Oct 12, 2022

Episode 97

Amar Lalvani

Amar Lalvani headshot


Amar Lalvani says, “You have to be bold at the right time.” Lalvani exemplifies his own advice with a career that has seen him working with some of the biggest names in hospitality. After studying business, Lalvani cut his teeth at Starwood Capital Group and Blackstone before landing at the Standard. Working alongside the brand’s founder, André Balazs, Lalvani helmed its worldwide expansion—creating playful properties paired with creative F&B concepts as seen at the newly opened the Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon, which was designed by the in-house team and Spanish artist and designer Jaime Hayon. Now, as the executive chairman of Standard International and its sister company, Bunkhouse Group, the proven tastemaker has a slew of audacious new projects lined up, including the forthcoming Hotel Genevieve in Louisville, Kentucky.


Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, Amar, thanks so much for joining us today.

Amar Lalvani: It’s a pleasure. Nice to see you.

SSR: Good to see you too. So we always start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

AL: I grew up in a town called Diamond Bar, California, which when the people say, “Where’d you grow up?” I say, “Around LA.” They say, “Oh, that sounds cool.” And I say, “Well, not really. I grew up in Diamond Bar.” And it’s not the best part of Southern California, but it was a good childhood.

SSR:Yeah. What were you like as a kid? Were you creative? Were you-

AL: I was a chubby little kid, and I liked to play baseball a lot. And it was a really totally suburban upbringing in the parts of Southern California which are defined more by freeways and strip malls. My mother was an artist, or is an artist, I should say. So I think maybe some of that infused me, I hope. And my father was in business, and he was a much more traditional immigrant parent, where it was all about the academics. And so I guess, for a long time, I don’t think my creativity flourished because it was very focused on a very straight and narrow path on the academic route.

SSR:What’s your father’s background?

AL: My father was born and raised in New Delhi, India. His dad died when he was about 13 years old, so it was very much about academics and supporting himself and supporting his family. He was the youngest of four kids, and he moved to the US. He did his undergraduate in India, studied chemical engineering at IIT, so he was a very academic guy. His three siblings saved enough money for him to come to the US to go to do his master’s. And I heard the story a million times, but it’s true. He came to the US with $21 in his pocket, and he could only come to a university that offered him a full scholarship with a stipend, with living. So actually he didn’t end up in the US. He ended up in New Brunswick, Canada.

So he comes here. He comes from India to the coldest place in North America, New Brunswick, Canada, and had no idea what to expect and made his way there. And after he finished his studies in New Brunswick, he moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma to work for Phillips Petroleum. He was a chemical engineer. And then he went back to India, as they do at that time, to find a wife and was introduced to many girls, women and ended up marrying my mother, who was in art school in Bombay, and brings her to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. And needless to say, she cried herself to sleep every night for a year.

And it’s actually very funny because they came, and it was very much a company town in Bartlesville, where everybody worked for Phillips Petroleum. This is 1966, I think, and all the men had the same haircut, same suits, same wingtip shoes. And there’s a paper. It was the Bartlesville Post or Bartlesville Gazette or something like that, but I think my mother still has it, and the headline is Indian Man Brings Wife to Bartlesville.

SSR: Oh my God. That’s insane. Well, talk about resiliency, that’s amazing. And then I’m sure that’s why they ended up in California versus-

AL: Yeah. So then they moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where interestingly enough, my father worked for Standard Oil. So he was there, and then he did his MBA at night school. My brother was born there, and then they got the opportunity to move to California, Southern California. And when they moved to Diamond Bar. I don’t know why they picked that spot. I guess it was convenient, off a couple of freeways near my dad’s work. And literally, no joke, my mom tells a story, the only restaurant in Diamond Bar at that time was Denny’s.

SSR: Oh, so not too much hospitality in your childhood.

AL: No, but I will say I guess where it came from was I remember vividly taking a trip to London, and I was probably 10 years old or so. My grandparents on my mother’s side lived in the Middle East, in Bahrain, and they used to travel a ton. So my mother actually grew up traveling a lot around the world on ships and planes, and my grandfather was someone who just adored and loved travel. And my mom went to school in Switzerland and stuff like that, so she was very worldly in comparison to my father.

But I remember visiting my grandparents in London. It was a real treat. We didn’t really travel like that, but I think we stayed at The Ritz in London. And I just remember the place was just buzzing with energy, and there were people dressed up, and the people having meetings, and the beautiful women walking through, and the high tea service, and then the cocktails in the evening. And I couldn’t get over it. There was an elevator, a doorman, an elevator, a guy who worked there all night, 24 hours a day, this world. And that always stuck with me. And I think that was the first time I was like, wow, this is really cool.

Ojo restaurant at the Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon

Mexican restaurant Ojo at the Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon

SSR: That’s amazing. I love London as a city. Okay. So what did you go to school for then? I know your father was very academic, and I’m sure that was a focus. What did you decide to study?

AL: So it really was an immigrant story, which is true. You’re going to be a doctor or a lawyer was how he thought, really a doctor or an engineer. And my brother fulfilled that and became a doctor, so the pressure was off of me a little bit. So the one thing that was palatable to him, but that I actually had an interest in was business. So I went to Wharton, to the University of Pennsylvania, and I knew I wanted to study business. And I applied early, which made life easier. And I got in and moved to the East Coast. Also, I did know I wanted to leave Diamond Bar and wanted to move, I wouldn’t say as far away as possible, but I wanted to move pretty far away and have a new experience. So moved to the East Coast and studied business.

SSR: Yeah. What was your first job out of school?

AL: That’s a good question. So actually I studied business. And for some reason when I was there, I started taking real estate classes, and it just totally clicked. So I was studying finance and business and all that stuff, but I took some real estate classes. And for whatever reason, it was my best subject, and everything about it made perfect sense. It was very, very tangible. The economic part of it made sense. Everything about it just felt so intuitive to me.

And so I started going down that path, and I was deciding between two jobs when I was coming out of college. One was working for an investment bank in LA, and one was with Starwood Capital Group, which was early days of that company. And interestingly enough, LA won me over because I thought I wanted to move back to LA after being on the East Coast.

And I got those two offers, and the guys at Starwood Capital, mostly guys at that time, they said, “Look, we think you’ll like this a lot better. This is a lot more interesting. It’s entrepreneurial. It’s fun. It’s real estate. We’re moving and shaking and all that. So, okay, go take that job. But when you get bored or you don’t like it, give us a ring, and you’re welcome to come back, or the offer still stands.” So sure enough, I moved out to LA, and I worked. Jefferies was an incredibly hard-charging place. They were the last vestige of the junk bond era coming out of Drexel. And so these people prided themselves on how hard they worked. And we would have to get in the office at 7:00 in the morning because of the time difference, and I would probably work, no joke, until 2:00 AM most nights, midnight, 2:00 AM, all weekends, all nighters and all that. I tell my daughters about it now. They’re like, “What? Why?” They think it was the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard.

SSR: A different generation.

