A Classic West Virginia Resort Returns to its Roots

Once commonplace in society, the ultra-luxurious retreats of the South were in abundance and served as the ultimate vacation spot for the well-to-do. Often found in off-the-beaten-track locales, such as sprawling alongside a private beach or set atop a lonely mountaintop, these lavish resorts served as private escapes for a variety of distinguished guests, from Presidents to wealthy businessmen.

Today, many of these bastions of lavishness live on, and in spite of a hefty economic downturn, have not only managed to stay in operation, but continue to offer their trademark impeccable service to those who can afford their hefty price tags.

Recently, one of the more notable resorts, The Greenbrier, has returned to the hands of its home state, West Virginia, after being purchased by West Virginia businessman, Jim Justice in May of this year, essentially rescuing the landmark from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Originally owned by CSX Corporation and about to fall into the hands of hotel giant Marriott International, Justice, a Marshall University graduate and former CEO of Bluestone Coal Corporation, says he is committed to, “bringing back the treasure”.Justice firmly believes in taking a hands-on approach, and has started off his new role on the right foot, at least according to The Greenbrier’s employees, which number roughly around 1300. One of Justices’ first orders of business was to reach agreement with the unionized employees by sweetening their health care packages, 401(k) plans, and offering smaller perks such as daily free meals.

Next up has been Justices’ newest project, the Prime 44 West Steakhouse, which was created to honor West Virginia NBA Legend Jerry West. This October, Prime 44 has finally opened its doors to culinary critical acclaim. Under the direction of Chef de Cuisine, Michael Treanor who comes to The Greenbrier after several Ritz Carlton stints, and is himself a graduate of The Greenbrier Culinary Apprenticeship Program, the restaurant seeks to enhance the resort’s elegant yet cozy, mountain atmosphere by offering guests a classic steakhouse menu that boasts a bit of a diner’s club experience. In addition to eats, the decor of Prime 44 pays homage to West by displaying the largest public collection of his personal memorabilia, including the gold medal he won in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

When it comes to Treanor’s menu, local specialties are emphasized, such as a West Virginia Blue Ribbon Pork Duo, pinto beans with Virginia ham, and Cathy Justice’s own, “Best in Show Blue Ribbon Cornbread”. However, it’s the prime cuts that take center stage, ranging from an 8-ounce Wagyu tenderloin to the behemoth, Jerry West 44-ounce Porterhouse, which boasts an equally over-the-top price tag of $130 bucks.

In addition to The Greenbrier’s nine dining options, other culinary offerings are on tap for 2010, including The Greenbrier’s famous BBQ Mastery culinary series. Yet, it’s the 80,000 square foot Monte Carlo-styled casino Justice has planned for spring of next year that really have tongues wagging. Designed to bring a taste of James Bond (shaken not stirred) to the West Virginia mountains with 38 gaming tables and 320 slot machines along with plenty of live entertainment, the casino is sure to draw attention. In the meantime, until the gaming complex is built, guests can hit The Tavern Casino for an evening of money making (or losing) excitement.

Without a doubt, Justice has made his fondness for both his home state and his treasured resort abundantly clear, and many of us West Virginians are excited to follow along as one of our own takes our “crown jewel” into the next era.

—Kendra Bailey Morris