The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills gets a major makeover for its tenth anniversary.
It’s funny who you bump into at one of the top trending hotels in Los Angeles. In our case, as we arrived at the lobby of the London West Hollywood, just off Sunset Boulevard – just two blocks from Beverly Hills, pop star Usher was on his way out.
“Oprah Winfrey was here just the other day. Normally I’m rather blasé about stars, as there are so many that come by, but in her case, I am sooo impressed by the woman, it was a thrill to have her here”, quips the very understated General Manager Jeff Kulek as we chat in the stunningly redecorated ground level sitting room along with the smiling and dynamic Jeanie Yom, Director of Travel Industry Sales, whom we’d met just a month before at ILTM Cannes.
GM Kulek has been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years. “I am very people oriented, and while people say that all the time, with me it’s really true. I really care about people. I care about the people I work with; I believe in mentoring and developing people. We’ve promoted so many people from within over the past four years. And that’s the joy of my job, meeting people from around the world, welcoming people, making them feel like this is an amazing place and they never want to stay anywhere else. I have an amazing hotel to share. It’s a 24/7 business, it never stops and there is always something exciting and wonderful happening, whether it’s a family event, a wedding, a celebrity event, a press junket with celebrities and screenings… there’s always a lot happening. We run 87% occupancy year-round.”
Working already with Northwood Hospitality at such renowned addresses as the Mondrian and the Clift, Kulek was introduced to the owner of Northwood Investment some years ago. “That was the meeting where he asked me ‘Why? Why should we buy this? What would you do with the space?’ I love the idea of being a creator, and having an opportunity to invent new spaces about which guests could be excited and thrilled.”
Northwood purchased the hotel in 2013, and at that time, there was a lot of open space that had not been developed. “We had an entire ninth floor that had never been developed. The original owner of the hotel went one storey higher than he was permitted and was ‘punished’ by the City of Los Angeles. The area which is now the penthouse was an empty storage room. He wasn’t allowed to develop that either. So we had the pleasure of building-up those rooms. We built first class luxury suites that can rival any hotel in the world. We have the largest suite in Los Angeles. It’s 11,000 square feet and has a rooftop deck that has unparalleled views. You can see from Los Angeles to Santa Monica to Catalina on a clear day, as well as the Hollywood Hills. There used to be an art studio here that we converted into a 2,000 square foot state-of-the-art screening room, which is why the studios were so happy with what we’ve done with that space. It has the latest in Dolby technology, we have satellite broadcasting capability. We have wired our hotel for press junkets so the studios can just plug into a wall instead of running cables down the hallway.”
Celebrating the hotel’s 10th anniversary and their partnership with BAFTA, a number of new renovations are being unveiled, breathing new life into what was already a star location. In 2014, US$27m was pumped into major renovations, adding in the new suites and 9th floor. And in 2017 another US$11m was spent on further renovations.
So what’s next? Kulek wants to put a retractable roof on the rooftop west so that it can be used 365 days a year, with an indoor/outdoor feel, where clients can book events and meetings. “We do a lot of events already, but when we have our tent up you can really only use the space at night because it’s very hot during the day with a tent. But with a retractable roof, on a beautiful day in December, OK the roof is open today, or if it’s a cold day in December, OK the roof is closed and the heart is on. That’s our next goal. And I love that our company is so willing to listen, to look at numbers, and to make a commitment and spend money, and see what the return is. It transitions the guest experience. This new bar that we just opened on December 19 has become a veritable magnet. Sometimes proof is in seeing, so the screening room was their biggest risk because they had nothing to base it on. They were trusting me that I was right, and that my connections in the industry would pull through, and of course they did.”
This is an all-suite hotel. The smallest room is double the size of a standard room in a regular hotel – at 720 square feet. Their bathrooms are luxurious with separate soaking tubs and double headed showers. “All the suites were renovated in 2017,” adds Kulek. “In
2014, the owners built-out the ninth floor, and there is a junior ballroom on the second floor that we turned into three luxury suites that are just incredible. Sunset Boulevard runs along the hill, so our hotel has views from every room. I’ve never had that before. All the rooms have balconies, the luxury suites on the ninth floor have three balconies, and the penthouse has the rooftop deck. So the view plane is phenomenal.”