AL: Totally. So anyways, and sure enough, after a year it’s like, “I don’t really love this. I really do want to move to the East Coast and go to New York.” And so sure enough, I called them up, and I said, “Look, if that offer still stands, I would love to join.” And a guy named Jeff Dishner, who’s still there, he was in LA. He happened to be in LA. He said, “I’m coming through. Why don’t you meet me at the airport and we’ll chat?” In those days, you could actually get through security. So I went to his gate and sat there with him for about 15 minutes before his flight. He said, “Yeah, okay, the offer still stands. Why don’t you come on board?”

And so I moved out to the East Coast. I moved to New York, and we used to go between New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, where the office was. And that was a really tough job too. Starwood Capital at that time was about 15 people. And I was the second or third, actually the third young analyst that came on board. The second was a friend of mine. That’s how I knew about the job. And all of us wanted to live in the city, but we’d take the subway to the Metro North and walk up Greenwich Avenue and work, again, until midnight every night. And if we missed the last train, we would stay in the Sheraton Stanford. It was incredible though.

And I started working on stuff, and about a year into it, Barry Sternlicht literally called me to his office, and he said, “Hey, you’ve got to go put on a tie. We’re going to the city.” And I said, “Okay.” He said, “I’ll tell you why when I pick you up.” So I walked down Greenwich Avenue. The only store was a men’s store there. I picked up a tie. I looked like an idiot because I wasn’t wearing a suit, but he told me to put on a tie. And he picked me up. I said, “What are we doing?” And he said, “Well, we’re going to the city. We’re going to Bear Stearns offices, and we’re going to try to buy ITT and ITT Sheraton.” ITT was the biggest hotel company in the world at that … almost the biggest hotel company in the world at that time.

But it was a big, huge conglomerate, which owned Sheraton, Chiga, which is the most beautiful hotel collection in Italy. It owned the Rangers and the Knicks. It owned a billboard in Times Square. It owned ITT World Directories. It owned ITT Educational Institutes. I’m like, “What are we doing?” At that time, there was a hostile takeover battle, or there was a hostile offer to buy ITT by Hilton. And Barry was very, very bold. He was 37 years old at the time. And ITT did not want to get sold to Hilton because they knew the ramifications of layoffs and merger and all that stuff.

And so Barry wrote a letter. In those days you still wrote a letter, and he wrote a letter to the chairman of ITT, a guy named Rand Araskog. And he said, “If you don’t want to get bought by Hilton, we’ll buy you,” which was totally audacious and ridiculous. And they said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

SSR: Oh my God. Amazing. So you went on that road with him. How long were you there?

AL: We went on that road, and that deal, I think, from start to finish, took about a year to get done. I think it was the seventh biggest merger of all time at that time, which was crazy. But that was way before oil mergers and tech mergers. And now it’s nothing. I think it was $15 billion or something, but it was incredible. I was 23 years old. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was just doing whatever I could, taking orders. And we spent night after night in this whole thing, and ultimately a year into it, the merger happened. And we became from nothing, 15 people in an office, to the biggest hotel company in the world.

And so interesting what happened. Barry got, as you can imagine, incredibly busy. All of a sudden he’s got 750 hotels around the world, and I don’t know, maybe 100,000 employees. And so I actually became his assistant, assistant to the chairman. Obviously, he had an executive assistant, but there was a lot of other stuff that he needed someone to hand off to. And so I did that for a while, which was incredible to be by his side and learn all that. So that was a great experience. And then-

SSR: What did you learn from Barry?

AL: Probably the best commercial, business, financial mind paired with unbelievable creativity. And that’s really, really hard to find, and he’s got both. And even on that, it’s not just creativity within real estate, or financial capability within real estate, he understands the total macro dynamic of what’s happening in the global economy all the way down to picking out furniture for a hotel.

So that was absolutely incredible. So I learned that. I watched that. I also learned that at certain moments in time, when it’s right, you have to be incredibly bold to make stuff happen and take serious risk and put yourself on the line at the right moments in time. And I’ll never forget, after the deal closed, he was on CNBC, and I was watching. And they said, “Barry, why did you buy this company? Why did you buy this huge ITT? You had a great private equity business. Why did you do this?” And he literally looked at the camera. He’s like, “Because I could.” And so it’s moments in time when the opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage of it and make decisions that are way out of your comfort zone. And that’s how great things get done.

Hotel Magdalena in Austin, Texas

White oak tambour clads the front desk in Austin’s Hotel Magdalena

SSR: Yeah. No, that’s amazing. And it’s awesome that he picked you. He asked you to go to the meeting, and then you got to work alongside of him. So he must have seen something in you.

AL: I don’t know. He took a liking to me. And I don’t know why, but that certainly meant well in my career is that I think if you combine, I guess, intelligence and creativity and hard work and that work ethic, which I did learn from my father, and humility, I think, combine all that stuff, people seem to take a liking to you and trust you. And that’s really important.

SSR: Yeah. So how long were you with Barry?

AL: I was there for three years. The third year was actually very interesting, because after that ITT stuff, the companies came together, and there was a bunch of integration work that needed to be done, which it wasn’t like I was suited for that work. And there was executive teams and all that stuff. So it’s not like there was any place for me.

I was with him again, and this is 1998, and the Asian markets had just crashed, the Thai baht devalued and set off a contagion in the region and in the world. And it looked super interesting to him, because he started his career during the RTC, Resolution Trust Corporation, in the early ’90s, which is the savings and loan crisis in America. And at that time the same thing happened. And that’s where he started building the real estate portfolio, out of the ashes of that situation.

And he looked at it and said, “This Asia stuff looks really interesting, and I understand how to do this. Let’s take a trip there.” And so we got on his plane, which at that time he didn’t have a plane that could go all the way across the Pacific. So actually, I’ll never forget, we stopped in Anchorage, Alaska to refuel, which was so random. He’s like, “Let’s take a break.” And it was me and a few of the partners. And me and one other young guy, a guy named Rich Gomel, who is a dear friend, and about seven of us on this trip.

And we stopped in Anchorage. He’s like, “Oh, let’s go check out the city.” I’m like, “This is crazy.” And so we went, and we checked out the Westin there, and it was really funny. And then we ordered Chinese food and went back to the plane, and I made this-

SSR: That’s what you do in Anchorage?

AL: I was like, “There are real Eskimos that are people walking.” It was wild. I don’t know why this is the most random story, but I’d never flown a private plane before, but it takes off really fast compared to a reg, and you can eat while you’re taking off. And we had this Chinese, I’ll never forget. I was so naive and young. I’m eating my Chinese food, and the plane starts going super fast, and the whole Chinese food flips onto me.

So on that trip, we went to 10 cities in 10 days, something like that, or 10 cities in 15 days. And Barry, he’s a sponge. I also learned how important reading is. He reads constantly, constantly, constantly, about everything. And so he would just sit in the plane, underlining, reading, reading, handing off articles to all of us, what we thought would be interesting. And then I think we went to Tokyo. We went to Hong Kong, Singapore, and we got another form of experience. He said, “We’re going to take a break for a day and enjoy a little relaxation.” That sounds great. We went to Phuket, which I’d never heard of. And we went and stayed at the Amanpuri. And so this was 1998. I’m like, I never heard of the Aman and I never heard of Phuket. And I’ll never forget, we stayed at this hotel and I said, “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life, by far.”

