Four Questions with Karen Stoker

by Wendy Gabriel

Karen Stoker is the proud owner of the Hotel Donaldson, a luxury hotel in Karen Stokerdowntown Fargo, North Dakota.

In 2000, amid what Karen refers to as a mid-life awakening, she purchased the 115 year old Hotel Donaldson building in downtown Fargo. Her mission was to create memorable experiences. The next three years were spent working toward that vision. In August of 2003, The Hotel Donaldson team opened the doors and began living their mission of creating memorable experiences by celebrating the community’s visual, culinary, performing and literary arts.

Karen enjoys reading, music, cooking, traveling – most of all being a Mom. She considers herself the luckiest girl she knows.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Keeping our environment in mind has been a part of my life as long as I can remember thanks to my parents, so being conscious and conscientious of what our family does is a way of life. It’s almost a fun game (how many times can we reuse the aluminum sandwich wrapper in the lunch box, or wash and reuse plastic bags before they don’t zip lock (a very long time!). We eat at home a lot. I need to know where our food comes from and how it’s raised. It’s nice there are so many places to get cloth bags now. I buy our eggs and all our meat from local producers and this time of year, the weekly box from our CSA is better than Christmas. Little things such as using a dish pan to rinse dishes before putting them into the dishwasher rather than letting the water run. The soaps we use are detergent free and environmentally friendly. Etc. Etc. Cliché’, but little things really do add up.

I love your email tag line, Please consider the environment when printing emails and living in general. How do you incorporate this philosophy into the running of the Hotel Donaldson?

We’re always looking for ways and again, by being mindful, we continue to do more. We recycle, which I was surprised to learn when creating The Hotel was NOT common. This is becoming easier in the industry, so hopefully more restaurants, bars, and lounges will. Since we opened, we’ve asked our guests to consider water, energy and soap by reusing their towel and we make the beds as nicely as clean sheets, but change them at the guest’s requests. This has become quite common, thankfully. Six years ago in luxury hotels, however, it wasn’t – waste isn’t luxurious. We recently posted a note on the back of the room doors asking guests to turn the lights off when they leave. Many people leave lights on! We work with our vendor who handles our maintenance to stay on top of efficiencies and recently did an energy audit with a specialist. Our bison, beef, pork, chicken, lamb and wild game are purchased within a 100-mile radius. We use local flour and bake all our bread and pastries. Again, this time of year we enjoy a lot of wonderful produce. Our coffee is fair trade, sustainably raised and locally roasted. The list keeps getting longer.

What has been your biggest challenge being environmentally friendly while running a hotel and restaurant?

When we opened six years ago, there were few purveyors and it took a lot of work to identify places where we could get the quantity and consistency we needed. Now, we can get tomatoes from DL or Duluth all winter. Commercial cleaning supplies continue to be a challenge. “Greener” products are more expensive and often don’t work as well as chemical based products. We keep looking and have found some. As the market becomes more aware of the importance, I think consumers will appreciate the effort and be willing to pay more knowing the business they’re doing business with is making a positive difference environmentally. Another challenge is health code related. There are restrictions on sharing food and our hotel toiletries with soup kitchens and shelters. It’s sad to see what’s wasted. It lacks any common sense.

What do you hope the guest of the Hotel Donaldson comes away with after dining or staying with you?

Our mission is to create memorable experiences by celebrating Our Community. We have over 70 regional artists on the property; I mentioned our commitment to local food and to culinary art, local musicians, poets, etc. We hope after guests have spent time with us they leave with a sense of place. National Geographic Traveler chose us to be on their first ever “Stay List” – places that understand and celebrate their sense of place. It was wonderful to be recognized by the world’s most widely read travel magazine for living Our Mission. More importantly however, is that our guests have a memorable experience. It’s an honor to have so much of who we are in this area under one roof.

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  1. Carole’s avatar

    What a great example Karen is! Yes, maybe it has taken extra time to track down better products, but the impact to the environment is huge. Karen is being a great role-model that each of us, whether a household or a business, needs to take responsibility for those choices we have control over and strive to make the healthiest choices possible. Like Karen said, Little things add up. Thanks for this great example of responsible living.

  2. Bethe’s avatar

    Great interview, as always, Wendy! I love this series, and how you bring so many perspectives & professions to the table. Thanks for that! – Bethe @balmeras


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