RSF Inn: Unfortunate PR and a Romance Gone Wrong 


Since the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s new owner, Steve Hermann, has described the hotel as the community’s “living room,” let’s call out the elephant sitting in it: Unfortunate PR.

A good friend and neighbor once imparted an invaluable piece of relationship advice: “It’s all the things you don’t say.” But in the case of Mr. Hermann’s Ranch courtship, the problem is exactly that: It’s all the things he hasn’t said. As if overnight, it’s like Mr. Hermann got a bad case of cold feet and has been straight-up incommunicado ever since lip-servicing “I do” last year with his 43 million-dollar sparkler of an acquisition. 

Or maybe this is one of those creepy, Netflix-doc cat-fish deals, where we’ve been duped all along into believing our hotelier Casanova’s gushing overtures in The RSF Review about “falling in love” with our “beautiful small town” and “wonderful people,” only to humiliatingly accept, like the title of that chick-flick film about the fatuity of modern-day romance, “He’s Just Not That Into You.” 

Red Flag

One could obsess for weeks over what went wrong. Was there an “it’s not you, it’s me” missed text? Did they become terminally ill after the last date? No, girlfriend, you’ve been ghosted. Apart from a piddly public notice taped up on restaurant Morada’s door mentioning its temporary closure and March 3 reopening, one could only surmise the Inn’s state of affairs when welcomed with a big pile of rocks on the front lawn, papered up windows, a makeshift reception, and a lot of dudes in helmets creating quite the din with a handful of jackhammers. Nary a peep on the Inn’s website nor social media even alludes to the ever-so-important detail that the hotel is essentially a building site — with a big old construction dumpster to boot. The glaring omission isn’t just a PR red flag, it’s deal-breaker material. I’d rather be overloaded with updates than the social-media equivalent of radio silence. 

Residents swooned over Mr. Hermann’s vow to preserve the Inn’s historic Lilian Rice exterior while nip-and-tucking the interior in time for the Inn’s 100-year anniversary next year. His vision is to turn the Inn into an ultra sumptuous dreamy escape, emulating the lux likes of Santa Barbara’s Biltmore, El Encanto and nearby San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, where he currently resides. Be still my heart, am I right? 

The love-bombing continues. By restoring the Inn to what Mr. Hermann considers its Belle Epoque heritage in the early decades of its inception, he believes he can again attract celebrity clientele and boujie newbies who won’t wince at a one thousand dollar rack rate. And with a complete overhaul of interior design, hotel management, and food and beverage — from a new chef to all-organic culinary offerings — he could pull this historical-grandeur rehab gamble off. 

Star Potential 

Who wouldn’t get all twitterpated hearing that Mr. Hermann believes in our Inn’s star potential while promising to be true to its roots and its intrinsic nostalgic value for those whose childhood and familial memories are wrapped up in our village’s heart? And I don’t think I’m alone in my undying gratitude he’s donated a portion of the Inn’s furnishings to the RSF Historical Society, which I’m praying means I’ll never have to set my bleeding eyes on those deeply gauche equestrian-themed, stirrup-flanked chairs ever, ever, again.  

I don’t have an MBA, but I’d assume Business 101 recommends that you get some sort of buy-in from current patrons, and you most certainly avoid pissing them off.  And this is where our dream date’s turned into a touch of a dumpster fire. A first-hand account of one long-time Ranch resident and six-year Inn spa member describes how, without warning or explanation, she was called by the (now former) spa manager to relay that new ownership was cancelling all spa memberships with near-immediate effect. In a nutshell, this program allowed locals to have access to all hotel-guest amenities — pool, spa, gym, complimentary morning coffee station, etc., and an array of related discounts — without being a hotel guest.  

