Monday, July 05, 2010

Famed Kutsher's resort charts new course - again 

The Catskills without Kutsher's? Like a bagel without cream cheese. A pickle without dill. Gefilte without fish. But over the winter, it looked as if the last of the great family-run Catskill resorts in Monticello would not open for its 103rd season.

Mark Kutsher, the last member of the Kutsher family to run the 1,500-acre, 500-room "Country Club," told the hotel's caterer, Mickey Montal, he was "going to retire," recalls Montal of Spring Valley, a former Catskills waiter and co-owner of The Echo hotel in Ellenville. He's been serving up everything from pickled herring to potted beef roast at Kutsher's the past few years.

No way would Montal let that happen.

"It can't die; it would be a sin," he said of the resort where Wilt Chamberlain once carried bags for guests and a baby-faced Jerry Seinfeld joked. "It would be the end of an era," said Montal.

Yossi Zablocki heard the same thing. The 37-year-old lawyer and construction company owner from New Jersey has been coming to Kutsher's for so long, Mark's mother Helen once ran out in a snowstorm to get 10-month-old Yossi milk.

"There was a very realistic possibility that this place had closed its doors forever and that Mark may have retired, although he doesn't want me to say that," says Zablocki, whose own kids now call Helen Kutsher "Nana."

He also wasn't about to let his "second home" die — and send some 100 employees looking for jobs.

"I will not let it," says Zablocki, whose father was a rabbi at Kutsher's back when there were hundreds of Catskill resorts.

So with a few hundred thousand dollars, Montal and Zablocki did what multimillion-dollar casino players like Park Place Entertainment, Harrah's and developer Louis Cappelli couldn't.

Reinventing the resort

They saved Kutsher's - which has a few hundred guests this July 4 weekend, the unofficial start of the summer "season."

Now they're trying to again reinvent the resort that was born in 1907 when two immigrant brothers from Eastern Europe, Max and Louis Kutsher, turned their failing farm into a boardinghouse.

And they're doing it with the grand dame of the Catskills, Louis' daughter-in-law, Helen Kutsher, who's been welcoming guests back to her hotel with a firm handshake and warm smile for the past 76 Passovers. She couldn't imagine life without the place she thinks of first — after family — when she wakes up every day.

"Mark said, 'Mom, I don't want you to work anymore,'" says Mrs. Kutsher, sitting at her desk with some 50 black notebooks containing the special needs and birthdays of guests and staff. "But he didn't say 'positively.'" And Mark "hasn't quite retired," he says. He's running the golf course and "keeping an eye on a lot of things."

Still, while Mrs. Kutsher takes phone calls at the desk with a photo of her late husband, Milton, and greets guests, Zablocki and Montal are calling Kutsher's "The New Kutsher's Resort and Spa" — although last month, the men's spa was still being wallpapered.

"I'm going to attract a younger, slightly more religious crowd, not Hasidic," says Zablocki, standing in the lobby with signs for the Launching Pad bar, Stardust Night Club and Executive Card Room. "The same (traditional) Jewish Kutsher's crowd, but the modern Orthodox, too."


We were there for the Chanowitz-Shneur wedding and it was very nice.


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