Nestled between State Route 69 in Mayer and the seasonally running Big Bug Creek, Creekside Lodge & Cabins is a hidden gem.
From its restaurant, The Cellar, to the views, it’s the total package for a weekend getaway.
John Papuga is the third owner since Creekside Lodge & Cabins opened in 2000. New to the hospitality field, Papuga owned American Fire Equipment for 28 years, sold it in 2017, and invested in and overhauled Creekside Lodge & Cabins.
“I retired for eight months,” he says with a laugh. “This has been a long time coming. I thought about owning an RV park, a bed and breakfast, or a small resort.
“Here, I just want people to have a good time, have great food, and see fantastic events and relax here.”
From the get-go, Creekside Lodge & Cabins has been a challenge. Papuga took ownership on Thanksgiving 2019 — just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Papuga and his staff forged through it. He chalks up his success to “pure heart and pure drive.”
“We were able to make it through with live music, good food and the ability to isolate,” Papuga adds. “Plus, we had a lot of good marketing and employees.”
Papuga used the pandemic to remodel the hotel resort. He described the lodge’s condition as poor before he bought it.
“We had a three-year remodel plan,” he said. “When I saw what was happening, we made adjustments to have more outside seating and to do a lot of renovations.
“We went into high gear because there really wasn’t any business.”
The Cellar opened in May 2020, and Papuga says that was gutsy.
“I took a big chance opening a restaurant then,” he adds. “I thought there wasn’t that much competition in the corridor. We went with high quality, and it seems to be paying off. We went with outside music entertainment to help guests and visitors feel comfortable, and it seemed to help sell the place.”
Papuga describes The Cellar as a red meat specialist with pork ribs ($17.99 to $27.99) and hand-cut steaks, like the 10-ounce top sirloin ($22.99) and 12-ounce ribeye ($27.99). The entrees also include eight panko-breaded shrimp ($16.99), grilled chicken and marinated chicken ($13.99).
The menu includes appetizers, salads, burgers, baskets, wings, pizza, sandwiches and hot dogs. On the more creative side is the Sedona wrap, a prime rib wrap with lettuce, tomato, onion and horseradish rash.
The hotel resort boasts private cabins with private porches overlooking Big Bug Creek. They house a king or two double beds. Each cabin comes with a microwave, Keurig coffee maker, refrigerator, air conditioning, fireplace and cable TV.
The lodge’s amenities include a restaurant, bar, game room and back patio. Pets are welcome in cabins 9 to 15 at a charge of $25 per night, per pet.
Activities are aplenty. The hotel resort is on 60 acres, and the staff created hiking trails.
“We had a group who came in, stayed the night and went to the Grand Canyon on side-by-sides,” he says.
It also offers wine tours, casino trips and visits to Prescott’s Whiskey Row.
Creekside Lodge & Cabins is quickly picking up steam, Papuga says.
“It’s becoming a quick destination, even for people from Sedona, Flagstaff and North Phoenix,” Papuga adds. “It’s great for a one- or two-night getaway. They can stay here, eat here and have great entertainment.”
Already, Papuga has learned a valuable lesson.
“An innkeeper’s job is never done,” he says with a laugh. “Hospitality has earned my respect quickly.”
Creekside Lodge & Cabins
11255 S. State Route 69, Mayer