Back in Topeka: Surf & Sand Cottages

By Mike Nixon (with commentary by Jason Nicholson)

In this chapter of Innisfree history, we add pest control to our lengthy resume.

Long before we were president and vice president of this company, you could find Jason and I dressed in yellow rubber gloves, masks and goggles, wielding barbecue tongs in the middle of the night – so guests couldn’t see us in this comical and frenzied state.

These were the rat raids.

In the 1950s, the Surf & Sand Cottages were an iconic piece of Pensacola Beach, the first rental units available to the public. There were 54 cinderblock cottages, each with one to three bedrooms. They were very cool in the 1950s. By the 1990s, however, they were in a state of varied disrepair. When Julian bought them, I personally thought he was crazy. They were still popular as monthly rentals for locals, but they were worn out, and some needed to be torn down.

But Julian had a vision.

Someday, he wanted to build a hotel on the south side of the road where the Surf & Sand Cottages stood. So we took them over, and I was in charge of fixing them up for as little money as possible, then renting them out for as much money as possible – until Innisfree was ready to build the Hilton.

When the cottages were razed, the rats moved next door to the old Beachside Resort & Conference Center, where the Holiday Inn Resort stands today.

By the time Jason visited the hotel to check in with me, then his Regional Director, our new ‘residents’ had become a problem. So we set upon evicting them, wielding our tongs and a healthy dose of humor.

Speaking from more experience than we’d like to admit, here is our list of how to properly handle rodent infestations:

  • Always bait for rodents BEFORE you tear down a building. (That way, they won’t move in next door.)
  • Stock up on yellow dishwashing gloves, masks, goggles and BBQ tongs – the standard uniform for pest removal.
  • Not air fresheners nor fresh flowers can cover the stench of long-deceased rodents. They simply make the place smell like dead rodents and fresh flowers.

So when you book your room at the beautiful Hilton or Holiday Inn Resort on Pensacola Beach, just remember … it took a lot of hard work (and air fresheners) to get where we are today.


In order to have a great future, we must celebrate and learn from our incredible past. The Innisfree Hotels story began in Topeka, Kansas. So when the folks who were around back then start a story with ‘Back in Topeka,’ we know it’s time to listen. These are tales of the challenges, of the laughter and tears that come with building a company like ours. That’s the sentiment behind this blog series, a chronicle of days gone by at Innisfree Hotels – and a map to get us where we’re going.