Historic hotel ownership changes
Geoff and Shannon Ellis, who opened The Restaurant at The Willcox in November, now own the historic hotel.The couple recently purchased the stately Colleton Avenue property from The Garrett Hotel Group, which had owned the hotel since 2000. Specific details on the sale have not been released.The Ellises saw the restaurant nestled in the rear of the lobby as a great way to reach out to the Aiken community, and now they say they can have even more of an impact."The Willcox is a piece of history, and it's such a beautiful property," Geoff said. "We wanted to open the restaurant because we loved The Willcox, and now that we have control of it all, we want to integrate it more into the community."The couple had an inkling that they would buy the hotel from The Garrett Hotel Group when they arrived in Aiken but had no idea it would happen so quickly. Shannon said they were thinking the deal would come in five years or so."But there was always a hope, a wish there," Geoff said. "This is kind of a dream come true."Geoff grew up in Aiken and has fond memories of the hotel, especially sneaking peeks at the pub when he was a teenager even though he wasn't allowed in there.Willcox's, as it was originally named, was a mainstay of Aiken's Winter Colony. It was operated from 1898 to 1957 by members of the Willcox family. Last year, Tina McCarthy was named general manager of The Willcox and says she plans to run the hotel in much the same style for the new owners."The hotel has been given new life since Tina came on board," Geoff said."We worked well with Tina before, but now we are all one team," Shannon said.McCarthy introduced piano bar nights on Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. She has also encouraged jazz bar nights on Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m.Hotel employees on staff have been retained, and Shannon said many are invaluable as they have worked at The Willcox for several years and bring knowledge and experience to the day-to-day operations.Staff members are pleased that the hotel's owners are now local. "David Garrett (head of The Garrett Hotel Group) couldn't be more pleased," Geoff said. "He has been wonderful, very supportive."The Ellises plan on focusing on the hotel's positive aspects and building on them even more. They encourage customer feedback so they can integrate it as quickly as possible."We want to know what people want us to do. We're not in this for us," Shannon said. "There is a new energy now. We just want people to come in again. We want The Willcox to be the living room of the community."The Ellises own two restaurants in New Zealand, one of which is a gastropub like The Restaurant at The Willcox.For more information, call 648-1898 or visit www.thewillcox.com.