When you show up at Alma—a 24-hour experience, seven-suite boutique hotel in Minneapolis—it feels like arriving at the spacious, mysterious and yet completely welcoming home of a long-lost relative you’ve traveled miles to meet. Walking in, you can smell fresh-baked pastries wafting from your left and savory dishes from the James Beard award-winning restaurant to your right. And in the center, up the staircase, awaits some of the most comfortable rooms you’ll ever sleep in.
At the center of Alma (which opened in 2016) is Margo Roberts, who runs the hotel, cafe and restaurant with her husband Alex, with whom she shares three children: two boys, ages 14 and 15, and an 11-year-old daughter.
Roberts contributes to almost every aspect of Alma’s daily operations. But her purview is the apothecary, where she creates soaps, lotions, body oils, candles and more that capture Alma’s unique soul—the soul that makes it a beloved return destination among locals, out-of-towners and international visitors alike.
On any typical day, you’ll find Roberts at Alma creating. “I use the Alma kitchen to make most of my products, and I hand-make everything myself,” she says.
Roberts, who worked as a nurse for 10 years, used alternative healthcare like aroma therapy, massage therapy and reflexology for her elderly patients as a geriatric nurse specialist, and later started to use aromatherapy for her children. She also worked with a Twin Cities fitness center called Alchemy 365 to help them develop a scent for their gyms and a massage oil.
Upon opening Alma, Roberts and her husband Alex found that her experience in aromatherapy would be incredibly useful. “We were looking for products and amenities for the rooms. We couldn’t find anything that was natural and inexpensive but also felt luxurious.” So she made her own, starting with soaps and oils and extending into incense and perfume oils, which you can purchase online. Those same products are used during Alma’s in-room massages, with the CBD experience and body scrub as standouts.
It’s not uncommon for hotels to create their own shampoos or soaps, but Alma takes this concept to the next level with its evocative nature. When I light my Summer 2021 Alma candle with its fresh cucumber scent, I’m instantly taken back to my trip, and I can see myself lounging in the hammock on the private balcony in the King Suite, writing outside surrounded by twinkling lights, a glass of white wine, and a bowl of rigatoni and sausage ragu.
Each scent is tailored to the season and permeates the hotel gently, attaching scent to precious memories in a way I’ve not seen any other hotel accomplish.
“Our sense of smell is attached to our memories,” says Roberts. “In incorporating these different essential oil blends into the seasonality of the amenities, I wanted to make sure that I was doing that. But not so literal…like everybody instantly thinks of pumpkin in the fall, but do you instantly think of like clove and orange and nutmeg?”
This focus on seasonality is not only what makes the apothecary so successful—it’s the pulse of Alma. Roberts’ apothecary creations are inspired by Minnesota, a picturesque state where each season is clearly demarcated. “You get these intense seasons here in Minnesota. That’s really inspiring because you can see the natural process so much easier. You see beauty in every season,” says Roberts. This seasonality doesn’t just extend to the apothecary, but it extends to the restaurant as well, with current offerings like Miso Glazed Cod and Charred Japanese Yams.
What might be a weakness for other hotels—the crushing, icy cold of the Midwest—has become Alma’s strength. There is no “right time” to come to Alma. Just like a relative’s home, it’s always waiting, perfectly comfortable, no matter the weather or the color of the leaves.
Roberts says this commitment to seasonality makes the bonds between the hotel and its local producers even stronger. “Our menu changes with the season,” she says. “We change our menus probably about every six weeks. We’re always using local farmers… anything organic. We have a relationship with the suppliers of our food.” One of her favorite dishes from the restaurant is the chicken liver.
“It’s meaningful for us to be able to work with people in our community, and also give back to people in our community,” says Roberts. While it would be easier to buy from large suppliers, Alma sources its products—like pottery, florals and Turkish towels—from local artisans. That’s really what makes Alma transcend—these little touches, like local art on the walls or the duck farmer they’ve worked with for 20 years.
“If you don’t have those connections with the people in your community, then it’s hard to know why you’re doing what you’re doing,” says Roberts. “So for us, it gives us purpose. It always has.”
Alma is as much a community spot as it is a tourist destination. Throughout the week, Minneapolis locals come to the cafe to pick up freshly baked croissants. Nearby university students come to study while eating turkey burgers. And locals also come to stay at the hotel for a luxurious staycation.
“We actually just had a guest leave yesterday,” Robert recalls—it was the guest’s ninth visit to the hotel. “She is a writer, and every time she gets writer’s block, she tells her husband, ‘Watch the kids, I’m going to Alma.’”