Sandy Beall knows how to make a stranger feel welcome. His unaffected natural charm, I’m betting, is a secret to success in his chosen field, hospitality.
I experienced Beall’s charisma firsthand when I, in the capacity of deputy granny, accompanied my friend, Eugenia Foster, on a road trip from Mobile to Walland, Tennessee, to deliver two Beall grandchildren back to their home at Blackberry Farm. (Sandy was cofounder of Blackberry Farm in 1976.) On a whim I brought along a shopping bag full of my daughter’s old Barbies and about 100 selections from their 1980s-vintage wardrobes — those dolls don’t travel light!
“So, you’re Judy,” Sandy smiled when we met one morning at the home of his daughter-in-law, Mary Celeste Beall, CEO of Blackberry Farm, rated one of the top small hotels in the world, and Blackberry Mountain, the nearby luxury wellness retreat that opened in 2018.
“Lila and Josephine can’t stop talking about those Barbie fashion contests you and Eugenia dreamed up,” Sandy continued. His blue eyes framed by fashionable glasses focused on me in an amused way, as if we were in on the same joke. “What a hit. They’re having such a good time.”
The famous creative businessman and stylish wife Suzanna kept on with a conversation that put me totally at ease. I understood right away how he rocketed to the top of an industry that counts on pleasing guests on a big scale.
Sandy’s career began with a job at Pizza Hut while he was a college student at the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville. By the time of graduation, in 1972, he had risen to district manager. He sold his stock in the company, found some partners and opened his own place that he named Ruby Tuesday. Decorating the pioneer casual dining restaurant with stained glass lamps and random antique finds, he imbued the eatery with a sense of fun and nostalgia. The food was recognizable, likeable favorites but with interesting new accents. This model, in increasingly sophisticated iterations, would become a Beall trademark.
A decade later Morrison Restaurants bought Ruby Tuesday, by then a national chain. Sandy became president, CEO and chairman of the board of Morrisons, headquartered in Mobile, and Ruby Tuesday. The family lived in the Bay area about 11 years. Sandy’s son Sam, deceased in 2016, met future wife Mary Celeste Foster while in high school here.
“Mobile and Point Clear hold so many of my cherished memories with my family and friends,” Sandy told MB in November. “From time on the water to hunting trips in the lowland, those memories and adventures are what continue to drive a desire to create places and opportunities for families to build incredible experiences together.”
Resort in Carolina High Country
Many Bay residents have vacationed at breathtakingly beautiful, “rugged and refined” Blackberry Farm, which is famous for its multiple James Beard award-winning Foothill Cuisine and well-curated wine cellars. Blackberry Mountain, the newer resort envisioned by Mary Celeste and her late husband, is already celebrated as an environmentally friendly and mindful-oriented fitness getaway. It’s no wonder fans of the Bealls’ were thrilled when news of another storied property, High Hampton, in Cashiers, North Carolina, was being reimagined, à la Beall.
Sandy has his own connection to the favorite mountain retreat.
“High Hampton has held my family’s interest for four decades,” he says. “It’s a destination that we visited for our own vacations. In 1982, I ended up buying a house from the McKee family, who had owned the property since 1922.”
Sandy emphasizes that this is “not another Blackberry property. While they both share the goal of legendary hospitality, they are so different in what they offer, including rooms, amenities, locations and atmosphere. Our focus here is to simply carry on the great tradition of welcoming guests from all around the South to an inspiring place and to make sure they are comfortable and energized by their stay. High Hampton is a truly unique destination.”
Although High Hampton will retain its own distinct character, the experts at Blackberry Farm Design are collaborating on the upgrade of the century-old buildings that comprise the inn, cottages, log cabin and restaurants at High Hampton. For example, some guest rooms and suites will be expanded, and all interiors and furnishings “unpretentiously elevated.” Fireplaces, sunrooms or porches enhance the cozy feeling.
“The team has a commitment to High Hampton’s rich heritage and honoring the property’s charming historical features, while also revitalizing with modern comforts,” says Sandy. “They respect the craftsmanship and classic materials, and you can see that in their plans for the rooms and the inn. Blackberry Farm Design is working closely with the National Register of Historic Places to ensure that the iconic elements, such as uniquely shaped doors, handcrafted furniture, original exterior shag bark siding and interior American chestnut walls are preserved.”
Food, Rest, Relaxation and Adventure
Regarding the dining experiences at High Hampton, longtime restaurateur Sandy says the focus “is on food that a Southern audience will know and love. The menus share classic techniques and fresh takes on ingredients.
“I am lucky to work with such talented people that are wholly invested in hospitality and continually evolving the guest experience. I also find inspiration within my own family, which includes seven grandchildren. I like to find out what they are interested in and create a destination attractive to all ages. Multigenerational appeal is one of the most important components to each of our properties. We want to foster a warm, laid-back, family-approachable environment while still keeping each visit invigorating and memorable.”
High Hampton’s location near the Nantahala National Forest, at 3,600-feet, fosters outdoor exploration amid trails lined with hemlock, mountain laurel and towering pine trees. The property boasts National and World Champion Trees and a signature Dahlia Garden dating to the early 1900s. A 35-acre private lake invites canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding or fishing. Gathering spaces throughout are positioned for dramatic lake, lawn or mountain views.
The affiliated Club at High Hampton, managed by Arlington Family Offices and Daniel Communities, offers access to amenities, such as a pool complex, tennis and pickle ball courts and fitness activities, such as spin or yoga. That’s not all.
Golf on High
The Club’s golf course was sort of laid out in 1923. The story goes that the original was at first 11 holes, as far as the construction money would stretch. A couple of re-do’s later, a popular 6,012-yard, 18-hole course emerged. The # 8, on an island, was named “One of America’s Great Holes.” Number 8 is staying, but other enhancements are on the way, according to Sandy.
“The 18-hole golf course is being redesigned by Tom Fazio to challenge all levels of golfers. It offers spectacular views of Rock Mountain, Chimney Top and Whiteside with fairways that meander along natural streams, dense woods and open vistas. High Hampton’s course will offer over 7,000 yards of play from the back tees, with plenty of options for family-friendly games, too.”
At age 70, Sandy continues to raise the bar in hospitality. “I spend my time,” he concludes, “working on the family business, as well as other business ventures, and visiting family.”