The hamlet of Tolstoi is becoming a destination for many people who either seek to reconnect with childhood friends or are looking for a Ukrainian experience in rural Manitoba.
The re-opening of Elsie’s Hotel Tolstoi brings back the “Home away from home” atmosphere that was established by previous owner Elsie Kolodzinski.
She and her husband Walter purchased the hotel and ran the business for 68 years. It was closed in 2008 and her children used the place as a weekend getaway spot.
When Ben Holodryga saw the building was for sale, it did not take long for the man to set things in motion to purchase the place.
Even without any hotel experience, he is determined to bring the hotel back to its glory days, when Elsie was around, making everyone feel at home.
“Elsie was a sweet lady,” Holodryga says. “Everybody liked her, everybody knew of her.”
He recalls the way Elsie welcomed everyone into the hotel, as though she was inviting friends into her home. Holodryga says he wants to keep that feeling alive, in honour of a woman who meant so much to the community.
Having grown up in the area, he says there are many fond memories for him, and he loves meeting up with each guest and hearing stories.
Holodryga says this venture has been a great one so far.
The hotel re-opened on November 5th, just over 2 months ago, and he says many people have come to the tiny community of Tolstoi to share memories and many stories, and to meet up with people they have not seen in many years.
While Holodryga works full time, the hotel is only open during weekends, for now. He says the plan is to retire in Tolstoi and extend the hotel hours.
With limited hours and being in a very rural area, Holodryga was not sure what to expect. He is pleasantly surprised with the number of guests each weekend.
He says it is great to meet people from all over and hear their stories.
What is the attraction?
“I think that it’s an older hotel and they want to see how old this thing is or what it is, ‘what are we going to walk into,’” he says. “Because the building is from 1929. It's an old building and it's not like a hotel. It's like Bubba's house; it's small, it takes maybe 40 people in there, but I have a games room where it takes another 40, and I have a patio.”
Holodryga is surprised and grateful for the support of many people. He appreciates the joy that each guest brings to the community and to the hotel.
Learning the ropes of hotel ownership and running a restaurant and lounge, Holodryga is overwhelmed by the early success.
“I don't know what to say, because I'm not a hotel owner by any means, no schooling for it, nothing. I'm an iron worker, a spray painter. That's what I've done for 40 years, spray painting.”
While he may not have any hotel experience, Holodryga has a lot of enthusiasm for the community, the people who live there, and those who visit.
The community will have many visitors this weekend as the hotel hosts a reunion for students at staff who have attended Shevchenko School in Vita. Holodryga looks forward to being a part of the celebration, reconnections, and stories.