SSR: Right.

AL: I couldn’t even believe a hotel like that existed. So, that is probably the first time I said, “Wow, there’s something really, really special that can be done from a design perspective to make a place so absolutely magical.”

SSR: Because that’s the one that’s like on the cliff side, right?

AL: Yeah. It was just the first Aman ever built.

SSR: Right.

AL: So, it’s the first one. It’s on the beach, but it’s got those stairs, those kind of iconic stairs that go up. And I want to say might have been the only one at that time or it was the first one of very, very few. That’s how I said, “This is unbelievable.” And so I never forget that trip, what that hotel did to me. It was so inspiring. And then right after that, after a one day of rest, we flew to Bangkok. And at that time the government had seized all the non-performing financial institutions and just like what happened in the US in order to get their IMF loans and all that kind of stuff. And so they were auctioning off all these loans to whoever wanted to buy them, which is a weird concept that I didn’t even understand at the time. But Barry and the partners went to visit the prime minister as they were, you know… Just to meet and greet and say, we’re interested in investing in your country.

And I was, I was too young. I wasn’t invited to that meeting. So, a friend of mine and I, the guy who was with me, Rich, we were messing around the city and we’re going to go meet them at the airport. And I got a call from a guy named Rick Cleman, who’s a partner at Starwood. And he said, “Hey, you know, don’t come to the airport.” We’re like, “What?” He said, “Barry wants you guys to stay.” And we’re like, “Stay in Thailand?” And he said, “Yeah.” And he said, “How long?” And he goes, “Hold on, hold on. Let me ask him, Barry, how long do you want me to stay?” He says, he comes back and he says “indefinitely,” like what? So, Rich and I stayed 10 weeks on that trip. We had to go buy new clothes. And it was crazy. He’s like-

SSR: What did you do for 10 weeks?

AL: He said, “I want you to figure out what’s going on here and see if we can make some investments in this auction that the government is doing.”

SSR: Wow.

AL: So we… I had no idea what I was doing. And so we had a potential local partner. It’s a long story, but we had a potential local partner called San Siri. Yeah. Who was now the majority shoulder standard. So we’re talking, that’s when I met them. I don’t know, 25 years ago. And so we had them as a potential partner and we had to learn everything. Like what is a government auction of non-performing loans in Thailand actually mean? And so we ended up staying, we ended up doing… I ended up staying there a year. Like, I obviously I came back and forth, but I ended up staying in Asia for a year.

SSR: Wow.

AL: It was an incredible experience. And if you think I was 24 years old at the time, and I was the only person from Starwood Capital making investments in the country, I had no idea, it was nuts. It was kind of crazy. So, anyway, I did that, which was a super formative experience. And that’s when I met the San Siri folks who are now the majority shareholders in Standard. And then I went back to business school after that.

SSR: Wow. Was it hard to leave Barry in the momentum at that point? Or was it a good?

AL: It was. I really, I actually really liked what I was doing out there. It was so fascinating to live in that… and to me, living abroad, and there’s an excitement about every day is something you’ve never experienced before. Like everything, everything’s new, everything’s different, that’s a real energy you get, especially, and I think in the emerging markets. And I really loved it.

SSR: Yeah.

AL: But I said, you know what, let me apply. I applied to Harvard Business School. And I said, “if that’s the only place I applied, if I get in, I’ll go. If I don’t, I’ll keep doing this.” So, you know, and I happened to get in and so I went.

the standard, london hotel

The Standard, London was envisioned by Shawn Hausman Design

SSR: Yeah, can’t say no to that. So, okay. So, you go to business school. What did you do when you came out?

AL: So, I guess still goes back to the conservative nature of my father’s influence, which is all right, you got to get a good job. And I went and you got to, you know, go on that path.

SSR: Right.

AL: And so I, at that time, Barry was spending a lot of time at Starwood Hotels. And it was a difficult situation time in the markets. And, you know, the tech bubble just burst and it was not ideal coming out of school. So, I went to work for Blackstone, which is obviously like a pretty interesting blue chip place. But, at that time, it was even a pretty small place. I think Blackstone at that time had about 400 employees worldwide or so. So, it was relatively young relative to what it is now. And so I went to Blackstone, I moved back, I moved to New York and this was 2001. And it was, I don’t know why I did it again, but it was, it was a rough place to work. I learned so much, it’s probably the smartest collection of people in one place in the business world that I’ve ever seen. It was incredible. And the place actually has a ton of integrity and an incredible work ethic. And it was amazing. So, I went to work there and started in, I guess it was probably July or August. And then two months later, 9/11 happened. And it was a crazy time in the market, in the world and in New York.

SSR: Where were you when September 11th happened?

AL: I was in the office on 50th and Lex, and I remember I was going to the office and the first plane hit the world trade center. I was watching it on TV and but I was going uptown. So, I said, I’ll just get in the subway and go uptown and went uptown to the office. We were sitting in the conference room watching it on TV. And from the conference room, we could see the buildings, we’re watching TV, we’re looking at the buildings, we’re watching TV and the buildings fall.

SSR: Yeah.

AL: And as you, as you know, I mean, it was mind blowing to say the least anyway. So, yeah, I happened to be in New York at that time.

SSR: And how was it? Did you stay with Blackstone after, or I know every company went through a different-

AL: Yeah, no. I stayed with Blackstone for three years, which was, but, you know, I knew it wasn’t the right job for me, even though I did do really well there. And I knew it wasn’t the right job for me because every single day when I got off the subway and went to work, I knew how many months I’d been there.

SSR: That’s not a good sign.

AL: It’s not a good… It’s not good. And so, one day my friend Rich Gomel, who I mentioned, he was the young guy with me on the trip to Asia we had stayed very close friends. And-

SSR: And you’re thrown together in Asia for 10 weeks.

AL: Yeah, exactly. We’re very close. He just had his first daughter. And I went up there to visit. And he said, he stayed at Starwood the whole time, and he had just taken over the global development for W, which was very small, like eight hotels at that time. And that the task was to grow W around the world. And he took over that role and he said, “Hey, you know, we want to grow in Europe. What do you think about moving to Europe and expanding, figuring out W Europe, Africa and the Middle East, like that region?” I said, “Well, that sounds really, really cool.” And my ex-wife now, but we didn’t have any kids or anything and so we’re like, “All right, let’s go to Europe.”

And we moved to Brussels, which was the headquarters for ITT and Starwood at that time, this was 2004. And Blackstone was like, “Why are you leaving?” You know, “There’s such a bright future, so much money. And you want…” All this stuff. I said, “It just doesn’t…” You know, “This sounds fun.” So, that was it. And so we’ve moved to Europe and it was probably the most fun job I ever had.

