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Highway Shutdown Strands Thousands, Big Sur Lodge Steps Up

When a “slip-out” road closure stranded thousands, Big Sur Lodge stepped up

On Saturday, March 30, a “slip-out” caused a massive hole in the northern section of Highway 1—the only way in and out of Big Sur. Heavy rains in 2023 shut down the southern route to the state park over a year ago, and it has not been reopened yet. 

Mary Moore, Location Manager at Big Sur Lodge, was the first to sound the alarm. She discovered the breach when driving to work that afternoon, nearly wrecking her own car. Fortunately, Mary was fine. She made a U-turn and headed home after notifying the lodge and emergency services. The road was closed promptly, stranding everyone already in the park.

It was a busy Easter weekend, with resorts and lodges fully booked and an estimated 2,000 day-trippers. Matthew Wilkins, General Manager at Big Sur Lodge, quickly realized the enormity of the situation and took action. 

We sat down with Matt to ask him about the experience. 


What did you do when you realized the only road in and out of the park was not closed?

“We knew there were a lot of people in the park that weekend. We figured all available lodging was booked just as we were, and that there would be a significant number of people with no place to go. People would need bathrooms, water, snacks, a way to charge cell phones, and a source of communication to know what was happening.”

“So, we opened up our conference room and prepared to help. We even coordinated setting up a Red Cross trailer. By the time we started getting calls from Monterrey County of Emergency Management and the State Park asking us to set up a disaster relief center, we were already set up and ready to go. Very soon the word was out, and everyone started sending people to Big Sur Lodge,” says Matt.


What was the mood like? How did staff handle the sudden influx of people?

“At first, park visitors didn’t really grasp the gravity of the situation. But once they realized there was no way out and no idea of when they’d be able to leave, the anxiety level definitely increased.”

“I’m very proud of our team’s response. Everyone just pitched in wherever needed. They stayed positive, kept their sense of humor, and took a “we’re in this together” approach. Their helpful, good-natured demeanor helped calm the worries and frustrations of a very upsetting situation.”


How long were people stranded?

“Fortunately, just shy of 24 hours. We had people sleeping on the floor in the conference room, in the lobby, and on tables in the restaurant. But the next morning plans were formulated to start getting them out of the park.”

“At first, the plan was to walk people out, but emergency services were able to assess the road’s stability and determined the northbound lane was safe for one vehicle to cross at a time. They took people out in convoys, one at noon followed by another at 4:00. In 24 hours we went from chaos to a ghost town.”


What did you learn from the experience?

“I learned what an amazing team we have at Big Sur Lodge. Everyone pitched in without complaint, helping with whatever task was needed, whether it was their job or not. I’m so proud of our entire team, and would like to call out a few for their efforts.”


“Brandy Frederich and Mary served as our “eyes in the sky”, keeping us posted with updates and providing guidance on communication and next steps. Housekeeping Manager Veronica Bustamante made sure all our guests were well taken care of. Housekeeper Gloria Hernandez assisted Veronica throughout. Night Porter Garrett MacAbee kept both fireplaces going all night, distributing board games and bottled water. Paul Amend, Sales & Marketing Manager, and also our resident member of the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade, was everywhere at once for 24 hours. Maintenance Tech Jacob Workman stayed the night with the folks in the conference room and made sure everyone was safe.”

“Front Desk Supervisor David Eaks stood at the front through the whole emergency and dealt with everyone kindly and fairly, navigating a rapidly changing arrival list, maintaining a waitlist, and getting who he could into rooms. Safety Coordinator Leah Sheppard provided relief at the front, taking more than her share of phone calls, and staying collected and focused, and did anything I asked. Rebecca “Mackenzie” Scott, our groundskeeper, server Megan Jens (first day!), and cafe attendant Jackson Kownacki stood against an unrelenting wave of people in the restaurant as they and Chef Earl Morgan made sure everyone was fed. Rewa Givens held retail down, supplying folks with bottled water and snacks.”

“I’m sure there were other unsung heroes that night. You can all be proud of your efforts.”

Thank you to the entire Big Sur Lodge team for your crisis response!


Update: Thankfully, 24-hour access to Big Sur has recently opened again from the north. We’re excited to gear up again and work towards having a great summer season.


Culinary Forum: The Heart of GSI’s Culinary Innovation

We are thrilled to spotlight the journey and evolution of GSI’s Culinary Forum, a pivotal platform within our organization that fosters innovation, collaboration, and community among our chefs and food service professionals. Our Insider team had the pleasure of speaking with Russell Baratz, the leader behind the culinary forum, to delve deeper into its significance and continuous growth.


The Culinary Forum was initially established as a simple internal communication tool but has grown immensely in its scope and reach. “It’s a great platform for GSI chefs and all those associated with food service within the company to meet, engage with one another, and learn from each other’s successes,” Russell shared. The forum has successfully cultivated a community, driving engagement and knowledge sharing across the board.



As for its evolution, Russell highlighted significant growth in participation over the years. “What started as a gathering of about a dozen participants has now expanded to nearly 100 active members who contribute regularly. We have quarterly conference calls that continue to attract more chefs and food service managers nationwide,” he explained. The forum’s news feed is bustling with posts about new culinary trends, successful promotions, and innovative recipes, turning it into a dynamic exchange of culinary brilliance.



Joining the Culinary Forum is straightforward and highly encouraged for all our chefs looking to broaden their horizons. “There’s a link on the intranet page that will take you to the forum’s main page. From there, you can log in or create an account,” Russell mentioned. This access opens up a wealth of resources and sharing opportunities right at the chefs’ fingertips, including food cost tools, special promotions, and a gallery where chefs can showcase their culinary achievements.


The forum not only serves as a platform for sharing ideas but also plays a crucial role in building a closer-knit community among GSI’s culinary professionals. “It’s about creating that sense of community. Despite our busy schedules and individual responsibilities, knowing that we are part of a larger community is incredibly valuable,” Russell added.


We encourage every chef within the GSI family to explore the Culinary Forum, contribute their unique ideas, and benefit from the collective wisdom and creativity it harbors. By sharing, engaging, and collaborating, we can all contribute to a more innovative and successful culinary operation across GSI.


The Forum also gives out a prize once a quarter to those who display excellence!


Let’s keep the culinary conversation going and continue to set high standards for ourselves and our teams. Here’s to more growth, creativity, and shared success in the kitchen!


Congratulations to all involved in making the Culinary Forum a cornerstone of GSI’s culinary excellence.

DEI Updates | November 2023 Insider

In light of current global challenges, it’s important to respect and acknowledge the diverse experiences and challenges our colleagues may face. Last month’s ERG meetings were a vibrant mix of culture and learning. If you missed them, here’s a recap: The Hola Group celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, rewarding Virtual Scavenger Hunt winners with authentic hot sauce. The Believe group welcomed a speaker from Riott Change to discuss allyship and surprised participants with Candy Bags on Halloween. Our Women’s ERG shone a spotlight on our HR team, offering insights into their roles, while Kaleidoscope shared empowering videos about embracing authenticity at work. All these enriching sessions are recorded and available on the intranet. We’re very encouraged by the overall increasing engagement in these meetings, thank you to all who attend and make them possible!

As we step into November, we recognize Indigenous Heritage Month, a time to appreciate and learn about the significant contributions of Native Americans and the history of colonization that has affected Indigenous people. PBS is featuring an exceptional lineup of programming for this observance.

We continue to encourage and appreciate your suggestions and ideas on how we can foster a more inclusive and understanding workplace. Let’s continue to support each other and embrace the diverse perspectives and experiences within our community.