From Mullet Bellies to Multi-Million Dollar Properties

Jason Nicholson’s hospitality career began at the age of 15, when he sat in the heat scrubbing the bellies of a few hundred pounds of mullet with a toothbrush for six hours a day at Rusty’s in Perdido Key, Fla. Today, he is Innisfree’s Vice President of Operations.

Nicholson jockeyed to be promoted to dishwasher, thus beginning a series of promotions that got him where he is today. In May 2015, he became Vice President of Hotel Operations for Innisfree Hotels.

Nicholson’s real passion is food – preparing it, serving it, eating it – that’s his thing. While working toward his associate’s degree at Pensacola State College by day and working full-time in various area restaurants by night, he learned how to run a kitchen line, serve entrees, cut costs, cut beef and shuck oysters really fast. Of course, he burnt himself out.

“To give myself a break, I went into the Marine Corps,” he said. (No wonder this guy is a VP.)

Stationed in Hawaii, Nicholson finished his undergraduate degree at Hawaii Pacific University. When he left the Marines in 1994, he came to Innisfree as a Desk Clerk at the Days Inn in Orange Beach, Ala. He was there only a few weeks when an opening for Assistant General Manager came available at Pensacola’s Beachside Resort and Conference Center. The property opened Memorial Day weekend in 1996.

“I remember laying carpet in the hall on that Friday. This was my indoctrination to management,” he said. “We had 100 rooms. I know I was yelled at 100 times.”

Nicholson worked directly with Mike Nixon (now President of Hotel Operations for Innisfree) for a year before an opening at the Best Western in Perdido Key, Fla. promoted him to General Manager. After two months in the role, there was an opportunity to run a third-party management property in Camp Verde, Arizona. He later returned to the Gulf Coast, shuffling between the Days Inn in Orange Beach and back to the Best Western in Perdido until he was offered the managerial role of the Holiday Inn Express in Orange Beach. After six years at the helm of that hotel, he became a Regional Manager for Ocala’s Hampton Inn & Suites, while concurrently running the Hilton Garden Inn in Orange Beach. In 2012, Jason was promoted to Regional Director for Innisfree. In 2015, he became our new Vice President.

One of his funniest memories comes from the Best Western in Perdido Key, where he hosted newly commissioned military students, water survival and SEAL teams. The phone call began with, “Jason, we have a problem.” Apparently, fifty guests from Sweden who were visiting to attend the Brownsville Revival had decided to get in the pool. The problem, you say? They were swimming “Swedish style.”

After all his years in the industry, and most of them with Innisfree, Nicholson has seen it all and loved every minute of it.

“It’s different every day, and our job is to create a fun and inviting atmosphere where people can feel most comfortable,” he says. “I love how dynamic it is, stretching from financing and development to culture-building and everything in between … the individual growth of our teammates to the technical side of rebuilding a commercial washer. It really covers everything. I like how stimulating and diverse and complex it is.”

Plus, he doesn’t have to sit at a desk.

“I’m really proud of the organization we have built in my 19 years with Innisfree, where it’s fun to come to work. We are undoubtedly the best at what we do given the scale of what we are in the industry,” Nicholson said. “We’ve built a company that’s the best in the business, and we’ve made sure we’re still going to have fun doing it. We work among friends … not just coworkers who are friendly, but we are genuinely friends.”

Nicholson credits his personal success and that of Innisfree Hotels to its founder and CEO Julian MacQueen and his wife, Kim, who, instead of monetizing the company have decided to reinvest in it and are always willing to do just as much or more than anybody else.

“That sort of leadership resonates with me. We are here today because of Julian’s steadfast focus in developing in the right markets at the right time and not cutting any slack for poor performance in our hotels,” he says. “That is what has gotten us to where we are today, working with a great group of people who follow his great leadership and are very passionate and focused on being the best we can be.”