Summer Glamping with Firelight Camps
Tucked away just a few short miles from downtown Ithaca, New York, Firelight Camps-- and its founders Emma and Robert Frisch-- are changing the face of ecotourism, one gourmet s’more at a time. Surrounded by forests and hiking trails, Firelight Camps offers an “off the grid” outdoor experience, without the hassle of roughing it. Emma recently took time out of her busy schedule as concierge/executive chef/business partner for Firelight Camps to share her take on the world of glamping (glamorous camping). We’re ready to pack our bags!
terrain: Tell us a bit about your background-- we hear food is a particular passion for you.
Emma: Absolutely! I've always had a passion for all things culinary. I grew up cooking with mom, and got my B.A. in Food Studies. After a brief but hugely rewarding foray into farming in my hometown of Connecticut, I learned that my real love for food was in the kitchen. I still have huge respect for local farmers and urban growers, and work with them as much as humanly possible. I later met my husband, Bobby, in Philadelphia, left the area to do research in Ecuador, and then joined him to open a boutique hostel in Matagalpa, Nicaragua while he was volunteering with the Peace Corps. The area is the heart of coffee and cocoa country and tourism was really booming—especially ecotourism for travelers interested in farming and food. We rented a huge old house and renovated it to offer both private and bunk rooms. I did all the cooking for the visitors and loved it!
terrain: What led you to Ithaca and starting your own glampsite ?
Emma: After some time in Nicaragua, we both missed being close to our friends and family and decided to move back to the States. We knew we wanted to open a hotel in the U.S., and chose Ithaca when Bobby was accepted into Cornell's MBA program. The area is truly one of the most vibrant, historic farming and homesteading regions in the country, and it offers unparalleled food, wine and spirits. We like to call the Finger Lakes region “Napa East!” Instead of opening a traditional hotel, we gravitated towards glamping because we both have a great love for the outdoors. We're both rock climbers and have done lots of camping across the country and abroad. Eventually, Bobby started working for a company that set up glamping tents at major music festivals, and we fell in love with the experience of people sharing stories around a campfire, connecting under the stars, and unplugging. Our goal at Firelight Camps is to create a space where guests can go off the grid, but with comfortable spaces and amenities. We provide all the good parts of sleeping outdoors without having to “rough it.”
terrain: How do you incorporate your culinary passion into your business?
Emma: When we started this adventure, I asked myself: how can we provide a great culinary experience? How can we tap into the wealth of the region? Food is an integral part of what we do at Firelight Camps, despite the fact we don’t have an onsite kitchen. Breakfast is included for all our visitors, so each morning I curate a continental spread that showcases pastries, bread, preserves, butter, yogurt and other breakfast foods from regional producers. We work with Krums Corners Bakery to produce my custom granola recipe, and offer their seasonal muffins and energy bars, too. We also partnered with a local company, Serendipity Catering, to develop custom s’mores with homemade graham crackers, homemade marshmallows, and artisanal chocolate. We also serve our own, locally-roasted Firelight Coffee from Copper Horse Coffee Roasters, which is made with beans from a farm in our old stomping grounds of Nicaragua. At the camp store, we sell our s’mores kits and trail snacks from a local bakery. We make a point of encouraging guests to experience the bounty of Ithaca, from serving local wine at our communal campsite bar to giving recommendations for nearby wineries and restaurants.
terrain: What is your favorite thing to eat while glamping?
Emma: Nothing beats eggs and bacon cooked over an open fire. I also love throwing baked potatoes wrapped in foil right into the coals, then creating my own “baked potato bar” with all the fixings. So good!
terrain: What has been the most challenging thing about starting Firelight Camps? What has been the most rewarding?
Emma: We’re still in start-up stage, so Bobby and I take part in all elements of the business, from setting up breakfast at six in the morning to raising funds from investors. It’s definitely not a 9 to 5 job, but luckily we have a great business partner and an awesome team to dive in with us this season! We are 100% an “eco-hotel” concept. We even built the tents using a design and system created by our “Chief Glamping Officer” (that's what we call Bobby). Each tent is built on a platform from locally-sourced timber that is non-treated and eco-friendly. The tent frames are also made from local, sustainably harvested timber. Designing the structures was definitely a challenge!
By far, the most rewarding experience has been hearing all the amazing feedback from our guests. We have high expectations for what we've created, and many guests haven’t come across anything like Firelight Camps before. They gush about the space and tend to be completely blown away, which truly keeps us motivated every day.
terrain: What was the inspiration behind the look and feel of the camp?
Emma: We created Firelight Camps with two ideas in mind. We wanted to have a deep sense of comfort, but also a design and color palette that nodded to the tent culture of Morocco. We were further inspired by tradition of glamping on African safaris, when travelers would bring along full sets of collapsible furniture for a really luxurious experience. Local design team Gather-- Melissa Thompson and Heather Hallagan-- helped us refine our vision, and we worked with nearby carpenters to create the reception desk and bar from refurbished barn wood and native blue stone. Our lobby sign was done by Ithaca artist Ryan Curtis.