Howard Wein started out like most of us, washing dishes not sure what he wanted to do. Wein definitely knows now, as he is the president and CEO of Howard Wein Hospitality.
Howard Wein Hospitality has been around since 2011 and has quickly put their name on the map with past clients like Brookfield Hotels, Virgin Hotels, Hat Creek Hospitality, Salido, Thew Diplomat, Wheelock Capital and a variety of colleges. It doesn’t stop there either HWH has worked with celebrity chefs like Jose Garces, Scott Conant and Geoffrey Zakarian along with opening his own restaurant The Alvah Stone.
Can you share your history in the Hospitality Industry?
Well probably like most I started washing dishes for beer money in college. Pretty quickly I was told that I was not a dishwasher after two days. I got a little concerned, I said why and he said because you rearrange the whole kitchen in a way that makes so much sense. It’s pretty clear that you think differently than a dishwasher. So I said great and the next thing I was cooking. It pretty quickly became something I loved and was something I was decent at. My introduction professionally, I would say came through MBA which I got at the Cornell Hotel School. I went right out of that program into a corporate director of food and beverage position with Starwood Hotels and Resorts. I had the opportunity to launch W Hotels and be part of the integration of Sheraton, Westin, the St. Regis and the birth of Howard Wein Hospitality. I started at Starwood and then was there for five years running the 2 billion dollars PNL. That led to me being Stephen Starr’s Chief Operation Officer. I helped him grow his company from eight restaurants to over twenty in four years. Then I was at Morgan’s Hotel Group where I was the Senior Vice President of Restaurants Bars and Entertainment. I took that job for a three-year term because I had plans to launch HWH. I decided to do that for three years, and I launched HWH in 2011. That’s really how I got where I am now and has created the modern day existence of Howard Wein Hospitality.
How big is your team?
We’ve got about seven core members plus our partner. We have some pretty substantial partnerships. One in the search world, JR Partners, who does all of our hospitality *recruiting. We use Idea Collective on the strategic marketing side. They do all my strategic branding, whether that’s for HWH itself, our restaurant The Alvah Stone up in western Massachusetts or the specific needs of our clients should they decide to use them. I also get collective ideas with all my projects that work out. We’re pretty vertically aligned as far as being able to really handle things as an owner, which is why we don’t refer to ourselves ever as consultants. We’re much more like a partner when we work with people. We don’t nitpick, we don’t take just like little pieces of projects. We really want to be able to engage and handle every single piece of it wherever possible. It’s a 360-degree engagement for us, so everything from, developing concepts, creating budgets on the financial side, creating staffing and hiring leadership talent on the HR side, dealing with marketing and PR, creating menus on the food and beverage side. And then, of course, creating identities on the strategic branding side. All the way through we’re appropriate getting involved in the openings and the ongoing operations but we definitely want to be able to do it as if we own it. We control every single piece of it.
How does Howard Wein Hospitality stand out amongst its competitors?
We engage in a hands-on 360-degree manner where there is no part of a project we are not touching or not leading, so we are able to handle having an introductory meeting. Would the client understand their goals and then just run? Making it very easy for the client to simply improve things, as they desire along the way. That includes everything from creating a master plan for a large complex or a large property. Bringing in designers that will bring in chefs, either that we hire directly, or in some cases, we partner with PR firms for social media marketing and a strategic branding piece. What people get from us is the real sense that wow these guys are really engaged as if they own it. That’s the thing that distinguishes us from other firms is the way we work.
What does your management service look like?
