HARPERS FERRY – Celebrity chef José Andrés, who already operates sought-after restaurants in Los Angeles, Vegas, Miami, Texas and the Bahamas, wants to put this small historic town in West Virginia next on his list.
If the Hill Top house project wins the town’s approval to move forward, the acclaimed 49-year-old Spanish-born chef will run a signature full-service restaurant inside the hotel, officials with SWaN announced this week.
The possibility that Andrés, a two-time James Beard Foundation Award winner, would partner with the Leesburg, Va. investment firm had long been rumored, but a deal now has been signed, SWaN officials say.
The news is a huge win for the area, said Annette Gavin Bates, who heads the Jefferson County Convention & Visitors Bureau. For Harpers Ferry to land a chef and food expert of Andrés’ caliber will bring visitors to the community.
“To have that kind of leader is really important for us,” Bates said Tuesday. “With his name recognition, what that is going to do for us can’t be understated.”
Andrés, who also owns two restaurants in D.C., heads an organization called ThinkFoodGroup. He works with world leaders on humanitarian efforts to feed those in need including after natural disasters.
“It’s such an opportunity to have someone like Jose Andres involved not only at the Hill Top, but in our community,” Bates said. “He gets involved in communities.”
Karen Schaufeld, the CEO of SWaN Hill Top, said the company is “honored” to have Andres and his organization providing food service once the historic Hill Top is open again.
Thomas S. Lovett, an African-American entrepreneur, opened the first Hill Top in 1888, but the hotel has been closed now for more than a decade as wrangling continues over the size of the new hotel.
The signing of Andres, who was honored as 2018 Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, marks a major step towards the reopening of the hotel, Schaufeld said.
“Having the ThinkFoodGroup team involved in the project gets us a step closer to our goal of creating a destination that will be the most sought-after locale for thought leaders and discerning travelers alike,” Schaufeld said in a news release.
Founded in 2006, ThinkFoodGroup operates under this motto: “We pursue the mission of changing the world through the power of food.”
After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, Andrés immediately sought to provide help to those on the island but encountered obstacles from bureaucrats and instead “just started cooking,” he has said.
Within the first month after the storm, Andrés and his World Central Kitchen organization served more than two million meals. He later wrote a book on that time, “We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time.”
Earlier this year, SWaN signed an agreement with Interstate Hotels and Resorts to develop the project.
SWaN purchased the property in 2008 and unveiled its most recent proposal for the property on April 12, 2018.
After scaling back from an original plan deemed too large by some in the community, SWaN now aims to build a 120-room hotel and resort at the end of a steep bluff that overlooks the Potomac River along East Ridge Street.
“The SWaN & Legend team has long been a friend and partner of ThinkFoodGroup and we are so excited to be a part of this incredible Hill Top House project,” said Kimberly Grant, CEO of ThinkFoodGroup. “This will be a very special resort, set in an unparalleled location, and we look forward to collaborating with SWaN Hill Top and Interstate on the rebirth of this historic destination.”