SSR: How did you grow W? What hotels were you involved in?

AL: Yes, pretty much everything you see in Europe now. Except from, apart from the really new stuff, I put in motion. So, there was nothing there, no one knew what W was and real estate developers that we had to work with had no idea what a boutique hotel was or lifestyle. None of that stuff really existed.

SSR: Right. Yeah.

AL: And so, you had to convince people and prove yourself and figure out how this would work and figure out all kinds of things there. And so, the big unlock that I had, they were beating their head against the wall for a while ’til I got there.

SSR: Right.

AL: And the reason was, it seems ob-, maybe it’s not obvious, but they said, “Okay, we got to be in London and we got to be in Milan and we got to be in Paris.” And so, they were getting nowhere.

SSR: Right.

AL: And so I said, “Look, if we, if we’re going to ultimately have a lot of hotels, the order in which you do, it doesn’t matter as much as the vision that you’re going to get there.”

SSR: Right.

AL: So, why don’t we look at places that are interesting, that are interesting for the brand, but are not the marquee cities where everybody wants to be in, that has the highest barriers to entry, the highest cost of construction, the other, you know, so many other alternative uses for buildings. So, the first… I said, “Okay, this is a good idea.” So, the first one we opened was in Istanbul. So I said, “Istanbul is a really cool place. It’s a city of 10 million people. It’s got incredible style. Like, why are we beating our head against the wall, trying to get into Paris when we can do project Istanbul?”

And even at Starwood, they were like, “What are you talking about? Why would we do Istanbul? We got to do this, that.” I said, “No, trust me.” So, we did Istanbul, which is an amazing project. Then we did Barcelona, again, great place, but not on everybody’s map as the first. And so we started doing… You know, and then we did St. Petersburg, and then we did Doha. They said, “Why are you doing Doha? You got to do Dubai.” I said, “No, we got a great project. We have belief that we’re going to get everywhere. Let’s keep going.”

Let’s get the momentum started and let’s do a fabulous project in Barcelona that someone in Paris goes and visits and says, “Okay, let’s be your partner in Paris.” And so, it just started one after another, it started, it took a while, but then just started going. And it, at that time, W was a great brand at that time, it was on the forefront. I don’t love where it has gone or where it is today, but it was great at that time. And then when people started seeing it, they fell in love with the product. And that’s how we grew.

SSR: Yeah. If you build it, they will come type of thing.

AL: Yeah.

SSR: They’ll see it.

AL: Yeah. We took the building and from a design perspective, the building that we did in Barcelona was incredible with Ricardo Bofill who, you know, recently passed away. Who was a genius of an architect, but it was tough because he was used to doing vast big spaces, airports, you know, like huge commercial projects, these massive, these great volumes. And we were trying to bring that volume down to have an intimate experience in this incredible building that had been approved by the city government. So, we couldn’t change it and we loved it, but we also wanted to make it… So, that was a really interesting design project. It did come out well, ultimately. Istanbul was a really cool project because it was the servants quarters for the Dolmabahce Palace, which is down on the water.

SSR: Oh, cool.

AL: So, it’s just up the hill and I saw this and I met the developer who’s a fascinating guy, we got along really well. And he said, “Everybody looks at this and-” it looked derelict at that time and no one wants to do it. I said, “This is amazing. It looks so cool.”

SSR: Yeah.

AL: “I think we can make something really special.” And so we did that project and we did this first time to do some residences and some retail, and this kind of mixed use is the first development in Istanbul of its kind. That was a fun project. Yeah. Tons of stuff we did in those days. And then I was there. I was in Europe for three years and my first daughter was born there, which was a great experience. And then. Rich… Barry left Starwood hotels to go back to Starwood Capital full time. And my friend Rich went with him. So, I took Rich’s job, which is the head of global development for W.

SSR: Right.

AL: And that’s when we did all kinds of stuff in the US like Miami and Austin, South Beach, and Austin and everything you see and all this stuff we did. And then we did a lot of stuff in Asia at that time and South America. When I started, it was like eight hotels. And I think when I was running it, we took it to like 50.

SSR: Wow. I mean, what was it like? I mean, as you said, W was on the forefront then, what was it like bringing that brand and, you know, really kind-of changing what people thought of hotels, right? Like, I mean, obviously Ian was doing it, [Kipten 00:29:29] was doing it, but, you know, W, I think on a wider scale, really kind of changed the conversation.

AL: Yeah. I think we sort of democratized it a bit. You know, I think that the simple vision for W was looking at what Ian had done and look what Andre Balazs had done and saying, you know, we can do this on a bigger scale. We can do it in more places, and we can do it in a way that is really fun, but also approachable. And that’s exactly what we did. And, you know, in our business, you have really two customers, so to speak, and it’s the guests. And so we develop a great product for them and we could see what was happening and we could see the design resonated and that why people wanted have fun in hotels. And you know, why wouldn’t you, and why couldn’t you have a great restaurant? Why couldn’t you have a nightclub? You just solve it.

So, okay. So, when we got the customer facing side of it… But arguably, in a weird way, the harder part was the developers and the capital part of it.

SSR: Yeah.

AL: Because they didn’t understand it. They weren’t the customer necessarily, and they didn’t get why we needed to spend money on different things than they’d ever had before, or the risk in the food and beverage business, or why are building a nightclub in a hotel? Like, these things that seem so obvious now, or why do we use designers who have never designed a hotel before?

SSR: Right.

AL: Why are the people that work at our company so interesting or wacky, different? So, all those things. So, arguably the business side of it with the capital partisan developers was hard, especially in Europe, because they were very traditional. They hadn’t seen it before. So, that was interesting. But once you cracked it, once you broke through, then you have these references for people that they can wrap their head around it. Because as I said in the beginning, real, estate’s a very tangible business. So, they couldn’t believe it. If they couldn’t see it, they couldn’t really believe the vision for it. So, I was like a salesman hawking a $100 million product, you know, with my laptop in those days, it was really fun.

SSR: Like, “Trust me, I promise. This will be great.”

AL: “Look at this video with Randy Gerber and Cindy Crawford walking through the W and Times Square, if we can do that here in Barcelona, I promise you.”

SSR: “Don’t you want this?”

AL: Yeah.

SSR: And how involved were you with the design side of it?

AL: In those days, what I would do I say from… The part that I was involved in is scouting the location.

SSR: Yep.

AL: Figuring out whether that location and that building could work for what we do, working with our design team to sketch out what’s possible in that building. And then convincing the partners that we had to work with designers that we thought could bring something special. And then, I was less involved in the actual design part of it. We had a guy named Ross Klein, who was the head of the brand at that time, as you might know, Ross was an interesting character.

SSR: Yep.

AL: And we had some really good design people on board. So, I was more scouting, up front, making the deal happen, having the vision for why a W could fit in this market, in this location and helping facilitate the next steps to them to go work on the details of the design. So, I was in and around it, but I wasn’t leading it.

SSR: Well, it’s great that you had the vision, right? For like Istanbul and seeing these other markets where we could really take off.

