He grew up working at his family’s iconic hotel in downtown Jackson. But for the past four years, Harrison hasn’t been working at the Rusty Parrot, but on the Rusty Parrot.
// By jim mahaffie
Brandon Harrison has a huge personal investment in the Rusty Parrot Lodge & Spa, which was one of Jackson Hole’s first luxury boutique hotels when it opened in 1990. The property was conceived of by his father, Ron Harrison, and Brandon was a part-timer on the construction crew that built it. A freshman at Jackson Hole High School at the time, Harrison was on the alpine ski team, played football, and ran track. Still, after his classes and sports practices were finished for the day, he headed over to the construction site on North Jackson Street and peeled logs, carried drywall, and even operated an excavator. Once there was enough of a building to live in, Harrison even moved into a guestroom. (He continued to live at the lodge even after it was finished and welcoming guests. “The day I left for college in 1993 my parents began renting my room out,” he says.)
It was after construction ended that Harrison’s real work at the Rusty Parrot began. During his sophomore, junior, and senior years in high school, the summers between his years in college (at University of Colorado at Boulder), and after college, Harrison did almost every job at the lodge, from washing dishes to kitchen prep, front desk, reservations, and bellman. “I worked my way through the ranks,” he says. “After college, I came back to the lodge and was interested in learning management skills.” Harrison took a break from the Rusty Parrot in 2004 to develop Hiddenwaters, a housing subdivision outside of Victor, Idaho, but returned in 2008. “The creative part of development—creating a new neighborhood—appealed to me,” he says. “My dad was a developer, and I grew up seeing the tangible developments he created. I wanted to experience that.” Returning to the Rusty Parrot in 2008, Harrison, who had earned an MBA from the University of Wyoming, took over as general manager. Under Ron and Brandon, the Rusty Parrot received four diamonds from AAA for 22 consecutive years and was rated one of the best hotels in the world by publications including Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler.
But in 2019, after 29 years serving guests, a fire left the Rusty Parrot almost a total loss. The family never wavered on whether they would rebuild or not, though. “The hotel was always our pride and passion,” says Harrison, who is now 48-years-old. “We had every intention of rebuilding and continuing the Rusty Parrot’s tradition in Jackson—a lodge with a character that is in harmony with the character of our surroundings.” For the last four years, Harrison has been spearheading the rebuilding of the Rusty Parrot; it is expected to welcome its first guests in January 2024.
Now married and a father to one teenager and one tween, this time Harrison did not live in one of the lodge’s guest rooms. That’s not the only difference. “When my dad first envisioned the Rusty Parrot, he was a developer but not a hotel operator,” he says. “In planning the rebuild, we wanted to maintain the character but also improve on and correct what we didn’t get right first time around. We like to say that we’re a new lodge with an old soul. We’re going to be very recognizable for people who have stayed with us before, and we’re looking forward to showing Jackson guests our new amenities and modern touches.” The new amenities and modern touches include heated, underground parking; an expanded Wild Sage restaurant; and an improved spa experience. Previously the Body Sage Spa, run by Harrison’s sister, Heidi, was in a separate building; its six treatment rooms now occupy most of the hotel’s first floor.
The best things remain unchanged, however. There are still warm cookies for guests every afternoon. It’s still an intimate property (it has only 38 guest rooms and two suites). And, amazingly, much of the property’s original art collection, which was damaged in the fire, was able to be restored. This collection is eclectic and includes pieces from the sculpture from which the lodge took its name—“It’s just made of some rusty tin, with not a lot of artistic merit. But it’s very sentimental,” Harrison says—to masterworks from the genres of Western and wildlife art. And, of course, Harrison is back as general manager. JH