5 hospitality influencers to follow in October
Moving the needle. That’s what influencers, thought-leaders and disruptors have the power to do within an industry. Through business decisions, entrepreneurial ventures and social commentary, their words and actions can cause an entire shift in direction or focus.
Here are the influencers and disruptors on our radar this October:
Matt Cohen, founder of OffTheGrid.com @otgsf
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Cohen traveled the world after college. While teaching English in Japan, he experienced one of Asia’s famed night markets and grew fascinated by the scene. Inspired to create a similar experience in America, Cohen returned to the States, settling in the Bay Area, working as a Guest Services Manager at the W hotel in San Francisco. With his market-style gatherings still in mind, he opened a late-night ramen cart called Tabé, which was critically acclaimed, and launched him in to the business of street food.
Food trucks weren’t the rave when Cohen founded Off The Grid, but since it launched in 2010, the company now organizes food events in over 50 markets that feature food trucks, tented vendors, cocktails, and a variety of entertainment like live music and yoga. Each location has a unique vibe and affords the community a gathering spot, while providing an accessible way to enter the food business.
Beyond food truck vending, Off the Grid also operates catering services and an incubator program to help chef entrepreneurs develop and introduce their new ideas to the public.
Elia Wallen, founder and CEO of Travelers Haven and HotelEngine (disruptor) @Hotel_Engine
Recently, Wallen received the EY Entrepreneur of The Year award in the hospitality category for the Desert Mountain region to recognize entrepreneurs who are excelling in areas of innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their business and communities.
In 2008, Wallen founded Travelers Haven, based in Denver, Colorado, which is one of the largest corporate housing companies in the United States. The tech-enabled, full-service housing firm manages every aspect of the short-term housing process as a complimentary service for participants. In just 2016 alone, the team’s housing experts connected more than 20,000 traveling professionals with lodging.
Hotel Engine is a members-only hotel booking platform, specializing in connecting businesses, organizations and their affiliates to wholesale hotel rates. The digital platform and mobile app claims to save members an average of 26% off public rates at more than 100,000 hotels across North America, South America, and Europe.
Peter Mack, CEO and Co-founder of Collective Retreats @collectiveretreats
Mack received his first taste of hospitality, working as a dishwasher at a hotel as a teenager. He went on to graduate from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration and spent ten years at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, cultivating brands including Westin, W Hotels and St. Regis. He later joined Tough Mudder, where he oversaw experience design and product. With such expertise, he conceptualized Collective Retreats, a mobile accommodations startup based in Denver, Colorado, that develops luxury camping, or "glamping," retreats across the country.
Mack initially self-funded his company and opened its first location in Vail, Colorado on the side of a mountain. The first property involved a set-up of four luxury tents and Mack served as the inaugural general manager. Today, there are six retreat sites, each of which is set in the country’s most jaw-dropping locations, including Hudson Valley, Vail, Yellowstone, Sonoma, and Hill Country.
Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group @dhmeyer
As owner of such high-end eateries as Union Square Café, Grammercy Tavern and Maialino, and founder of the Shake Shack better-burger chain, Meyer is now getting in to the private equity space.
News broke this month that he’s launching a private equity fund, called Enlightened Hospitality Investments, which will invest in companies beyond the restaurant industry that share Meyer’s employee-centric focus.
Meyer told the WSJ that he saw the fund as “an opportunity to step out of the restaurant” world. To date, the fund has invested in Salt & Straw Ice Cream, a West Coast ice cream chain, and Resy Network, a restaurant booking app. According to the WSJ, Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group’s (USHG) investment in New York coffee chain Joe Coffee is also coming from this new fund.
The star New York City restaurateur knows more than just a little about disrupting his industry.
Nearly two years ago, Meyer chose what is now standard at a dozen restaurants within his 17-brand Union Square Hospitality Group portfolio – a tipping ban, opting instead to raise menu prices and wages across his staff.
This October 9-10, Meyer will be the keynote speaker at the Colorado Restaurant Show at the Colorado Convention Center, the Colorado Restaurant Association’s annual gathering of restaurant-industry professionals.
Ian Schrager, chairman and chief executive of Ian Schrager Company @ianschragercompany
New York hotelier and Studio 54 co-founder, Ian Schrager has received international recognition for over fifty years of innovation in the hospitality, restaurant, food and beverage and entertainment industries. His company, Ian Schrager Company, owns, develops and manages brand hotels, residential and mixed-use projects. Such properties include the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, and two groundbreaking residential properties: 40 Bond and 50 Gramercy Park North.
This year, he successfully launched his new brand, PUBLIC Hotels, a new genre of hotel offering great value, service and style. Last June, Lower East Side Public Hotel opened in Manhattan with some surprises for guests, including self check-in, and no room-service. Guests must travel to downstairs to retrieve what they want. At the starting price of $150 a room, the design is super chic, with lush gardens, restaurants and floor-to-ceiling windows in hotel rooms. A basement nightclub called Public Arts will host film screenings, dance, theater, music, art and comedy.
Schrager plans to launch more PUBLICs’, telling the New York Post, “I’d like to do enough of them to convince big hotel companies to change,” considering additional locations in New York, Vegas and Nashville, he says.