OK FALLS HOTEL

OK Falls Hotel returns to role as community meeting place

The OK Falls Hotel has been a fixture of the community’s main street since the 1950s. But it’s recently seen some changes culminating in its closure for more than four years, major renovations, and finally a reopening in March 2023.

The reopened hotel has a revamped bar and bistro, and the liquor store is removed and turned into a games room.

“The bar is probably the highlight of it,” says Randy Stoltz, business owner of the hotel. “The whole room is just fresher and cleaner and a little more airy than it was in the past.”

Stoltz makes clear that he owns the hotel business, but not the property. The property was purchased from the previous landlord in November 2022 by the Avery Group, headed by Garry Peters.

Matt Leyes and Ravina Johal, owners of Black Sage Butcher in Oliver, show some of their meat products. (Richard McGuire Photo)
Randy Stoltz, business owner of the OK Falls Hotel, came out of retirement to play a key role in turning the hotel around. (Richard McGuire Photo)
Sara Collins, manager at OK Falls Hotel, is busy greeting and serving guests at the bar. Owner Randy Stoltz believes the key to success is hiring good staff. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Stoltz had leased the hotel from the previous landlord starting in December 2015, but that arrangement went sour, and he took a buyout to leave the property in February 2018.

He had no intention of returning, but Peters, the new landowner, talked him into it.

“Mr. Peters approached me about coming back,” Stoltz recalls. “The answer at that point was ‘no.’ We had a short meeting and 15 minutes later, the deal was done. I went home and told my wife, and she told me I was nuts, but that’s not the first time I’ve heard that.”

He’s now happy with his decision and is grateful to Peters for leading him to reconsider.

Stoltz, 61, was born in Penticton, but spent much of his life on the coast, particularly in Ladner. He’s worked most of his life in the hospitality industry. One of his skills has been turning around troubled businesses, such as golf courses.

He also launched Giant’s Head Brewing in Summerland, named for the extinct volcano that towers above that community north of Penticton. Giant’s Head beer is sold at the OK Falls Hotel and elsewhere.

He tried to retire in 2011 when he returned to the Okanagan.

“Obviously that didn’t work out very well with the retirement thing,” he says, explaining that he was soon working again.

He’s also been active with the fire department in Okanagan Falls for the past 12 years as a captain and training officer.

The hotel has been a big part of his recent life in what he describes as Chapter 1 – his initial involvement from 2015-18 – and Chapter 2 – his return to the hotel after Peters bought it in 2022.

Evan Dawson, one of the chefs at OK Falls Hotel, is pictured in the bistro, a more intimate dining spot. (Richard McGuire Photo)

There’s some question of whether the hotel actually was built in the 1940s, but it was definitely open in the early 1950s. Stoltz says the early hotel bar would have had separate entrances – like other hotels of the day – with one for men and the other for ladies and escorts.

“There was obviously no deck, and it was a dirt road going by,” he said. “Obviously, I wasn’t around in those days, but it would have been intriguing for sure,” added Stoltz.

There’s little other than early photos on the wall to remind visitors of the history, and the hotel’s new vibe is a far cry from its years as a rough-around-the-edges biker bar.

Stoltz says the deck around the outside was built about a decade ago, but the interior renovations were started under the previous landowner and finished after Peters bought it and Stoltz returned.

The OK Falls Hotel dates back about 75 years. Pictures on the wall of a seating area in the games room show historic photos of the community. (Richard McGuire Photo)

“Feedback has been very positive,” he says. “Some people miss the historic, beer parlour type of dark and dingy bar that was in the previous years. My philosophy was that I was looking to give the community something for everybody. I wanted to take out the darker element that I experienced between 2015 and 2018.”

In those years when Stoltz first leased it, the biker bar atmosphere brought in “clientele that you really don’t need,” he said. Renovating and adjusting prices to be “just a touch above what a normal pub would be,” allowed him to attract a friendlier clientele.

At a recent dart night, more than two thirds of participants were women, he says.

“If you can bring women in, then you’re doing something right,” Stoltz adds. “It’s easy to get men into an eating or drinking establishment, but when you bring women, and they’re comfortable, you’re doing something right.”

Evan Dawson, one of the chefs at OK Falls Hotel, is pictured in the bistro, a more intimate dining spot. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A big feature of the hotel’s new incarnation is regular and special events that involve everyone from children (a colouring contest) to pet owners.

Pets are welcome on the deck, and the hotel invited pet owners to send in a photo of their pet enjoying the patio. They offered a weekly $50 gift certificate for the “pet of the week” chosen by other customers.

“It became a management nightmare because week seven, the middle of July and August, we were getting 15 to 20 entries and 1,500 to 2,000 votes,” says Stoltz. “It was just spectacular and extremely popular and a lot of fun.”

Other events include dart nights, trivia contests, music bingo, live entertainment, and even a haunted hotel for Halloween.

“I’m a promo guy,” says Stoltz. “I love to force people to have fun. If you could force them to have fun, then it’ll be a memorable experience for them.”

The activities tend to draw more people, helping especially in the off-season.

One thing you won’t get at the OK Falls Hotel is a room for the night. Currently the upstairs is used to accommodate visiting specialists for the vertical lettuce farming that Peters and the Avery Group do at the old Weyerhaeuser mill site.

Stoltz sees it as more suitable for dormitory-style accommodations than as rooms for overnight travellers, and he’s reached out to organizations like Okanagan College and Interior Health that may be interested when he takes possession.

The rooms are small and some just have shared washrooms, meaning that renting by the night at $59 or $69 would attract clientele without ID and paying cash – “Not exactly what you’re looking for,” says Stoltz.

The renovated OK Falls Hotel has a large indoor bar, as well as outdoor seating that is popular in the summer. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The key to success, Stoltz believes, is surrounding yourself with good staff and treating them well.

“If you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen,” he says. “At my age, when somebody walks in and says, ‘that’s a well-run business,’ that means more to me than 100 grand in the bank.”

The reopening of the hotel was well received.

“Because we’re on the main highway, obviously the minute we opened our doors it was successful just because the place had been closed for such a long time,” says Stoltz. “People were dying for it to be open.”

He says he’s happy he decided to return.

“Yes, you could tell by the decorating, the hanging baskets in the summertime,” he adds. “I’m really trying to give this back to the community. The hotel is kind of like City Hall of Okanagan Falls, and always has been.”

Story and photographs by Richard McGuire

OK Falls Hotel

1045 Main Street

Okanagan Falls, BC

Phone: 778-515-0500

Email: okfallshotel@shaw.ca

Web: okfallshotel.squarespace.com