The iconic Drake Hotel in Oak Brook gets a facelift, courtesy of its employees
By Kerrie Kennedy
The past year-and-a-half has been challenging for many small business owners, especially those in the hospitality sector. Many were forced to temporarily close their businesses and lay off their staff during lockdown only to return and find their staff unable or unwilling to return. For Jim Nagle, owner of The Drake Oak Brook, Autograph Collection, while it’s been challenging, it’s also been a lesson in resilience and what happens when you do the right thing. Hesitant to lay off his employees during lockdown, Nagle had an epiphany. He had a rear building on his property that was destroyed in a flood four months after he bought it that needed to be renovated. So rather than pink slip everyone, he gave them the option of keeping their jobs and working on the remodel instead. “We gave everyone the opportunity to keep their job and their insurance by moving over to remodeling and 95 percent of them chose to do so,” Nagle said. “More importantly, they loved it.
It really brought everyone closer.” Similar to a Habitat for Humanity project, Nagle’s construction project was now staffed with people who (although skilled in hospitality) had no prior construction experience but did have a desire and passion for the project itself. Luckily, there was a construction professional in each area they were assigned to work whose job it was to train and oversee the hotel staff/construction workers. Fast forward to post lockdown 2021 and the construction project is complete, the hotel staff is back at their former jobs and unlike so many other hospitality-based businesses, The Drake Oak Brook has no shortage of labor. “Initially I thought of this project as a way to keep everyone employed and insured and to make progress on a project that needed to be done,” Nagle said. “I didn’t anticipate all the other benefits – for the company and our staff. At a really difficult time in many people’s lives, our construction project built a sense of comfort, community and belonging for our staff. There was really the sense that we are all in this together.” Recently ranked the No. 1 hotel in DuPage County, the Drake’s wedding business is up more than 30 percent from pre-covid years.
“We gave everyone the opportunity to keep their job and their insurance by moving over to remodeling and 95 percent of them chose to do so,” Nagle said. “More importantly, they loved it. It really brought everyone closer.”
Meanwhile, the hotel is developing an acre of land on the property, adding an outdoor pool, waterfall and cabanas. The newly constructed back building will feature, among other things, a Jacuzzi brand wellness spa with private spa rooms, a salt room, fireplace area and more, scheduled to open at the beginning of Q2 2022. Before that, a new restaurant called The Lodge is slated to open in December. Serving up steaks, seafood and Spanish tapas – along with a tequila tasting room – the restaurant was inspired by the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Despite the changes, the iconic Oakbrook hotel with a room and roots that go back to Frank Sinatra days will continue to offer a level of service, classic menu items like Bookbinders Soup and holiday brunches that make it a community treasure for guests and employees alike. “Covid brought us all together,” said Nagle. “We’re now in an excellent spot and it’s really been a group effort.”