“We Thought We’d Seen It All. A Global Pandemic Was Not on Our List.”

Brian Anderluh and Lee Zimmerman, both MBA ’94, scrambled to keep their Yosemite lodges afloat and their workers housed.

August 06, 2020

 Illustration of a house surrounded by trees and large boulders. Within the house are people in various rooms. Credit: Irene Servillo

Illustration by Irene Servillo

“We’ve seen our share of crises over the past 20 years,” says Brian Anderluh in an interview with his business partner, Lee Zimmerman.

Brian Anderluh, MBA ’94 and Lee Zimmerman, MBA ’94

Brian Anderluh and Lee Zimmerman met as roommates at Stanford GSB. They’ve been partners ever since and now are co-owners of the Evergreen Lodge and Rush Creek Lodge outside of Yosemite National Park. The resorts, which include a paid internship program for at-risk urban youth, have been closed since mid-March due to COVID-19.

Brian: Every year we hold a manager retreat and we say, “We don’t know what it’s going to be this year, but it’s going to be something.” There have been floods, droughts, hantavirus, smoke, lightning, bark beetles, and fires. We thought we’d seen it all. A global pandemic was not on our list.

The hardest part was immediately facing the cash-flow crunch. We were in the midst of gearing up for peak season, with lots of costs on the books, and then revenue just stopped. And not only does revenue stop, but then you get cancellations and you have to start returning people’s advance deposits. So there’s millions of dollars going out the door that was already in your account. We were scrambling to just make sure we had capital in place to fund ongoing operations, service our debt, and ensure our stability.

Lee: The problem in the hospitality business is that you’ve got huge fixed costs. And they don’t go away when you’re not operating. You’re counting on being in business to get those covered, so that pressure just hasn’t ceased. Fortunately, we have a lot of staff housing. Once we realized we had to shut down, it was a great relief to be able to, in the same announcement about closing, tell our staff that we would provide food and shelter for them at no cost and ensure their stability.

Brian: We discussed whether to furlough folks or lay folks off. We eventually decided to lay most everyone off and allow them to live and eat with us for free. Then we had our youth intern program staff work with those laid-off employees to make sure they were seeking all the available relief benefits, which are hard to access and require jumping through a lot of hoops. Once everyone received their $1,200 checks, as well as their state and federal unemployment checks, there was a lot more comfort.

Lee: We were super concerned initially, because a lot of our staff, as well as our youth interns, don’t have great savings habits, and they historically haven’t had a lot of assets to begin with. We’re always trying to encourage them to build a bit of a nest egg and cushion. When we’re operating, we have full-time social service staff on-site dedicated to helping our interns succeed at work and in life. They’re out experiencing nature, and that helps expand their view of life’s possibilities, and we also work with interns one-on-one to help them develop the life skills they need as they move into adulthood.

Brian: In the past, when things happened that were unique to our business, or to Yosemite, I often felt like we were on our own. Maybe people heard about a big fire out here, but they didn’t really understand the impact on our business. Now, everyone is feeling this. Small-business owners have a unique connection. We’re all familiar with the cash-flow crunch. When will you be able to open? When will demand come back? It’s really hard right now. We feel fortunate to have access to resources and to be able to ride this through, because a lot of businesses don’t have those resources and won’t be able to reopen. It’s devastating.

Lee: Fortunately for us, Yosemite’s allure, with its grandeur and wide-open spaces, will always be there. So when we are able to reopen, we know people will be excited to return.

— Told to Steve Goldbloom


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