Breaking News Bar
updated: 5/15/2018 2:25 PM

Hotel Baker owners look back at decision to buy historic property 15 years ago

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Rowena and Joe Salas, with sons Antonio and Emilio, stand in front of the Hotel Baker, which has been a vital part of downtown St. Charles for 90 years. The Salas family has run the property for 15 years. Joe and Rowena Salas bought Hotel Baker in an auction after it had been closed for more than 20 months.

    Rowena and Joe Salas, with sons Antonio and Emilio, stand in front of the Hotel Baker, which has been a vital part of downtown St. Charles for 90 years. The Salas family has run the property for 15 years. Joe and Rowena Salas bought Hotel Baker in an auction after it had been closed for more than 20 months.
    Daily Herald File photos

  • Rowena and Joe Salas, with sons Antonio and Emilio, stand in front of the Hotel Baker, which has been a vital part of downtown St. Charles for 90 years. The Salas family has run the property for 15 years.

    Rowena and Joe Salas, with sons Antonio and Emilio, stand in front of the Hotel Baker, which has been a vital part of downtown St. Charles for 90 years. The Salas family has run the property for 15 years.
    Courtesy of Salas Family

  • Joe and Rowena Salas bought Hotel Baker in downtown St. Charles at auction after being closed for more than 20 months.

    Joe and Rowena Salas bought Hotel Baker in downtown St. Charles at auction after being closed for more than 20 months.
    Daily Herald File photo

  • Hotel Baker in St. Charles, with a waterfront view, continues to thrive under the ownership of Joe and Rowena Salas.

    Hotel Baker in St. Charles, with a waterfront view, continues to thrive under the ownership of Joe and Rowena Salas.

  • Hotel Baker lobby in St. Charles.

    Hotel Baker lobby in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.comThe Triple Crown meeting room at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles.

    Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.comThe Triple Crown meeting room at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles.

  • Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.comThe Waterfront meeting room at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles.

    Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.comThe Waterfront meeting room at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles.

 
 

When Joe Salas was a young boy growing up with little money in the Philippines, he lived on the water and dreamed he would one day own a boat like the ones he watched pass his small home. It was that desire that drew him to buy Hotel Baker in St. Charles about 15 years ago.

At the age of 9, he immigrated and lived a tough life in Chicago and Glendale Heights before graduating from DePaul University. Then his dreams started coming true.

"My husband is a boater and he loved the scene from the hotel," said his wife, Rowena, also originally from the Philippines.

The couple stayed at the hotel in 2001 and then saw it was going into foreclosure a year later. Rowena, who has a background in nursing, said they had no hospitality experience, but decided to purchase the hotel as an investment. "It was supposed to be a quick investment. Little did we know we would still be here all these years later," said Rowena, who is now general manager and runs the day-to-day operations of the 53-guest room hotel and restaurant.

Looking back, she said the idea of running the hotel terrified her and that she was not keen on the big decision. But she is now hooked and she enjoys her unexpected career. "It has been a wonderful journey. We never thought this would happen," said Rowena, 56. She said the 100 employees at the property feel like family. "It has been great."

The couple from Wayne bought Hotel Baker when it was in foreclosure and had been closed for 22 months. Over the years, they have spent millions in renovating the historic property, starting with the penthouse.

While Hotel Baker is elegant, Rowena said it has a warm, inviting feeling. "I'm not a formal person," she said. Her twin sons were in third grade when they bought the hotel. She said they would come in from baseball practice and feel comfortable at the hotel. "We're very down to earth," she said. The boys, now 22, have worked at the business over the years and assist from time to time but are in the business world now.

They learned that from their father, who started Innovative Systems Group about 25 years ago. The IT consulting company, serving Fortune 500 companies, has 200 consultants with offices in Glen Ellyn, Chicago, Orlando, Columbus and Dallas as well as in the Philippines.

And when the couple is not growing their businesses, they are often in southwest Florida enjoying their boat. Rowena said they spend time in Naples and on Useppa Island, a 100-acre private island club that can only be reached by boat.

The water is what attracted Joe to Hotel Baker a decade and a half ago. It's the water and the setting that also attracts brides and grooms to the property.

"We are known for weddings," Rowena said, adding that they do about 70 a year.

The couple admit that when they bought Hotel Baker, located on the site of what was once the Haines Mill built in 1837, they did not realize the attention the historic hotel would garner. "It attracts a lot of attention and it's an important piece of property in St. Charles," Rowena said.