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Escape from office life with a corporate retreat

Escape from office life with a corporate retreat

Escape from office life with a corporate retreat
Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed quotes from Julie Barger, Best Friends Animal Society’s director of visitor experience, to Julie Castle, Best Friends Animal Society’s CEO. 

The best ideas pull you from bed. Two a.m. cold sweats force the notes app and bleary eyes open to jot down the next billion-dollar strategy. Similarly, the zen of a shower or the monotony of a dish-filled sink bring powerful revelations, often the “aha” breakthrough you’ve been waiting for. When minds are at rest, they do the best work. 

To facilitate these ideas, among many other benefits, companies turn to the corporate retreat. 

Fortunately for Utah companies, a host of local venues cater to this need. Among them is Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile in Kanab, created by Julie Castle, CEO of Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society. Since 1984, Best Friends Animal Society has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters from an estimated 17 million per year to around 400,000 according to a May 2023 statement. Best Friends runs lifesaving programs nationwide, including the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary. The organization works collaboratively with a network of more than 4,600 animal welfare and shelter partners and community members nationwide.

For Castle, the cause of animal welfare is personal. As a newly minted college grad on a road trip, she and her friend happened upon Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. At that moment, Castle’s heart was gripped by the emotional appeal of the no-kill movement, and she realized her purpose was to save animals. She started as a volunteer and then became an employee, working her way up to the top post.

But before Castle was on the payroll, there were a few connection points that, in retrospect, put her on the path to opening the Roadhouse. As a child, she grew up around pets and forged close bonds with them. Her family also often took road trips throughout Utah, spending time in assorted lodging establishments along the way. As an adult, she saw an opportunity to create a unique brand extension of Best Friends with the most pet-centric motel in the country. To start, Best Friends acquired the former Four Seasons Hotel, which was at the time nonoperational and in a state of disrepair. 

The Roadhouse, which opened in 2019, brought to fruition her vision of helping people connect with Best Friends’ mission in a tangible and meaningful way. The Roadhouse supports the Society’s work in that it provides a backdrop for guests to bond with potential adoptees. Guests can see and interact with the animals in a real-life, home-like setting before making the commitment to take one home. 

Escape from office life with a corporate retreat
Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

A nontraditional retreat experience

The Roadhouse is only a nine-minute drive from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, making it convenient to transport the animals. The motel’s 6,000-acre property features 40 rooms and a variety of dog- and cat-friendly amenities and services, such as built-in cubbies for snuggling, dog washing stations, pet walking spaces and a fenced dog park area with a splash zone. 

In other words, natural beauty might draw people in, but the animals pull at heartstrings and inspire action.

“We have this beautiful space, and we’re doing this amazing work,” says Julie Barger, Best Friends Animal Society’s director of visitor experience. “We have great five-star reviews for how amazing and pet-friendly our motel is. … When people are doing a corporate retreat, … volunteering is a great way to bring people together.”

That work might be cleaning transport kennels, walking dogs, cleaning trails, making toys and other tasks that bring employees together. Barger says they make a point to meet guests where they are activity-wise, starting with a tour to help visiting companies see the scope of Best Friends’ work. From there, it’s up to guests to choose their project.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to really affect the work that we’re doing and work together as a group with their team,” Barger says.

Whatever the nature of the task, Barger says colleagues, vendors and other groups leave the experience changed for the better. That was the case for Chad Yanzito, sales channel manager for Speed Queen, Best Friends Animal Society’s laundry partner. Yanzito and his family adopted a puppy from the organization in 2022, and the organization chronicled his family’s journey via YouTube. According to Barger, many guests leave with a new four-legged friend.

“When you stay on our property, you can have a sanctuary dog or cat spend the night,” Barger says. “Groups will be working all day and then maybe enjoy a fun group activity, like volunteering or hiking afterward. Then they could pick up a sleepover pet and bring it back to the motel and have company for the night, which is super popular. If you’re missing your pet from home and traveling, you can get some cuddles from a sanctuary pet that needs a little vacation from their kennel.”

“One cottage might have six lodging rooms, each [with its] own room, bathroom and everything like the regular hotel room — just cuter. Everybody has a front porch. It gives a retreat feel to the property instead of a corporate feel.”

A room with a view

Midway’s Homestead Resort also offers a respite from the daily grind. Director of Sales and Marketing Jamie Leatham says the newly remodeled property is synonymous with luxury. Founded in 1886, this charming property has evolved into an idyllic destination for corporate retreats, weddings and social events, attracting visitors from near and far.

The corporate clientele at Homestead span various industries, with notable organizations like Smith’s Food and Drug returning annually for fundraising events. This intimate property comprises only 123 lodging rooms, ensuring personalized attention and a sense of exclusivity for every event. 

The physical beauty only adds to its appeal. According to Leatham, the site boasts a natural hot spring that maintains a comfortable 95 degrees year-round. It’s an amenity that combines relaxation with adventure, as guests can even scuba dive within the crater’s depths. 

Perhaps the property’s greatest asset is its proximity to Wasatch Mountain State Park. Leatham says this prime location means guests can go hiking, biking and ATV riding, experiencing the breadth and depth of the natural world. 

The property itself draws guests in via other experiences, like golf, that allow them to enjoy fresh air while fostering connections with colleagues. After a busy and full day, Leatham says guests can look forward to Homestead’s blend of rustic elegance and contemporary comforts. This is reflected in the individual cottage-style lodging spread across the property. Unlike traditional hotels, each cottage offers guests a private retreat feel, complete with front porches for moments of tranquility.

“Our lodging rooms are set up in little individual cottages around the property,” Leatham says. “We don’t have one big hotel; it’s not traditional at all. Instead, [rooms are] in little cottages. One cottage might have six lodging rooms, each [with its] own room, bathroom and everything like the regular hotel room — just cuter. Everybody has a front porch. It gives a retreat feel to the property instead of a corporate feel.”

Leatham says this setup has been popular with groups because the venue allows for team building but also privacy. The facility offers several meeting spaces, all of which have the benefit of natural light, built-in credenzas, AV capabilities, beautiful lighting and décor. 

As corporate retreat trends evolve, Leatham says Homestead remains ahead of the curve. Recent years have seen a shift toward experiential retreats, with a focus on outdoor activities and themed events. From camping-inspired adventures to outdoor movie nights under the stars, Leatham says her team is intentional in catering to diverse preferences that result in memorable experiences for all.

Looking ahead, Leatham shares the owner’s intentions to enhance the venue’s offerings, with plans for a full-service spa, luxury pools sourced from natural hot springs and a Marriott Autograph property designation by 2026. These developments aim to elevate guest experiences while attracting a broader audience.

Escape from office life with a corporate retreat
Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society