Creekside Cabins

John Papuga became the third owner of Creekside Lodge & Cabins on Thanksgiving 2019, a few months shy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nestled between State Route 69 in Mayer, Ariz., and the seasonally running Big Bug Creek, Creekside Lodge & Cabins is a hidden gem, according to The Foothills Focus.

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 said 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. 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 in 2019 — just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Papuga and his staff forged through it. He chalks up his success to having “pure heart and pure drive.”

“We were able to make it through with live music, good food and the ability to isolate,” Papuga added. “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 (with COVID-19), 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 said that was gutsy.

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