Video by joefairbanks.com
Perched at the very tip of Duluth’s Park Point, just a whisker’s width away from of the Aerial Lift Bridge and the majesty of Lake Superior, is South Pier Inn. This ultra-unique, 29-room hotel features Scandinavian architectural influences, and of course, incomparable views of the Big Lake.
To put it simply, South Pier Inn is one of Duluth’s treasures.
But many others have also taken notice. South Pier Inn has been named the #1 traveler-ranked hotel in Duluth by travel website Trip Advisor for several years running; it was also named “property of the year” by the Minnesota Lodging Association in 2013. South Pier Inn has also garnered attention from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the New York Post.
The majority of South Pier Inn’s guests are repeat customers. The record-holder is a couple who live about two hours south of Duluth, who have stayed there over 200 times.
The owners of the Inn – married couple Dale and Betty Sola, along with Dale’s two adult sons, Rand and Steven – couldn’t be prouder. The family has taken the property from an overgrown, decrepit vacant lot whom nobody wanted, to the special and well-loved hotel it is today.
And, for the Sola family, Park Point isn’t just where they make their living, but it’s also the place they call home.
“Duluth, Park Point, and the harbor are all very unique,” Betty Sola said. “But Park Point is the most unique part of Duluth, in my opinion. It’s an island that is seven miles long, and about three or four blocks wide. There’s a small-town feel to it. And, you can hop across the road and be on the beach.”
The Sola family has lived on Duluth’s Park Point for many years. So, when a piece of land just a block away from their home sat vacant and for sale for over twenty years, it caught their eye.
“It looked terrible,” Betty said. “The property had been neglected. There were overgrown shrubs and trees, and there were an old house and garage on it.”
Although the family had no experience in the hospitality industry, the Solas purchased the land, tore down the house and garage, and decided to build an Inn. They knew without a doubt that the location was something special.
“South Pier Inn is at the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge,” Betty said. “The mechanics of it are fascinating. There are 1,000-foot ships and other vessels that sail underneath the bridge, and people staying at our hotel are perched right there. It’s almost like our guests can reach out and touch the ships.”
In fact, one of South Pier Inn’s most beloved amenities is the “late night ship’s call” – where hotel staff place a call to a guest’s room - by request - at any hour of the day or night, to inform them that a ship is going by. “People just love it,” Betty said.
Another frequent guest comment is how clean the hotel is. “Lucas Trea, our head housekeeper, and his staff, are deep cleaning every day. A dust bunny doesn’t stand a chance at our hotel,” Betty noted with a chuckle.
Betty Sola also credits General Manager Branden Robinson, a graduate of the Cornell University School of Hospitality Management, with much of South Pier Inn’s success. “We have the most outstanding people on staff, most notably Branden, who has been with us for about a dozen years. We credit Branden and his team with helping make our hotel the best it can be.”
Dale Sola, who is also a contractor, was the designer of the South Pier Inn. And, the family hired Kraus-Anderson Construction, based in Duluth, to build the hotel and make Dale’s vision a reality.
“Dale is 100% Finnish,” said Betty. “And, you can really see the crisp, clean Scandinavian design. There are a lot of 45-degree angles, a peaked roof, and no poufy drapes. People really seem to relax here.”
The Solas broke ground on South Pier Inn in November 2001. The hotel opened for business in May 2002.
Small business partners
As the Solas are owners of a small business, they prefer to keep their investments local, and with other small businesses, whenever possible. And this extends to the offerings they provide for their guests.
“For our breakfasts, we offer pastries from Duluth’s Johnson’s Bakery; we serve coffee from Duluth Coffee Company; and we get our granola from Positively 3rd Street Bakery – it’s hand-tossed and delivered fresh,” Betty said. “It’s important for us to give back, and one way we do that is to do business with other small businesses.”
South Pier Inn also supports local non-profits through financial donations, including to Wildwoods and local veteran’s groups. Additionally, South Pier Inn provides funds for an annual scholarship, awarded to one student pursuing a career in hospitality, through the Minnesota Lodging Association.
Looking ahead, South Pier Inn plans to continue providing highly personalized service in a clean, comfortable setting. “In the eighteen years we’ve been open, the hospitality landscape has changed significantly in Duluth,” Robinson said. “But we continue to be very guest-focused, and work to deliver the best possible experience for our guests.”
The Solas look forward to hosting you as guests at their Inn. It gives them great joy to help their guests, some of whom are world travelers, relax and unwind.
“We really, truly enjoy the business that we’re in,” Betty said. “And, if you haven’t been to Duluth, you’re just going to love it. I look forward to welcoming you to South Pier Inn, and having you become part of our story.”