- Emily Goldfischer
How to Work with Your (Romantic) Partner: Keith and Nicole Goldstein, Cielo Lodge, Costa Rica
The pandemic has caused many of us to pause and reboot, question everything we’re doing from how we work to who we work with. Do you have a fantasy of working with your life partner? Maybe you already do (hello, email us!)? This is the second in hertelier's series on couples that work together: how they do it, their tips and tricks to keep both relationships running smoothly.
Just opened in January 2021 by married couple, Keith and Nicole Goldstein, Cielo Lodge is an eco-luxe lodge situated on a lush green mountain in Golfito, Costa Rica overlooking the Golfo Dulce. The Lodge is ideal for pod/ small-group travel and is set amidst 380 sprawling acres of primary and secondary rainforest, featuring six exclusive Canopy Suites that accommodate between 2-4 people, for a total occupancy of just 12-24 guests. Activities and Wellness Programming are abundant for guests at Cielo Lodge. Daily itineraries include morning and evening naturalist-led rainforest walks, detox hikes, sunrise yoga, holistic massages, private surfing expeditions to Pavones, mangrove tours, dolphin and whale watching, and much more.
While the Lodge has been the couple's dream project since they bought the land 12 years ago, they actually broke ground in 2018 for the build-out. Nicole openly says "There have been so many ups and downs with a project like this. The key was being able to turn to one another and support each other emotionally. Often one of us would feel really down and the other would have a sense of optimism and that's how we would get each other through the tough times."
Here is Nicole's take on working with your partner in a new build dream project.
Are you married? For how long? Yes, for 32 years, together for 38 years. How long have you been working together? How long has it taken you to build Cielo Lodge? Cielo Lodge began 12 years ago when we first thought about pursuing our dream to develop an eco-lodge in Costa Rica. We took a long time to decide to really do the project, and then permits took a long time. So, it was nine years of planning and three to actually build. The property has recently launched and we are incredibly proud and look forward to welcoming more and more guests as the pandemic eases.
What made you decide to try being business partners (as well as life partners)? We were young when we met, 20 and 22 years old, in an overseas study program in Tel Aviv, Israel. We began our careers together in New York City, moved to San Francisco where we both worked in tech and where we raised our three kids. Through it all, we faced whatever challenges and obstacles by working as a team in close partnership. We jointly decided to embark on our Costa Rica adventure. Circumstances during the last recession had us both rethinking the way we wanted to spend our time and the types of work we wanted to do.
What drew you to the hotel business? Our dream was to create the ultimate guest experience by capitalizing on the natural beauty of the rainforest and the water. We were drawn to the idea of enabling an immersive experience that would generate lifetime memories for our guests. It also was a way to create a new home on an income-producing property.
What are your roles in the business? Are they similar to your roles at home? Our roles at the Lodge are somewhat similar to our roles at home, but there is so much more to running the business. For example, we never had to market our home life, or manage a family website. With the business, we divide and conquer the work, and we assign it based on our strengths and weaknesses. I am very detail-oriented and I can be very tactical, which means I am good at getting all of the little things done. Keith thinks more strategically and always looks at the bigger picture.
How do you make decisions for the business?
Now, we make all decisions together but that evolved. Early in the project, before we had broken ground, one of the energy system vendors offered us a good deal on solar panels. Without really even talking to Keith I made a downpayment on the panels and transferred money to the vendor. When I told Keith what I had done, he went ballistic. We weren't ready to make the purchase, we hadn't even really agreed that we were going to use that vendor and it was very premature to start buying solar panels. So, I reversed the money transfer and we agreed from then on that EVERY purchase would be discussed - no matter how small - so that we would always be on the same page.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of working with your life partner? The obvious thing is not letting the dynamics of your personal and work relationships become negatively entwined. Starting a business can consume a person's life--it's important to put it aside when you can, talk about other things, and spend time with friends and family. Between COVID and normal construction delays, we've had a slower start than expected but this is giving us a chance to really iron out our kinks and improve our operation while our occupancy numbers are still low.
What do you think is the best part of working with your life partner? We have a shared dream, a venture that we are realizing together, on top of our other magnum opus, raising our three kids. As our dream has become reality, it's hard to describe how fulfilling it is, and how it has made us even closer.
What is the most unexpected thing about working with your life partner? I think the biggest surprise is that our strengths and weaknesses complement one another, which is very lucky. It ensures that we are able to get through the difficult times. It has also been surprising to see how much we share in terms of design and aesthetics. We tended to agree on the overall vision of what we built and so many decisions were easy to make and not contentious.
Do you suggest going into business with your significant other? Why? Yes, but with major qualifications. It really depends on where the couple is in their life together, and the true health of their relationship. Our situation and timing were fortunate for us. By the time we made our decision, we had faced and endured many of life's ups and downs together while raising our family. Having overcome these other challenges made us feel that, together we would be able to build a successful travel business, no matter what obstacles we would face.