A business woman herself, this local was confused as to why Mr. Hermann would eliminate a solid revenue stream, especially since the spa, pool and gym are still open. But more baffling was the uncalled-for, cold-shoulder delivery, which didn’t include any extension of apology or olive branch, like a refund of her membership joining fee. After being a daily customer over several years, whose visit to the Inn was part of her morning ritual, she felt like her loyalty meant nothing anymore, “I think he [the new owner] doesn’t care, and that’s the worst part…I felt we were thrown out like trash.”

Rough Road 

Another encounter with a local, this time a friend and successful Ranch real estate agent, was when he was walking up the Inn’s now valet-less parking lot. He told me he had heard there was construction underway and wanted to check out the scene himself before recommending it, as he regularly does, to out-of-town clients. This time he decided to ixnay it as an option, texting me that “They [reception] told me the hotel currently has no services and the new restaurant is supposed to open around April [the door notice says March 3]. The estimate on the whole remodel is Jan.1 [2024]. I hope he [the new owner] has some great hooks beyond location or he could have a rough road ahead.”

A neighbor was also concerned about making a booking for her mother-in-law. After finally getting hold of someone at the front desk, there was so much commotion on the hotel’s end it was hard to hear what was being said. When she found out there was no food and beverage, no restaurant, no room service and the racket in the back was ongoing, she, too, took her business elsewhere. 

The online local banter about the Inn is no better. An active member on the RSF Post Forum, Jeff Showalter, complained:

“Curious to know if there has been any effort at all by the new owner of the Inn to reach out to the local community? Personally, I’ve heard nothing and it makes me wonder if he cares at all about what any of us think. But maybe I’m just not in the loop. I haven’t set foot there since they quickly terminated the Huntsman Club after closing the deal, and quite honestly, have no interest in going there until the new owner shows some kind of appreciation for the community in which the property sits. No Halloween party? That’s arguably the biggest event of the year at the Inn and certainly the most fun. There’s lot’s of bad rumors floating around and I don’t intend to add fuel to that fire, but that’s what happens when you don’t bother to communicate with your audience/neighbors/patrons. I hope I’m wrong but he certainly doesn’t seem to care.

I’ve only heard second hand stories, so take that for what it’s worth, but I’ve been told that the new owner purposely does not want to engage the local community, and that he wants to cater to ‘people from Beverly Hills vacationing for the weekend’; not the locals. His actions thus far seem to support that sentiment. Too bad.”

All Mouth and Trousers

RSF Post Forum participant, RSFlocal, chimed into the Inn exchange too, suggesting Mr. Hermann was all mouth and trousers, and scoffed at his public statements declaring his commitment to continuing the Inn’s tradition of hosting local seasonal events and celebrations: 

“The Inn has been a pillar of the community until the new owner took over. We have so many fond memories of Christmas at the Inn with the skating rink, pictures with Santa, and “snow” for the kids to play in. And the Wizard of Oz Halloween Haunted House complete with a speakeasy. They also discontinued the “Hats, Heels & Hooves” official opening day party. The current owner said he wanted to continue traditions that include the community. But it sounds like he’s done the exact opposite. So disappointing.

‘I really want to continue and expand on all those types of activities.’ Disclaimer: As long as each person in your party is wearing at least $5,000 in clothing that is in season and you don’t bring your children. Oh, BTW, Halloween is cancelled. Sorry. #boo-hoo”

Pig-Eared Honeymoon Phase 

Jeez. Tell me how you really feel. You can’t put lipstick on this local input. It’s not pretty. It’s like the honeymoon phase has gone all pig-eared before it’s even begun.

It’s never fun being the new kid on the block. But you’re going to get some clapback if you’re not regularly engaging with locals about what’s going on at the social central nervous system of their town. This tight-knit enclave of sophisticates and alphas don’t like being taken for second best.  

But then again, maybe Mr. Hermann deserves a hall pass. This undertaking is a full monty mommy makeover that includes repairing and updating the entire twenty-plus acres into a snatched, A-list stunner. And if Mr. Hermann’s low-key lush L’Horizon or Colony Palms in Palm Springs is anything to go by, I’m in. He clearly has the eye of an aesthete and knows how to create a vibe. 