It always depends on what the client wants, who the client is and what their core competencies are or are not. Generally, we act as a management company, we deliver the maximum impact on the bottom line. With every decision that’s made versus throwing a few ideas at an owner and walking away. The other thing we do is that we won’t just develop an idea for you. We are involved in implementation and ongoing operations. We believe that’s crucial because it makes sure that everyone is working together on a product that’s actually going to work versus just working together on a product. That’s another thing that really distinguishes us is we don’t go away. We stick through the services we provide through the end. That starts with strategy and continues through design development and goes all the way past the opening and into ongoing operations and making sure that the businesses stabilize at the profitability that’s required. As you know and other owners know in the hospitality business, you know an opening isn’t three months long it’s 18 months long. We really stay with all those weeks that are necessary, all of the leadership that’s necessary to keep your talent, keep them motivated, keep them excited, and keep them engaged on a long term of success. And yes, I always insist on picking all of the talent myself. On a project like on the Diplomat, as large as it is, every management hire comes from me first. I do all of the screening myself. I don’t believe there’s anything more important.
Does the mantra “location, location, location” have any truth anymore?
There’s still truth to this and I think there always will be. But I would substitute quality, consistency, and value as being more relevant than location, location, location in this day and age. I say this because of the way real-time communication on experiences happens in social media. It’s like you can have the best locations in the world but if you can’t deliver quality, consistency and value on every visit, that location is worthless. That mantra is still relevant yes but I think it’s somewhat diluted in its relevancy versus a decade ago. I think in terms of picking locations it’s definitely about knowing your customer and knowing your capabilities as an organization. My firm has had clients like Geoffrey Zakarian, Scott Conant and Jose Garces. I’ve helped a lot of celebrity chefs organize and grow their companies. One of the things I’ve always said to folks like that is, do you really have the infrastructure to open something all the way across the country. Even if it’s a great location within the city of Los Angeles or San Francisco or Las Vegas? Is it really within your capabilities to make that work or is it smarter to find a location in the Eastern seaboard where you can get back forth in a day? Knowing your customer, knowing your organizational capabilities are two very key things.
Let’s talk about The Diplomat, who brought you in, and what were the marching orders?
I got involved through Fair Lodging/Brookfields Hotel Properties. I was brought in by Shae Zellering who’s the Managing Director of their lodging. He’s someone I’ve known for years. and we’ve always wanted to work on something big together. He came up to my restaurant, the Alvah Stone in Western Mass and said, look, this is the one. I believe as an entity it was their first large purchase in the hospitality space. The Diplomat is 1000 rooms with an incredible iconic history of hospitality, plus a 200,000 square foot convention center. You’re talking about a monster property.
The marching orders were, break it and rebuild it; bigger, better, faster, stronger and more profitable. I was really given a white canvas to work with. I started with a master plan. At that point which is now 18 months ago. The core characteristics that we were looking to accomplish was to engage the outdoors more effectively. Cocktails and beverages are taking more of a limelight role with the restaurants and bars on property along with creating a new level of accessibility to the restaurants and bars. Meaning a variety of price points and a variety of food Offerings. That’s kind of where we started, and where we ended up was a really well put together a plan that has about a dozen different concepts. Ranging from a portico and a fully outdoor beer and wine garden, Bristol’s Burgers, which is a really modern but very focused specialty burger place. Partnerships with celebrity chef Jeffrey Zakarian on a seafood concept. Michael Shulson on a modern Japanese Isachia-style concept. I’m working with Sue Torres on a Nuevo Latino concept which will replace the generic pool Bar and grill that the property’s had for some time now. We’re really excited, several of these are open with much more to come and that includes all the restaurants and bars.
We are also replacing in room dining with an urban delivery concept. Where you’ll be able to get delivery directly from several of the restaurants on property as if you lived in the city. We will have a modern convenience store which will be a great way to get
convenience food and beverage items but will also include wine and beer and cheese and things that you may want to take up to your room, in addition to a more standard grab and go. We also custom made about 15 different food carts, food, and beverage carts. These are all branded for the diplomat restaurant group, and those range from the ability to do burgers, fries, hot dogs to tacos, doughnuts, coffee and pastries, mini pizzas, sushi, ice cream, we even have a shaved ice cart. We are creating a lot of different experiences that are very focused and are all modular so you can combine them to create almost any pop-up restaurant experience when warranted during peak season.
To learn more about Howard Wein Hospitality, visit their website.