If you’re an Orange County health and wellness aficionado, you’ve heard of the Golden Door, an uber-luxury resort located in North San Diego County. You may not know that the one-of-a-kind Escondido spa, which languished 14 years under corporate ownership, was bought in 2012 and, with a savvy, stylish COO on board, has undergone both a physical and philosophical makeover.
Long-time guest Joanne Conway, wife of billionaire philanthropist and Carlyle Group co-founder Bill Conway, paid $24.8 million for the legacy property. Then she hired Kathy Van Ness, a Manhattan Beach resident who previously ran mega-fashion firms such as Diane Von Furstenberg and Speedo, to apply her business and branding savvy to the 600-acre resort. Once Van Ness got the Golden Door name back – it had been licensed to spas from Las Vegas to Puerto Rico – she set out re-establishing the brand.
But the most revolutionary change was the decision to give away 100 percent of Golden Door profits to local NGOs benefitting women and children.
“Like Newman’s Own,” says Van Ness, chic in black and trendy spectacles, comparing the Golden Door business model to Paul Newman’s food company, one of the first corporations to give all its profits to charity.
We are lunching at the koi pond, a tranquil spot in the center of the property, which resembles a rambling Japanese country inn, with sand gardens, waterfalls, antique stone sculptures and spirit houses. A fabulous shrimp and white bean chili is accompanied by a salad straight from the spa’s 220-acre biodynamic garden.
“We’re looking at community issues and where we can be most supportive locally,” explains Van Ness.
To make even more profits to give away, Van Ness now sells Golden Door products on HSN. There’s a Golden Door line of skin and hair products, cookies and jams made from the resort’s famous recipes, honey from the Golden Door hives and soon, pasta sauce from its tomatoes. From the HSN studio in Florida, Van Ness spreads the Golden Door gospel to a new audience, inviting people who may never step foot through the spa’s actual golden front door to bask in its glow.
Van Ness and Conway are bringing the “spa-to-end-all-spas” back in line with its founder’s vision: the sybaritic spa stay as life-changing experience. That’s what Deborah Szekely had in mind when she started the Golden Door in 1958.
Two decades earlier, Szekely and her husband, a Hungarian-born health fanatic, had created Rancho La…