AL: Yeah. That was fun. I still really enjoy that because I love doing the unconventional things where people don’t quite see it yet and putting places on the map. I mean, I think today, I still do that with Standard a lot. I mean, when we opened Hua Hin in Thailand… Well, I’ll go back a little bit before that, when we opened London in King’s Cross. People said, “What the hell? Why are you going to Kings Cross? It’s a train station area. It’s a trashy area. Like, no one goes there. No one wants to be… Everyone wants to be in the West End, or Shoreditch is cool. The King’s Cross is nothing.”

And I see this incredible building. And I said, you know what? It’s actually the geographic center of London, no one’s ever seen it that way.

SSR: Right.

AL: You’re right across from St. Pancras, which now Eurostar’s coming there. Google’s building their headquarters a few blocks away. Like, you can’t be looking backwards, which everybody in the hotel business does, you have to be looking forwards. And so, people are like, “And then you’re going to do a Mexican restaurant on the rooftop of the old council building and the train station area in London?” And, but you go there today, it is unbelievable, that hotel. It’s going off and every piece of it came together so beautifully. So whether it’s that, or whether it’s Hua Hin, no one goes there. It’s a sleepy beach town, and it’s a weird name and only locals, why do you want to do it there? I said, “I’m telling you it’s going to work,” and everybody doubted it and it just got named the best resort in Southeast Asia by Travel + Leisure, the single best resort; ahead of the Almond, ahead of The Four Seasons. It’s a project that everybody said is a dumb project to do, but it came out great.

SSR: How did you pick that location, or what did you see there that others might not have?

AL: What happened there was, and I mentioned I lived in Thailand for those two years, and so as you see in the Hamptons, Hua Hin is literally known as the Hamptons of Bangkok. Bangkok has 12 million people and that’s the closest beach town and everybody’s been going there for years, but it’s kind of sleepy. To your point of, if you build it, they’ll come, it’s a sleepy beach town. Okay, but is it sleepy because there’s nothing there, or is it sleepy by nature that nothing’s going to work? Because I’m telling you, you go to Bangkok, for me, right now, Bangkok and Mexico City probably are the most vibrant cities in the world among them, and the most interesting and vibrant from a culinary standpoint and from a creative standpoint up there, and you’re telling me two, two-and-a-half hours away, you have that vibrancy, and there’s nowhere to go to the beach to escape from this hot, humid, vibrant city.

If we build something super special, you don’t think we’re going to have an audience for that? When the kids who are from Thailand are going to school in London and in New York, and when they come home to their family beach town, you don’t think they’d want something like that? So to me, it was so obvious that everybody was so super skeptical, but we did a great job, I think, on the design standpoint, it was fantastic. Verena Haller on her team, who you know, she did a wonderful job working with local firms, but you see it and it’s got such rich elements of Standard Miami and Hollywood, but not in a copying way, but just in a referential way where people can feel the DNA carrying through from Hollywood to Miami to Hua Hin.

SSR: Right.

AL: It’s kind of crazy, and the mid-century aesthetic, everything came out beautifully, so we’re really proud of that project. Sometimes I get more proud of projects that people expect less and we deliver more than something that’s obvious.

SSR: Well, I think even to the Maldives, like people are like, “Wait, what’s going on in the Maldives?” But then you built a disco out on the water-

AL: Exactly, exactly.

SSR: So you’re thinking is your guys’

AL: That’s the fun part.

ocho restaurant at hotel havana in San Antonio

Ocho restaurant in San Antonio’s Hotel Havana is resplendent in blue

SSR: Yeah. Okay, so let’s go back. So you’re killing it with W, what drew you to Andre Balazs and Standard?

AL: Well, there’s a step in between which is interesting, which is also very formative. Starwood got a little weird at that time. In fact, I really didn’t like what was happening with W, because we had a change of leadership and Barry was gone. As oftentimes happens in big companies, they wanted to make it efficient, and so W used to have an office in the Starrett-Lehigh building on 26th Street. We had our own team and we had our own culture, and we were in the city and they wanted to move everybody to Westchester. They wanted W to be run with all the other brands, and so it would be run regionally. So the regional head of whatever, the East Coast of Sheraton Westin, Four Points would be also run W, and it was just like, “We’re just going to centralize and regionalize.”

I was like, “We’re just going to kill the brand.” It was so obvious, and they wanted me to head up North American development for all the brands, which they thought was a huge deal and stuff, but it was like, “That’s so uninteresting.” So at that time, this is 2008, Blackstone where I was before bought Hilton in the biggest buyout in history, I think, 34 billion or something like that. I knew the Blackstone people and the guy who was also on that fateful trip in Asia, Steve Goldman. He went to work for Hilton, and he’d always wanted me to work with him. And he was going to head a global real estate for Hilton, and Chris Nassetta who’s still there, the CEO. They hired Ross and me to go build a new brand and run the luxury business and make something great.

So I took the job and moved out to LA, which it was actually nice to go back to LA. I was excited about that and took this huge role. It was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that Ross and I got hired to go build a business there, and it was fascinating. Within a year into it, we got hit with a major lawsuit against Hilton and Blackstone and Ross and me. It was a complete total nightmare for all kinds of reasons. But anyway, I lost everything. I lost my job. I lost my equity. I lost my healthcare. I lost everything. I’m stuck in LA. I had two young kids and so moved back to New York and I had met Andre. I had to work through all the legal stuff, which all came out fine, because it was ridiculous, but I had met Andre once on a plane. I remember he was going to drop his daughter at USC and I had met him.

We had a nice chat, and when I got back to New York, I, out of the blue, got a phone call from him and he said, “Hey,” Andre Balazs said, “Can we have lunch?” I said, “Yeah, sure. I’m not really doing anything right now.” I was opening some restaurants. I did some fun stuff, but I said, “Yeah, of course.” So I met him for lunch and it was actually really sweet. He said, “I’ve talked to a lot of people in industry and they say that you are the one I should work with to turn Standard into a global brand.” In fact, it’s so random. It was that he had just come back from Istanbul or from Turkey, from Istanbul and he had met with the developer I worked with on the W and that guy was saying, “You have to work with Amar.”

A bunch of people had mentioned my name. So he said, “What do you think? You want to come on board and build Standard into a global brand?” I said, Look, I think Standard is the most underutilized brand in the hotel business, bar none. I think what you’ve developed in terms of the creativity and the culture and the following and the design aesthetic, and it’s so powerful and so strong that it could be much even more than a hotel brand, so I really believe in it.” I don’t know that I want to go back into doing that again, after all this, and I had lunch with him three times and he convinced me, which was great, and I came on board to do that with him. We completed the Standard Highline. We did the Standard East Village together.