The real question is, Why stay open when your hotel is undergoing a major remodel? If money was an object, then I’d assume the spa memberships wouldn’t have definitively been deep-sixed. With so many amenities and offerings out of service, why limp along with a self-induced shot foot and turn off a long-cultivated clientele base before your big 2024 reveal? I guess the new culture over at the Inn is a “don’t call us, we won’t call you” LA thang going on, as I’ve left unreturned messages for the GM, who I was told was not on site, as she was at another property — hardly comforting for hotel patrons struggling with what seems like a skeleton crew, and, ergo, sub-par hospitality. 

The only silver lining in all this is that I hear the RSF Golf Club is now a happening social scene on Thursday and Friday nights. Those not in the know should check out the reasonably priced libations, tasty apps, and chilled atmosphere. I guess younger members hot-footed it from the Inn across the course when they found their local gathering place and watering hole shut up shop all of the sudden. 

Fend For Yourself  

Indeed, if you think locals feel cheated, just imagine traveling in to drop $500 and change a night to sleep at a building site. If online reviews are any indication, out-of-towners aren’t feeling the love either. 

In a recent Jan. 27, 2023, Yelp review titled, “Horrible Stay,” Margi Braatz from San Marino, CA., exclaimed, “I am being kind when I rate this as a one!!!…We spent a horrible ten days at this once lovely resort!!! No room service, restaurant closed 4 nights without any notice during our stay.  Christmas Eve dinner horrible!!! And the sad thing is they don’t care!!!…The only good thing about the Inn is the SPA.”

Ms. Braatz also seemed particularly ticked off that, despite none of the above, there wasn’t even a complimentary peace offering, like a fruit basket, bread basket or morning coffee station. You just had to suck it up butter cup and “fend for yourself. 

We all know the saying about stinky opinions, and you have to take especially the anonymous online comments with a big old salt lick. But if you thought Margi’s rant was damning, rlwhite24’s Jan.16, 2023, two cents, entitled “Filthy,” left little to the imagination with her warts-and-all photographic evidence: 

“Went for NYE. It was under construction and a total mess. There was a party and wedding the same night…The front desk was obviously understaffed…Eventually I was checked in and told where to park. The parking lot was covered in mud and mostly occupied by heavy equipment. There was no ice bucket in the room so I called the front desk…it rang and rang and rang and rang. I called multiple times with no answer and ended up having to walk back to the front desk for ice and glasses. The room itself was filthy…I began wiping the floor with a towel and was shocked to find the amount of mud and dirt on the floor.”

Common Vested Interest 

Again, the mind-bender here is why a seasoned hotel entrepreneur would keep this “nothing to see here” gig going when it’s patently clear customers can see right through it. It’s like management’s come down with congenital Munchausen’s and won’t heal thyself till the last loyal patron unfollows its fan page, like Jeff L from London. This reviewer wrote in October of last year that, even though he’s been coming to the Inn for more than nine years, the last visit was the worst, and he won’t ever come back. Echoing similar grievances about service as other posts, Jeff L sums up the issue perfectly: “Apparently, the new owners’ attempts to upgrade the property are having a deleterious effect. If basic service cannot be offered, how can additional premium services be possible.” My thoughts exactly. 

While love can be blind, in the Inn’s case, paying customers near and far aren’t willing to overlook the obvious imperfections of this Funny Valentine. Like Mr. Hermann, most want our beloved grande dame to be the baddest belle of the ball. We all have a vested interest in the Inn’s survival and lasting success. We’re partners. And I can’t wait to swan around on the front lawn, clutching a coupe like my grandparents did back in the day, and hopefully my daughter will do in the future. With this common goal, the relationship between the Inn’s new owner and Ranch neighbors could be quite the match, but not without candor and clear, continual communication and engagement. We want to be apprised and part of the process. It’s not just about saying — but showing — you give a damn.