When the Great Recession hit new build hotel development came to a virtual standstill. One emerging brand that was hit particularly hard was Choice Hotels International’s Cambria Suites. Though a well-executed concept I had the good fortune to experience when the first hotel debuted -- happened to personally like when I had my consumer persona on –the all new construction brand stalled when our banking system virtually shut down and stopped lending money. That puts a major wrinkle in building new build hotels, right?
But boy oh boy what a few years’ difference can make. These days Cambria Suites is on a roll with new properties breaking ground – most recently two weeks ago in Phoenix – and a deal last spring where Choice Hotels entered into a joint venture with private investment firm Fillmore Capital Partners to develop multiple Cambria Suites hotel properties. This marks the brand’s first institutional investor, underscoring the confidence developers and Choice Hotels have already expressed for the emerging brand’s performance potential.
The venture with Fillmore provides for the future development of multiple Cambria Suites hotels at locations within urban markets. Cambria Suites celebrated a triple groundbreaking in the New York market at the end of 2012 and more recently broke ground in downtown Washington, D.C. as part of a mixed-use project next to the convention center. Further, Cambria Suites is part of a major mixed-use development in Rockville, Maryland next to Choice Hotels International’s new global headquarters and announced a double development agreement for the Dallas and Phoenix markets with a first-rate developer.
So we thought this was an opportune time to check in with Choice Hotel’s President and CEO Steve Joyce to get an update on the brand, especially how they have reengineered their F&B program to get this – make a profit for hotel owners!
I highly recommend checking out a full length interview I did with Joyce that appears in this week’s podcast, which covers a wide array of topics beyond Cambria. It’s available here:
Moving forward with Cambria Suites brand, broke ground in Phoenix and it seems like things are jelling. What’s the update with the Cambria brand?
The Phoenix hotel is a great thing for us. We have been in the market as employer for close to 30 years. We have close to 300 folks there in the IT business and distribution business which is a very hot area for us. The hotel will service our needs and our employees.
But it also represents the momentum of the brand. We have done some fun things in last year. We had a triple ground breaking on three hotels in New York on one day which was a lot of fun. It is exciting to see those hotels coming out of the ground. We should see White Plains open toward the end of the year and the others are rocketing out of ground.
Phoenix is one of those markets that took beating in financial crisis but bounded back in big way. It’s a great location with a lot of demand generators. Also, our partner hooked up with a guy that we are using to help drive our F&B. Chef Michael is a member of the Phoenix Culinary Hall of Fame and he is putting together a unique F&B option for Cambria.
Tell us how you are changing your F&B approach?
As you know I come from a long history of full service hotels, which served average or bad food at a really high price.
Chef Michael has brought a relatively simple menu everyone likes prepared in a fun way. We have a lot of lollipop type foods. Stuff in martini glasses but it is all food you want to eat.
It allows developers to -- oh my god -- make money with F&B which has been heretical in full service hotels for the last 25 years. It’s a strong program that is plug and play and can be executed by less than Michelin four star chefs and can be delivered in a way the customer likes at a price they like.
And it keeps them from going out and keeps money in the hotel. I actually see brands like Cambria as what I call quasi full service hotels rather than focused or limited service hotels because you have jettisoned all the things I do not need in a hotel but are making sure I have everything that I want.
We think we are reinventing the full service hotel for the future. I don’t want to say the 100,000 square foot meeting hotel is a dinosaur but you look around and see an ice age.
Where we open up a Cambria Suites we become number one or two on TripAdvisor. We know this is what the consumers want today. It is a full service guest room and it is a full service option in terms of food availability without any of the trappings, delivered at a much better price.
I get consumers like it, but why owners?
They can see food and beverage as a profit center as opposed to a loss. It is a not an amenity to the guest but services them in the way they want with food availability around the clock, interesting food for them to eat but also simple to prepare and execute and they can do that in a way that makes some money, which we are now extending into the catering space. We have meeting space in most of these hotels and found group customers are very attracted to Cambria as a brand. Now we have a culinary option for them that focuses on comfort food, savory flavors executed very simply like in the restaurant.
[Owners] are looking at that as an additional profit center for their hotels. The Phoenix hotel will be the national training center so the folks that are going to run Cambria are going to be put through that and they are going to understand how to do that.
We have plug and play concepts that are easy to execute. There are videos with Chef Michael that walks them through step by step so they can see exactly what they are supposed to prepare. In a food and beverage operation you are going to get turnover and you are not getting culinary trained Johnson & Wales three star chefs. But we are able to satisfy what the customer wants. If the customer wants a great meal they are going to go out to a great restaurant. When they are looking for something to eat because they are working or just watching television and just want to hang out and chill we have the perfect scenario for them.
Right, so if they are staying an average of three days you have a better chance of capturing them one or two of those days since they will want to try something very local. How is your menu locally relevant?
Regional beers, regional flavors.
I think during the Great Recession people’s priorities changed. Flashiness is out and experience is in and I think people want to reconnect with their soul. Comfort foods and craft beers play into that and I think it is great you are in that category.
You also have a great building coming out of the ground by your corporate headquarters too. How is that coming along?
That is an exciting thing. Between the New York hotels and in Miami, which is going to open later this fall, we also have one [at the new corporate headquarters] our entire staff is watching day by day as it goes up it makes this an exciting time for the company. We moved into new corporate headquarters [this past spring] which is a big change for the company it is very different environment it is very transparent and technology oriented and it is very innovation and collaboration focused. So it makes our folks feel differently and we view this as Choice 2.0.