South Florida is filled with people who have achieved the American Dream in their personal and business lives.
This is the story of the Gzella and Plata families, who have transformed some tired mom and pop motels—and their neighborhoods—just off Fort Lauderdale Beach into the Gzella Collection of boutique hotels.
The hotels include the Fortuna and Elita, each on the northern end of Fort Lauderdale Beach, and the Fala, a few blocks south. A fourth property—the Mirra—is scheduled to open this fall.
“Our mission from the beginning was to create unique and high-quality experiences that exceed customers’ expectations in the ‘vibe’ of boutique hotels,” said Gzella Collection co-founder Pawel Plata. “We wanted something special on the boutique hotel side. We opened the Fortuna for families and for people on cruises, and then the Elita. It’s affordable and small and feels like home. You don’t have to go through big lobbies, elevators and corridors.”
While what customers see in each property was started five years ago, the beginnings of the Gzella Collection got their start more than 30 years ago in the village of Osie Poland. In 1985, Miroslaw Gzella left his job as a fireman to open a sausage/meat production center and retail space. The Gzella Company now provides product for more than 200 delicatessens in the Tuchola Forest region and beyond.
The glimpse of the American Dream first shown in Miroslaw Gzella’s daughter, Marta, who came to Fort Lauderdale in 2003 to study English. Not surprisingly, Marta Gzella fell in love with the surf and sun and eventually persuaded her father to bring the family for a visit to see what she had been raving about.
Marta Gzella fell in love again, this time with Plata, who had been working with the Gzella Company. Plata, too, was charmed by the South Florida lifestyle and weather.
The couple married in 2007 and in 2013—three years after Miroslaw Gzella bought a home in Fort Lauderdale—Pawel Plata and Marta Gzella-Plata, along with their two children, moved to Fort Lauderdale to continue the family company’s legacy—not with sausages but with hotel rooms.
Plata, who had a background in real estate, enlisted Gzella family support to purchase the properties in 2013, and after significant renovation work, opened the Fortuna in 2016, followed by the Elita. The Fala opened this past spring.
“They’re prime locations,” Plata said of the hotels. “We saw them every day when we walked along the beach and saw that they looked old and tired. We thought it would be great to bring them up to date.”
The Fortuna is the more family-friendly of the Gzella Collection properties, featuring 35 guest rooms, two pools and a large outdoor recreation area. The Elita is generally considered the “crown jewel” of the Gzella Collection. Designed by Travel Channel’s Blanche Garcia, an interior designer on TV’s “Hotel Impossible,” the Elita is what Plata calls a “re-imagination” of a seaside cottage. The Elita’s 24 guest rooms include apartment suites and penthouses with views of the ocean.
The three-story Fala Hotel, formerly a hotel and apartment complex, has 23 rooms and an exterior restored to its original 1950’s architecture. The Penthouse Room on the third floor has a private balcony and surrounding views of the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway.
The Fala, which sits between two high-rise luxury hotels, “is more business oriented,” than other Gzella Collection properties, Plata said. “We get a lot of business from people who have conferences at the bigger hotels, but who want to stay someplace that feels more like home,” Plata said.
That “feeling more like home,” approach, Plata said, is the overriding goal of each hotel in the Gzella Collection. “Our goal for the Gzella Collection is to be recognized for affordable, boutique-style hotels that offer everything from basic King rooms to penthouses,” Plata said. “We have a variety of options and everybody can choose what they love.
“We have always had the dream to be with our customers and greet them and interact with them. We are very social people. We want everybody to feel comfortable in our hotels.”
And perhaps, just as Pawel and Marta Gzella-Plata are doing, feel a part of the American Dream.