Barlow was so touched by the call from team Shore Cliff she wept, telling them they had made her day. She was so happy to learn that someone had cared about her. She now plans to return as soon as the shelter at home order is lifted because she calls Shore Cliff Hotel her happy place. Her plan is to take the people that she considers family, that’s team Shore Cliff, to coffee. As Jeff Myers told me, team Shore Cliff considers it an honor to be considered family to Mrs. Barlow.

Ashlea Boyer:

Oh, that’s so sweet.

Noreen Martin:

[inaudible 00:22:43], she’s the general manager at Avila lighthouse Suites. This is her, a gentleman named John started many years ago to give a homeless family at night at Avila. Every year, this has grown and the hotel pays one night now and donates food. That way the family chosen can also have another family that can come and participate in their Christmas. Soon, Summer, GM of Avila, she encouraged team Avila to join their Christmas Eve. Team Avila now, decorates two rooms for Christmas Eve, filling the fridges and wrapping gifts for two families. This has become an amazing tradition for her. Now, the team Avila partners with Five Cities Homeless Coalition and they give gifts, gas cards, gift cards, food, and other needs to these two families. It has been a blessing for our company and all of it came from an idea from a man named John whose original desire was to help one family have an overnight for Christmas.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s amazing.

Noreen Martin:

Pretty cool. Okay, I’ve got two more. I don’t want to bore you, but I-

Ashlea Boyer:

No, no it’s great.

Shannon Bowdey:

I love it.

Ashlea Boyer:

We need these stories right now.

Shannon Bowdey:

Some of you know Eric [inaudible 00:23:58], he’s our Pismo Lighthouse Suites general manager. Jack Dempsey is the favorite standout guest. He stayed at Avila for 18, excuse me. He stayed at Pismo Lighthouse Suites for 18 months while under hospice care for cancer. Jack wanted to be by the ocean near and he had a daughter locally. Jack knew everyone at team Pismo Lighthouse Suites by name. He included the staff in his activities and Eric [inaudible 00:24:26] invited Jack to his home for Thanksgiving. It was a sad day for everyone when the hospital bed was moved from his suite after Christmas. And all knew that Jack had lost his battle, the memories of the many happy staff events, including a birthday party in his honor, are still discussed today, five years later. Team Pismo Lighthouse Suites continue to use Jack’s Christmas tree in the lobby for several years in his honor.

Shannon Bowdey:

So I’ve got one more. This is from the Paso Robles Inn and team Piccolo. Erica Freiberger is a general manager, along with Martin Beckett. Mr. and Mrs. Smith had been coming to the PR Inn Christmas buffet for 10 years. They always loved the Inn, the team, the food, and the atmosphere. Recently, Mrs. Smith made the reservation for one and the staff recognized that right away. So they got a hold of her, found out that she wanted to continue in her husbands honor their tradition and she chose to be somewhere for Christmas that felt like family. Team PR Inn took turns sitting with her so she never dined alone. She shared family stories and fond memories of her husband. Mrs. Smith continues to dine with team PR Inn and they continue to enjoy sitting with Mrs. Smith and the Paso Robles team, and they take wonder trips together down memory lane and she never sits by herself the entire time.

Ashlea Boyer:

Wow.

Jordan Hamm:

Great stories.

Noreen Martin:

Every hotel has a different culture. And I think that is our culture. The Latin word of hospitality means those that serve others. And I think that our hotel company has learned to serve others at the deepest core. Thank you for letting me share those.

Jordan Hamm:

I’m glad you did.

Ashlea Boyer:

It’s great.

Shannon Bowdey:

We need good stories right now.

Ashlea Boyer:

Paso Robles Inn is Michael and my anniversary. We have three places we go for anniversaries and that’s one and the staff there is always amazing. So I totally get it.

Noreen Martin:

That’s good to hear. And when COVID’s over, we’ll reopen Piccolo and get you there.

Ashlea Boyer:

I hear Piccolo has a vending machine that serves [crosstalk 00:27:01].

Noreen Martin:

Oh goodness. I got to say that vending machine wasn’t the important thing on my list because when I saw the dollar amount, but Erica Freiberger, our general manager up there had been with us for so long. It was almost like she was so sure it would be a success that we had to say yes. Anyway, it has been an amazing success and people just walk into Piccolo just to do the vending machine to get the champagne.

Ashlea Boyer:

Well, when I heard about it, I was like, what, there is such a thing?

Noreen Martin:

It helps to listen to this youth when you’re…

Ashlea Boyer:

Well all of this… Go ahead.

Noreen Martin:

No, I was just going to say there’s definitely seasons in the lodging industry when things are more important and less important and this has been the era where that whole millennial group has made, I think, our industry much more fun because it keeps us on our toes.

Ashlea Boyer:

Well, I’ve had such a great time talking with you today and hearing the stories and I’m glad we get to share you with our group that follow us. So thank you so much for being with us today, Noreen.

Noreen Martin:

Thank you. And I’m very happy I’ve always entered your paths in one way or another. So next time, we need to know each other and stop each other and talk.

Ashlea Boyer:

Exactly. Next time for sure. Looking forward to those in person meetings.

Shannon Bowdey:

Take care.

Ashlea Boyer:

Thank you so much.

Noreen Martin:

Have a good rest of your day, bye.

Ashlea Boyer:

Bye. This is Ashlea Boyer.

Jordan Hamm:

Jordan Hamm.

Shannon Bowdey:

And Shannon Bowdey.

Shannon Bowdey, Ashlea Boyer & Jordan Hamm:

With the Pismo Beach Homes team.

 

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