While the Great Depression gripped most of the world in 1931, Milton S. Hershey built an opulent hotel atop Pat's Hill, overlooking his chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The four-star Hotel Hershey is truly a testament to the fact that greatness marches to the beat of a different drum. But eccentricity borne by wealth alone doesn't explain why Mr. Hershey went ahead with such an extravagant project during hard times. Faced with the decision of either employing his town's construction workers or providing for their welfare, he chose the former.
In 1903, nearly 30 years before the foundation was laid, Hershey had site plans in place for building a grand hotel. Cairo's Heliopolis Hotel was Hershey's initial design inspiration after staying there several times with his wife Kitty. But a prohibitive $5 million construction estimate to replicate the property led him to simply hand over a postcard and personal notes to architect D. Paul Witmer, along with descriptions of his stays at the 30-room hotel on the Mediterranean.
Those notes influenced its design, but The Hotel Hershey ended up being considerably larger at 170-rooms employing nearly 800 local steelworkers, masons, carpenters, craftsmen, and laborers. The property's most distinctive feature, the main Fountain Lobby, reflects Milton’s love of Cuba with its Castilian inspired courtyards. Details such as wrought iron lights, railings hand carved from gnarled oak, and a softly-lit painted ceiling create a mood of relaxed gentility.
If you dine onsite only once, make sure it's the Mobil Four-Star Circular, Milton Hershey's answer to what plagued him as a solo traveler. Often shunted behind pillars or to a seat with obstructed views, Hershey made sure all his guests would have a great view by designing The Circular. Complete with a semi-circular dining area wrapped by 13 floor-to-ceiling windows, the space is anchored by an elegant round bar at the center with formal garden and fountain views just outside. Craft cocktails have taken off here in a big way, using herbs right out of their gardens during summer, and of course artfully incorporating Hershey's signature chocolates into some of their sweeter drinks like their signature Special Dark martini.
Chef Glen Gladysz oversees all of the menus for the restaurants on property. Since 1981, his kitchen prowess has taken him from Sarasota, Florida to multiple Four Seasons hotels ranging from Tokyo, Saudi Arabia, Bali, Houston and Jackson Hole. Now, having spent nine years with the property, he finds that giving his time teaching culinary co-op students at the nearby Milton Hershey School connects him to the property's longstanding educational mission. Founded by Milton and Catherine as an orphanage, the school is now an institution of academic excellence for underprivileged children.
In the kitchen, staff buy-in is crucial for Gladysz who lays out the basic ingredients and then works with his team to develop menus for all three of the hotel’s signature restaurants: Harvest, Trevi 5 and The Circular. Harvest was first to embrace the bounties of fresh and local comfort dishes like Anson Mills Grit Cakes and Braised Venison Ragout.
“At Trevi 5, we make authentic Italian […] on our own pasta machine, salads built with locally-grown micro greens, fresh panninis, and authentic hand-tossed pizzas that are hands down the region's best. Dining outside on the terrace, weather permitting, is my personal favorite with spectacular valley sunsets,” shared Galdysz. On the matter of chocolate, Gladysz loves the ingredient for its widely diverse flavors that often take him in more savory directions than the exquisite sweet treats like Trevi's signature chocolate cream pie courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Cher Harris.
From her award-winning open pastry kitchen overlooking The Circular, Chef Harris and her staff of 18 are a veritable baking machine for all the property's menus. Harris joined The Hotel Hershey in 2009 after a self-taught stint at nearby Hollywood Casino baking pastries. Bread remains her passion and it shows in the seeded and rustic loaves served at dinner as well as Sunday brunch.
“Deconstructing desserts seems to be the rage but to me it goes beyond the requisite foams and specialty frostings to the underlying ingredients like fresh cream and the locally harvested beets I use for the red embossing on our wedding cakes,” said Chef Harris. She also deftly works Scharfenberger (now-Hershey owned) into Hotel Hershey's signature desserts like Warm S'more Souffle.
The 1930's, AAA Four-Diamond hotel is a one-of-a-kind destination that proves Mr. Hershey wasn't only a master of sweets, but also a refined hotelier with an eye for unique luxury and elegance.