We did Shelter, got that done. I learned a ton from Andre too, but I also realized I couldn’t work with him in that capacity. He’s brilliant in so many ways, but just doesn’t do things business the way I do things, and also it was his company. If we really wanted to grow around the world, you needed to build sales and infrastructure and technology and marketing and distribution and all this boring stuff, you couldn’t just make cool hotels and hope it worked. So it wasn’t going to go where I thought it needed to go, so we parted on good terms. About six months, nine months later, he called me again. He said, “Could we have dinner?” I said, “Yeah. Okay.” So I went to have dinner with him at a Mexican restaurant that I opened up, which was fun.

He said, “Look, I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life. My second daughter just went to college and I really don’t want to run this business day-to-day. Do you want to come on board and be the CEO of the company?” I said, “Well, that sounds definitely interesting, but if we do that, it has to be different than it was before. We have to do things differently. It’s not going to work again.” I said, “Let’s do a couple of things. Let’s split up the luxury business from Standard, so Chateau Marmont and Mercer, Shelter, Sunset Beach, those boutique, those are your babies and they need you and that’s what you love. Standard is what can grow into a real global brand. So I’ll lead Standard and you put that on the side and you keep those.

Secondly, we need to get outside capital because we got to build the infrastructure. We got to hire people. We got to build stuff that you don’t want to put the money to do that, so why don’t I raise money, because we need that to build a real global brand? Third, I need to be in control. Otherwise, it’s not going to work.” Even though it’s your company, you have to be in control. I actually said, “I don’t care if I own 2% and yield one, I have to own more of the company than you. I just have to. It’s not greed, it’s just that you have to change the dynamic. By your force of personality, by your history, by your stature, et cetera. If we don’t really change the dynamic, it’s not going to work, but we’ll buy you down from 100% to 20%. You can take some money, and whatever, make a deal.” So I said, “If those things work, then I think we can do this.”

He said, “Okay, if you think you can pull it off, let’s do it,” so that was really hard. That took about nine months to get the deal done. I raised capital from the CEO of Senseria, who always wanted to back me to do something. Then a guy named David Heller, who was a former Goldman Sachs guy who just retired and investing in cool stuff, and so we did that and that was in 2013. Then we were off to the races in 2013 and then 2014, we bought 20% of Bunkhouse. In 2015, we bought 51% of Bunkhouse. We signed and opened London and then built a team and bought Center, and as a major investor bought Andre out completely in 2017. Then we’re off to the races with Standard and Bunkhouse. We’d launched a new brand called Perry, and that’s kind of where we are.

SSR: Wow. I’m exhausted just hearing that.

AL: Yeah. It’s been exhausting. That’s why I got so much gray hair.

SSR: Yeah, exactly. That’s amazing. So, okay. Going back first, you said Andre was brilliant, so you’ve worked with Barry, you worked with Andre, some pretty cool cats, you yourself. What did you take from Andre? What was-

AL: I took a lot from Andre. I think the ability to put different pieces of the puzzle together in ways that had never been done before. That’s the type of people that you hire, the type of designers that you work with. He talks about it a lot in his interviews and stuff about the old producing a Hollywood movie is how he thinks about building or constructing a hotel. So his ability to put these different pieces together in ways that had never been done before, I think, is really powerful. The creation actually comes, I won’t say it doesn’t come from him, it comes from the direction of the alchemy that’s put together by all that, those pieces of the puzzle. So I learned that from him. I also learned that even when you start a project, you don’t know everything up front and you have to take time, because each step can inform the next step.

SSR: Right.

AL: So I get frustrated now with capital partners. We’re hopefully going to do a new Standard working on something in LA, but capital partners and banks, and they want to plan like, “Okay, well, how much are you spending?” Or, “What’s it going to look like?” Or, “What’s the restaurant going to be?” It’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” We know we’ll make something amazing, but you need to take the time to put the pieces in place, because if you rush to do it, you’ll blow it and you’ll make missteps that don’t allow the next step to be a better step. So the pieces of the puzzle and taking the time to put together those pieces, I learned from Andre, is how you make a project be exceptional.

SSR: Yeah. Well, and talk about if you build it, they will come like talk about Sunset Beach at Shelter Island, like a sleepy place you hit sunset beach and it’s a whole new world.

AL: No, and obviously, he had a history of doing that. The first Standard in Sunset, no one wanted to be in that part of town at that time. The meat packing district wasn’t the meat packing district we know of now. Downtown LA was way, way early for downtown LA.

SSR: Yep.

AL: Standard Miami, by the way, that hotel almost didn’t make it. It was so early and it used to shut down seasonally because Miami didn’t have it. It took a lot of patience and now it’s the best performing hotel we have. So I learned that, to have that vision and be that, but which I was doing on my side too, but we came together and aligned on that. But I had certainly learned the pieces of the puzzle and the patience from him to create very, very special places.

SSR: So in 2017, you’re off to the races, as you said. What did you want to evolve Standard into being, right?

AL: Yeah.

SSR: It was an amazing brand, but to grow it, how did you want to evolve it, and what did you want it to be?

AL: I think one of my biggest missions with Standard and with Bunkhouse, but it Standard, it needed to be a brand that outlived Andre, not about outliving Andre, outliving anybody. It had to outlive him. It has to outlive me, because that’s what it should live on in a way Four Seasons outlived Issy Sharp by a long shot. It’s going to be there forever. If you build something that’s an enterprise that’s sustainable that goes on forever, that’s really powerful. That was one big mission is, I wanted to turn into a brand that would last forever and that would be respected and known around the world, so that’s one of the missions, but secondly, I wanted to grow it and to me, there are two main reasons to grow. One is that I would go to places and if I go to Mexico City or go to Lisbon or places that I really like, I’d say, “I wish there were a Standard here. I wish that thing that we do existed here.”

I think it deserves to be shown to those communities how to put something, but a really special hospitality, social, cultural hub can be. So that, to me, was exciting of why you need to grow. Also, you need to grow in order to provide opportunities to the team, because if you’re not growing, it seems like someone like Tenaya, who you’re going to be talking to or who you know, if you’re not growing, they’re going to outgrow the opportunity set that exists. I love opening the Maldives and then Hua Hin. Then a young man named Jay who was maybe guest experience or front desk at Standard LA, and then he moved on to be guest experience in the Maldives. Then he was a pre-opening and opening at Hua Hin, assistant general manager. Now he’s the head of training across the global Standard.

SSR: That’s amazing.

AL: To me, that’s the coolest thing ever that his life has forever altered, changed, enhanced by things that we create. For all those reasons, I wanted Standard to be a global brand. Then I would say lastly, culturally for Standard, what I wanted, I wanted it to be deeper and richer, because it already was, but that hadn’t come out. I had this reputation for the velvet rope and that kind of night clubby stuff, which there was much more to it than that, that’s the reputation it had maybe because of Andre’s persona or because of how, whatever, history. But I wanted the depths of what we understand about music, what we understand about design, what we understand about fashion, what we bring to the table, I wanted that depth to really show through, and it wasn’t inclusive place, but I wanted it to be more inclusive.

