Lynn Easton and Dean Porter Andrews have built a luxury hospitality group one exquisite detail at a time.
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Lynn Easton and Dean Porter Andrews.
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Lynn Easton and Dean Porter Andrews in the EPG office at Pippin Hill.
Photos by Jen Fariello
Of course Lynn Easton planned her own wedding. This is the soft-voiced, nerves-of-steel high-profile event planner who didn’t bat an eye when a 50-pound wedding cake crashed to the floor right before a client’s reception. (The table on which the cake was sitting collapsed, protecting it from touching the floor.) Easton is proud to note the client never knew, and the wedding was perfect. “We recovered with a lot of buttercream,” she smiles.
Lynn and her husband Dean Porter Andrews run Easton Porter Group—No. 453 on Inc.’s 2015 list of fastest growing private companies—a collection of high-end food, hotel and event-focused businesses. In Charlottesville, they run Easton Events, which Lynn founded in 1998, event venue and working winery Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards and Red Pump Kitchen restaurant; and in Charleston, Zero George Street boutique hotel, Zero Café + Bar and Cannon Green restaurant. The two run it all from an office at Pippin Hill, southwest of Charlottesville in North Garden.
Married 15 years, Easton and Andrews are quick to give each other credit for the company’s successes, laughing over both fond and frustrating memories. They have built a life and a successful career together, and their footprint in the hospitality business is only getting bigger.
The common thread across all EPG properties is an unflagging attention to detail and “high-touch” service. “This means creating a lot of moments where you are connecting with your guest during their experience,” says Lynn. “For example, wedding guests at the winery should make an immediate left to the ceremony lawn instead of wandering around. So, we have someone standing there to greet them.”
For them, high-touch means serving a tasteful cheese plate during a business meeting. Or having Mexican artisans build custom-designed furniture for the winery, including a bar made from a 400-year-old cypress tree. It means completely reorganizing a perfectly serviceable breakfast buffet at Zero George in order to tuck the biscuits into little napkin-lined drawers with chalkboard labels—elevating a simple meal to a posh dining experience that guests regularly feature in their Instagram posts.
In other words, no detail is too small to slide under the radar.
Both fell into this business by accident. After graduating from Barnard College and working as a television producer in New York for five years, Lynn relocated to Charlottesville in 1988. A close friend asked if Lynn would plan her wedding. That was just the beginning.
Today Easton Events, which also stages private and corporate events, has been lauded by wedding industry tastemakers, including Martha Stewart Weddings, The Knot and Vogue, which, in 2014, named Easton one of the country’s top wedding planners.
Dean studied biochemistry as an undergraduate while working part time in restaurants and hotels. Weary of the isolation of the research lab, he decided to take a few years off to work with a restaurant. His eyes light up at the memory, “It just rolled from there,” he laughs. In his 30-year career with Orient-Express hotels, he acquired, opened and revamped properties across Europe, the U.S. and Mexico, ultimately serving as senior operating officer and president of the Americas before he left in 2008.
The two met when Dean, then living in New York, was evaluating a potential hotel property near Charlottesville. A long-distance romance, a wedding in Italy, and starting their business together in 2012 followed. The company has grown quickly—more than 1,000 percent in the past three years, now with 370 employees and annual revenues of nearly $10 million.
Though Lynn and Dean make their properties and events successful via meticulous planning and attending to every detail, the growth of Easton Porter has, surprisingly, included a generous dose of serendipity and the couple’s openness to chance opportunity.
Lynn remembers visiting Charleston to look at properties for a possible Pippin Hill South, and ending up with Zero George instead. “Our real estate agent said ‘You’re a hotel guy Dean. Before you go let me show you this little hotel. It’s been closed for five years but I think you’ll really like it.’” Says Lynn, “We walked through the door, looked at each other and said ‘Oh no. We’re going to buy this, aren’t we?’”
Dean and Lynn may define “high-touch” as interacting with guests, but it’s clear that it also means they themselves must actually touch everything.
“Today there were 18 things I could have stopped to fix,” Lynn says as we walk through the dining and event rooms at Pippin Hill, where to the casual observer every detail appears to be perfectly placed. “But I have to remind myself I’m with someone and not to do it. That stray banquet chair upstairs, it was driving me crazy.”
Dean designs the restaurant kitchens himself. At Zero George, it’s in the lobby to make a bold statement about the hotel’s emphasis on fine dining and to highlight its cooking classes for guests. At Pippin Hill, it’s organized so that the staff can turn out both an evening’s restaurant seating and a 200-guest wedding dinner plate by plate. “We don’t do any banquet food here,” he says proudly, showing off the rows of hot and cold prep tables. “Everything is ‘a la minute.’”
With all its success, EPG isn’t resting on its reputation. Dean is hiring key management positions and taking on investors to help the company grow even larger. Another hotel in Charleston is on the way. The 50-key building (no name yet) will have a clean, modern interior design and may also incorporate residences, with a planned opening date of spring 2018. There’s also talk of a Pippin Hill North, with properties already under consideration in Loudoun County. “We may find ourselves in the position of having both of these concepts come on line at the same time,” says Lynn. “Which would be crazy.”
But, at an age where, Lynn admits, many of their peers are beginning to think about retirement, “We’re just getting started.”