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Hotelier passionate about Dunedin
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Gabriella Mullins, the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce chair, is director of sales at her family’s hotel, the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, in Dunedin. With her is H. Bruce Kenney, assistant general manager.
DUNEDIN – Working as the assistant art director for Cosmopolitan Magazine seems like a lifetime ago for Gabriella Mullins

Nevertheless, the Dunedin Chamber chair and local Holiday Inn Express and Suites sales director has fond memories of her boss, Cosmopolitan Editor in Chief Helen Gurly Brown, who died in August.

“It was phenomenal. I’ll be honest with you. I’m sorry I didn’t get to tell her that before she passed away last year. I was sorry I didn’t get to tell her how much I learned from her – her work ethic,” Mullins said. “She was like a powerhouse. She treated everybody the same from the delivery boy to her art directors to delegates who came in.”

Her position at the magazine, where she worked for seven years, required creative energy. At that time, the magazine was among the most widely read in the world, on a par with TV Guide.

“Being such a large magazine, you could only imagine how many pages had to go to press. I think that laid the groundwork for me very well,” Mullins said. “There’s nothing like when you have a deadline. There’s no such thing as holding up a press because the amount it would cost would be an incredible amount of money. Obviously, I didn’t deal with the money end of it. You realize that issue had to get out, and so it taught you to think on your feet. Was it stressful? Yes. It was very stressful,” Mullins said.

Besides wanting to live closer to her and her husband’s parents, Mullins sought a change of pace by moving to Dunedin.

“I said, you know what, I really don’t want to work 16 hour days and not see my kids.”

The Mullins have two children, who are now 18 and 19 years old. Her husband, Peter is a museum facilities manager.

When she first moved to Dunedin Mullins continued to work for the magazine for a stint.

“I would go up one week out of the month to close the issue – making sure it was color corrected, making it sure it was laid out correctly, making sure it makes it through the production process without a hitch. A huge undertaking,” she said.

Eventually, though, she turned her talents toward the hospitality business.

The Amberlee Motel, which was built in the 1950s, has been run by her family for more than 30 years.

“It’s very retro, ’50s style. We have a lot of repeat customers,” Mullins said.

A former chamber president, Bob Bellavance, asked Mullins to envision a hotel as they stood staring at an empty parking lot at the corner of Alt. U.S. 19. The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Her father, Nat Cacciotti, warmed up to the idea, too.

The 76-room hotel opened in November 2001. Cacciotti, who died in 2007, was a staunch chamber supporter.

Like father, like daughter – at least on that topic. Mullins has been involved in the Dunedin chamber almost since she lived here. She is wasting no time laying the groundwork for the goals she mentioned at the chamber’s annual banquet Nov. 3, such as starting a professional networking system.

Called Always By Chamber networking, the organization is under the direction of two members of the chamber’s executive committee, Lori Badders and Polly Bateman. Chamber president Lynn Wargo also is involved. They met recently to kickoff plans for networking.

“We had over 30 people show up who were interested. I think as a result 20 joined. It’s really exciting because it’s something that’s been in other chambers, and we always wanted to add it as a benefit to our members,” Mullins said.

The concept seems like a natural fit in Dunedin to her because many businesses in town are small and independently owned.

Mullins believes networking is an opportunity for business owners to mingle, share ideas, and support each other’s businesses in a way that wouldn’t happen without it.

“A lot of times you don’t really have enough time in your day to go out even to each others businesses. Being in the hotel business 24-7 and holidays being our busiest time, I probably get out less than most people. I was really impressed with some of the businesses that I didn’t even know were members at that luncheon. I got quite a few ideas just from that on how I can network with them,” Mullins said.

Chamber President Lynn Wargo said that Mullins’ background as a hotel operator will serve her well as chair.

“She understands the importance of tourism and the benefits of bringing all these visitors in,” Wargo said.

“Our visitor center is something that she is really passionate about. It’s a really good fit for us. Her family has made such a big investment in Dunedin with those two properties, that she’s also passionate about everything that’s happening here,” she said.

Mullins also brings an artistic side as well to the chamber, Wargo said, with her background in magazine design work.

‘She’s really helping on the development of this new website that’s focusing on the needs of visitors,” Wargo said.

The chamber is also forming plans for a celebration of its building, which will be 100 years old this year, with emphasis on commemorative bricks for the chamber courtyard.

“There will be opportunities for people to commemorate a loved one living or passed on. I know I already have got my vocal dibs in on getting a couple of bricks for my family,” Mullins said.

Mullins said that “you get out of the chamber what you put in the chamber.”

“I think sometimes people look to the chamber kind of as if ‘I buy my membership it’s going to solve all my problems,’” she said. “It’s like a marriage. What you get out of it is what you put into it. I think the Dunedin chamber in particular mirrors the feeling you get in Dunedin as far as people are more laid back, more accepting of you, more loyal to you as a business, as a person. I think there are a lot of good things about the chamber and I have always felt that way,” she said.
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