Instead of Divots, Norfolk could’ve had a Harley-Davidson franchise.
Or maybe a diesel repair shop.
Those are two of the business ideas Donna Herrick kicked around before founding the Norfolk conference center and adjoining Norfolk Lodge & Suites.
“I was looking for an investment,” Herrick said. “It was after my first husband had died and my tax accountant said I needed to invest in a business, or I would get hit for personal holding tax.”
With several friends planning weddings, Herrick often heard about the need for a facility large enough to host large receptions and meetings. After much research and deliberation, Herrick decided to move forward with the construction of Divots.
That was about 17 years ago. Today, the fruits of Herrick’s labors have provided a priceless benefit to the Norfolk community, drawing visitors to the various events at the center and providing a place to bed down at the end of the day.
But the endeavor hasn’t been easy.
Herrick said when she began Divots and Norfolk Lodge & Suites, she had no experience with the food service industry and her experience with hospitality came solely from her work in nursing.
“At the time, I had taken over leadership at Producers Hybrids. I had some experience in the day-to-day running of a business, but this was a totally different business,” she said.
Herrick didn’t let fear of the unknown stop her from moving forward. She credits the late Al Franklin, who was the facility’s first chef, as well as representatives from Sysco for helping design the kitchen.
Over the years, Divots has grown into a resort that includes Norfolk Lodge & Suites, a 100-room lodge-style hotel that includes a miniature golf court, an atrium-style pool, the SandBar and Grill and The Brewery. The facility also boasts a convention center, outdoor event spaces and a ballroom.
In addition, Divots hosts regular concerts and shows featuring nationally known acts, a tradition Herrick said she hopes to continue into the future.
“We’re to a point now where every year people are demanding a little higher caliber of entertainment,” Herrick said. “I can’t emphasize how important the sponsors are in making (the concerts) happen. Without the sponsors, I don’t think we’d be able to do it financially.”
Herrick said maintaining financial balance is a challenge she has learned to manage over the years. While operating a conference center has not been a profitable experience, Herrick said she knows it provides a valuable asset to the community and the hotel provides the necessary balance.
Making updates to the existing hotel is one of the many projects taking center stage this year, Herrick said. In addition, Divots intends to increase focus on the restaurant and brewery features of the business this year.
Keith Wolken now serves as the chef at the SandBar, and Jeremy Kirby is now serving as the brewmaster for The Brewery, which now has licensing for distribution.
Also on the horizon is the hotel’s expansion project. In 2016, Herrick announced that Norfolk Lodge & Suites would begin work on a 38-room addition that will feature adjoining rooms, extended-stay options, a rooftop terrace, a spa and a family/business suite among its amenities. Construction is expected to wrap up on the project later this year.
“We’re always looking for one more thing to incorporate that would make it a nice property to come visit, for an amenity that would attract people to the area, as well as to our property,” she said.