I wanted to embrace the fact that we were inclusive in that it was important to me. Then honestly, with the election in 2012, I guess Trump’s election, I remember that day when that election happened and I came to the office and everybody was posting black squares on Instagram. I said, “This is useless. That’s not helpful.” What I realized is the next generation had no idea what to do to express their outrage or feelings or whatever. So I said, “We have a platform for things that we care about and we should speak up about that.” So we started doing things like Ring your Rep and the next generation is not going to write a letter to Congress, but they may be sitting in the Plaza, go in the red phone booth and make a call, things like that. We put a direct button on our phone lines from the rooms to Congress and just I-

AL: And our phone lines from the rooms to Congress and just, I love Standard as a platform. That’s bigger than a hotel that allows the next generation to have a voice. So that to me was important. So just again, like Andre does with the hotel, putting the pieces of the brand together, what are all the elements that are of this brand? What do we do that’s so different than everybody else does? What do we do that only we can do because of the people that we have and the approach that we take to hotels, but the approach that we sort of take to life and have that manifest itself in a brand?

SSR: Yeah. How has the last two years changed that outlook or just enhanced it? Maybe.

AL: I think it’s enhanced it. Look, I think watching travel bounce back now, it just shows you the power of what we do and how much people want it and crave it. And despite the headaches of travel, it took me 30 hours to get back from London the other day when I missed the thing. And despite that, despite people know what a hell it is to travel right now, they’re still doing it and they’re doing it in droves. So I think the two years showed us this business and this need is more powerful people even ever knew. So that’s, I think that’s really great. And there was all these questions about how is design going to change because the pandemic and how’s this going to change? How that’s going to change? It’s just not. It’s going to go back to what it was and enhance what it was and okay. Then we’ve learned to live with these things, but not going anywhere. And it’s one of the few businesses that can’t be disrupted because you have to be there in person no matter what people might have thought. So I think it’s just, it’s given us more and more conviction on how wonderful a business it is to be in.

SSR: Yeah. I remember that was the only question that people asked, how is design going to change? What’s going to change? And I was like, just let’s see where we end up. Yeah.

AL: When you’re in the middle of a crisis or the middle of something, it’s so dumb to make predictions about what it was, what it’s going to be. You talk about like 9/11 happened, downtown New York is dead, is never going to come back. The opposite was true. Group travel’s never going to come back. We’re setting records for group travel. So it’s so dumb to make predictions in the middle of the crisis when you can’t see the other side.

SSR: Exactly. You got to take a step back to go forward. So talk to me about Bunkhouse because I know, I mean, that was such a big deal that you all took it over and why was it, what did you want, what attracted you to the brand?

AL: Well, very, very simple. I started, I was attracted to it as a customer, as a guest. I fell in love with those properties. When I started going to Austin, I said, this is this genius. It’s just a great, great brand and with great concept and real culture and great aesthetic and everything about it I love. And the model of how to, a place like the Saint Cecilia, which has the highest bar in Texas because people adore it so much, but it’s really limited service because of the privacy. It’s just the whole model was something turned it on like Standard turn on’s was turning that type of, people would say, if you had, it’s funny because the worst expression of what that would be in a hotel speak would be a limited service hotel, which as a business model, it actually is.

But you never think about that because it’s so high touch and it’s so culturally relevant that it doesn’t even belong in that category. But when you really break it down, that’s what it is. So you have a limited service hotel charging seven or 50 bucks a night, but no restaurant, because it’s just it’s that alchemy, that was just, it’s just remarkable. So I came at it from a, I just love the product and my my wife and I started going to Austin. She lives in Salt Lake City and I live in New York and we started meeting up in Austin. And so we stayed once a month for like five years at the Saint Cecilia, which was lovely. And then I became friends with Liz and I had a great deal of respect for her and what she created.

And I also knew that Bunkhouse had ambitions to grow and to do things outside of Boston, outside of Texas, to make a mark in the business. But I told Liz, I said, look, you don’t have the infrastructure to do all that stuff that you want to do. It was a little bit similar to what I went through with Andre before. And I said, well, we already built it. Like, why don’t we do this together? And I had a vision for Standard being in international and gateway markets. You think about Standard going to Milan and Tokyo and Bangkok and Mexico City and Paris and places like that. And vision, and I was obsessed with these, but recalled before these secondary markets, which I could see were becoming something really relevant. There was this democratization of design and culture and creativity and culinary.

And so you see a place like Austin, you saw places at that time like Portland, you saw New Orleans, Detroit, San Antonio, and things really interesting things happening in places that were unexpected. Nashville, but then I would see Standard. I said, Standard doesn’t really belong in those places. You’re not really doing justice to Standards for some reason, and you’re not doing justice to that market, but Bunkhouse was something that would be perfect for those places. So that was kind of how I mapped out how Bunkhouse and Standard would fit together. There was really no overlap or a perfect symmetry or perfect combination of the two. So, yeah, we invested in Bunkhouse in 2014, took a 20% stake and the relationship was great and it was working very well. And they actually asked us to take the 51% stake. And so we did that. And since then we’ve been building Bunkhouse. Liz is no longer with the company as you know, but I’m really proud of the team there. We have so many people that were there from the beginning and additional people that have come over from Standard. It’s an all female leadership team. The entire team is, executive team is female, which I think is incredible. And they’re just doing really, really great stuff. And Tenaya has stepped up into this head creative role brilliantly.

pool at Hotel San Cristóbal in Todos Santos, Mexico

The pool at Hotel San Cristóbal in Todos Santos, Mexico overlooks the Pacific Ocean

SSR: Yeah. She’s amazing. So how do you work with Tenaya Hills, who’s your senior vice president of design development? How do you two work? Is it a lot of back and forth is-

AL: It’s really seamless. I trust her completely on the design parts of stuff. Like she’s fantastic. She knows what I like. And it’s also, I like what she likes. So it’s pretty easy. I think on where I take a little bit of a lead is where are we going to go within that? What’s the concept? Like, how is it going to fit into the market? But really after that, she totally takes it and runs with it, with of course our team. You know Lisa and Vicky and the whole team over there is fantastic. But you know you’re doing a great job when you don’t have to do that much.

SSR: Yeah.

AL: I say that sometimes. Be like, “What?” I said, if I don’t have to do very much, I think that means I’m doing my job really well. So yeah. But we do, we work so well together. We’ve on shorthand by text. She’ll send me stuff. I’ll send her inspiration when she has something she needs or needs me to get involved, or there’s a problem with the owners or capital, or she wants an opinion on something or which direction should we go? It’s that kind of thing, but she’s leading it and she’s killing it.

SSR: Yeah. And how are you evolving like you did with Andre? Like how are you taking Liz Lambert’s vision and continuing to evolve it? Cause they love your words, so that outlives her outlives you yeah. Continues on.

AL: So on the Bunkhouse side, the DNA is so strong. I think what we’re doing is the growth part of it was a little bit scary for them. And so inspiring the confidence that you can do this, that you can do it. It’s not that daunting. You will, we may make some missteps, but let’s go for it and it’s going to be okay. And reducing the fear factor of it not being perfect. And I’m big on perfection, not being in the good versus, I think that’s not the way it necessarily was before. And so even though things weren’t perfect and also, I’m also a bigger difference, also I want the growth and the creativity to be ground up. I’m not forceful in that. For me, it’s hiring the best people and empowering them rather than me making every decision as, if I’m making all the decisions, we’re not going to go anywhere.