Adding to the new suites, a new state-of-the-art fitness center has been opened with the latest in gym technology. There are yoga mats to take outside, where a new mural reflects the spirit of the hotel – a trendy woman’s sunglasses reflecting the Union Jack.
FOOD AND BEV IS JOLLY WELL YUMMY
The food at the London West Hollywood is fantastic, whether it’s room service, a banquet for 300, the sitting room or in the restaurant, their chef is passionate about food, and the menus are changed every three months. The leaning tends to be towards a ‘Londonesque’ theme, but the chef also goes with current trends. On the menu at the moment are UK specialties like fish & chips, or Shepherd’s Pie.
The lead concierge, Sarah Dandeshay, is recognised as one of the leading concierges in the world
The hotel has four concierges, three of whom are Cléfs d’Or – quite remarkable for a hotel of this size. The lead concierge, Sarah Dandeshay, is recognised as one of the leading concierges in the world, and she even hosts the online travel show, ‘Ask a Concierge’. “Our concierges are very sophisticated, they know Beverly Hills, the know West Hollywood, know where the action is,” says Kulek.
“If somebody wants to do all the traditional stuff, like the Chinese Theater and so on, they can handle all that. But where is the best place to go and have a really great margarita and Mexican food? It’s not the typical place you would expect someone to recommend, it’s behind the scenes: ‘This is where the celebrities will go’, or ‘This is where the locals go’. Or ‘If you really want an amazing steak, I recommend this place and I know the manager there.’ So, it’s taking the guest’s request and turning it into something even beyond what they thought it could be.”
It’s Not the Rooms – It’s the People
“The staff fall in love with our brand, they fall in love with the style of the hotel – all suite – truly luxury boutique – and the culture,” smiles Kulek. “It’s a team culture of care and respect. We don’t micromanage people here. We hire someone to fill this role. Now own it and be that, and show us what you can bring to the table. We will stand behind you and partner with you.”
Jeanie Yom is quick to throw in a little support for the boss: “Jeff is the type of mentor who empowers you to be who you are and be the best you can be. I think what is very important and what makes a hotel is the staff. What keeps people coming back is the individuals, the personalities, the management, and how we all try to work together.”
Now red faced, but smiling, Kulek retorts, “You can have a beautiful hotel and a horrible service experience, but people really do care. I want to know who is working here. I don’t just interview you and set you free. I am walking around and talking to people every day. I get here at 6:30 in the morning so I can greet the overnight crew and say good night to them when they go home to go to sleep. I’m here for the morning team, and I don’t leave before the night crew starts. I’m constantly walking and talking and engaging. I am never Mr Kulek. If anyone says that I’ll say, ‘Is my father here?’ Or if somebody calls me ‘Sir’, I will say, ‘No, the name if Jeff’. And I want to know about them and what makes them tick. ‘Are you passionate about hospitality? Do you want to grow in this field?’ The minute somebody says that to me, it’s like ‘ding’ and I start thinking and visioning, and I start, ‘You know where you would be great, because you have such an outgoing personality? You’d be great in this, or you’d be great in that…’ and there are so many people we’ve approached when we’ve had an open position. For example, we had an employee of the year who saved a baby’s life, giving the baby CPR while the mother was standing there frightened out of her mind. Her name was Amanda, and she was working at our front desk. She was outgoing, friendly and personable. I said, ‘Amanda, you can do anything, you are so amazing and people love you,’ and so when we had an open convention services manager position, that’s where she transitioned. One of my concierges became my screening room manager, because he wanted to grow in hospitality. We love to lift people up. The sky is the limit in terms of growth and development.”
The English Touch – Right From the Start
It started with David Collins, who had never designed a hotel before working for this group, first designing the London New York and then this hotel. Everything was done with a London influence: “For us it was London meets Los Angeles. We then partnered with Vivienne Westwood to help design our luxury suite on the roof, so that’s a great brand partner for us. When David Collins died, we hired Fiona Thompson and Richmond International to do the sitting room, to do a Vivienne Westwood design, to do the Metropolitan Suites, to do the fitness center. So everything has that London-Los Angeles tie. Either you are going to be experiencing something that’s related to London or to Los Angeles. We are also the only hotel that BAFTA has partnered with, and that’s another phenomenal partnership.”