Right. So I think that turning that upside down and having the team be actually the leaders and me be the support rather than me be the top down type of leader. I think that’s a difference. I think going into markets where we’re not as comfortable and pushing that. Louisville is a good example. I don’t think, no, I don’t think Liz would ever have gone to Louisville. I just don’t think that would happen. Not for any reason other than it wasn’t on the strategic map or it wasn’t the comfort zone. I don’t want to speak for her, but I don’t think we would’ve done that deal. And the way that came about during COVID I was taking a road trip and I said, we have to leave, let’s take a little break and we’ll go to Austin, but we can, no one’s flying. So we’ll drive from New York to Austin, we’ll drive there.

SSR: Sound like my husband, he made me drive to Miami. I was like, why are we driving to Miami?

AL: Yeah. So I was like, we’re going to drive there. And as we started our journey, the numbers in Austin spiked. Said, okay, we’re not going to Austin. We were going to stop in Louisville for a couple nights or one night. And I wanted to check out 21c and never heard that. I like the bourbon, that I heard it’s an interesting place. And we rented an Airbnb, which was incredible in this old church. And we ended up staying there like 10 days and we just explored. And I said, this is so, the dynamics are so similar to Austin, downtown versus versus NuLu. And I was there and Miranda on our team called say, oh, you’re in Louisville. I said, yeah. She said, well, someone called with an opportunity and I don’t know if Louisville makes any sense. And said, where is it?

This is the location. It was two blocks from where I was staying. It was absolutely perfect. I’m like if we build a hotel there at Bunkhouse, it’ll be the best hotel in Louisville, hands down. And so we ended up doing it. I think that opportunistic, we can do this. Let’s take it on. Don’t be scared. Let’s go for it. Bunkhouse, you are more special than you even know. We’re going to back you. That’s what I brought to the table. And I think that’s where you can see where we’re headed.

SSR: That’s amazing. Is there one part of the process you love the most? Is it finding that special place? Is it-

AL: I think it’s the, it is finding the special place and figuring out what it should be. Like what should this be? What have I seen from all my travels around the world? What do I know about this neighborhood? What do people, what is lacking here that we can do to make it more special than anything that exists there and what are the pieces of the puzzle to make that happen? Like that, to me is the most exciting part

SSR: Yeah. And talk to me about this new brand Perry.

AL: Oh Perry. Oh, so what we saw in Asia in particular is that there are still a lot of hotels that are owned by families that are small, that are interesting. That are pretty, that are well done. But especially during the pandemic, you could see they didn’t have the strength to really make something of them and not everything we see fit Standard. And we saw, think of a 50, 60 room hotel in Bali. There’s so many of them, they’re really good, but they could be taken to the next level. So it was really opportunistic because we saw the structure of hotels in Asia, who owns them, and the struggles that they have and we’d layer on what we do. I wouldn’t say it’s a soft brand, so to speak, but we just saw opportunities. Like this is a cool hotel. And it could be so much better if we got involved. And that’s the Genesis of what Perry is.

SSR: Oh, very cool. So do you already have a collection of hotels that’ll be part of it or you-

AL: Yeah. We have two that are open already. We started both in Thailand. One’s in Hua Hin. One’s in Chaiya, which it’s sort of in the jungle, in the natural national park. So we’re just scouting them. I think Bali will probably be next. We’re doing one in Bangkok. And so I think Southeast Asia, it’s just these type of hotels exist. And they could use the support because hotels in America now developers and private equity and in that, and Europe tends to be more long term sort of foundations and families and things or established players. And Asia used to have a lot of families who just jump in the hotel business, because they have a piece of land and someone has a creative idea. So we kind of designed this to use what we’ve developed to help them build the business that they want to build.

SSR: Yeah. And Bangkok is next for Standard, right?

AL: Bangkok is opening in a week. And it’s the tallest building in Thailand, 77 stories. It was supposed to be the EDITION, but they fell out of bed. And we came in, did a brilliant job with Jaime Hayon who is a fantastically creative person and a real pleasure to work with. And that was, the concepts there are incredible. We bring the Standard grill for the first time outside of New York, which is great. And we have Mott 32, which we brought in, which is a fabulous Chinese institution from Hong Kong. And then we did something crazy on the roof. Then we have a parlor, we have a tea room, we have all kinds of stuff. But on the rooftop we decided to do something wacky. And I recruited probably the best young chef in Mexico from Guadalajara.

Actually. I don’t know if you, do you know what Hector?

SSR: Yeah.

AL: So Hector, I called him during the pandemic. I said, Hey, we got this idea. I’d love to take Mexican and do it on the rooftop on 77 floor in Bangkok. It sounds crazy. But I’m telling you no one’s ever done anything like it. And no, and people will go nuts for it because the palate over there is so similar and they’ve never been exposed to a really good, that quality. I said, is there one young chef that you know that would be the right person? He said, I’m telling you Francisco ‘Paco’ Ruano is the best. He lives in Guadalajara. I’ll connect you guys. During the pandemic, I called Paco, two conversations. Like, all right, I’m going to do it. And so we just opened, what’s called Ojo in the rooftop in Bangkok, which is absolutely incredible.

SSR: How do you come up with these ideas? Like how do you stay inspired? Is it still just through travel, through reading?

AL: Yeah. It’s just through travel and it’s just through travel and thinking and reading and looking and being interested. And meeting people. And one connection leads to another and being open-minded and I trust Hector. I didn’t even need to taste Paco’s food. I trust Hector. And if Hector says it’s good, I know it’s good. I said, Paco, get on a plane. Let’s do this. Let’s not be scared. And that’s how, as I told you from the beginning with Perry, you got to be bold at the right time.

SSR: Yeah. That’s how you get it done. All right. One quick question before we wrap, but what is, tell us one thing that people might not know about you. That’s always my favorite.

AL: I love music. I have a fascination with music. I’m always listening. Drives my wife crazy. There’s always music on. And a friend, a great dear friend of mine and I in Austin are opening the first vinyl bar, vinyl record bar in Austin. And tonight’s designing it for us with us. She’s a partner. It’s going to be in the basement of found equipment room in the Magdalena. And we’re going to do this. We’re sort of fascinated with these Japanese listening bars. Has never been done in Austin despite the music scene there. So we’re doing a vinyl bar on music lane in Austin and that’s just a pet project to mine.

SSR: That’s super cool. That’ll be amazing. All right. And then we always end the podcast with the title of the podcast. So what has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned along the way?

AL: It’s probably said over and over and over again, but it is this business and every business, but this business in particular is 1000% about the people. And if you can get the best team, you’ll get the best product.

SSR: Yeah. Simple. Love it. Well, thank you so much for spending this last little bit with me. I really appreciate it.