Family MattersJason Pomeranc • November 21, 2016
I was interviewing for the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and the dean asked why I wanted to go there. I didn’t have an answer prepared, so I came up with this story that I always had been troubled by the very cookie-cutter hotels I had visited as a child and that the hospitality business needed to be reinvented—in terms of aesthetics, in terms of what good service means, in terms of experience for a new generation. I ended up defining my career before I knew what my career was going to be.
I grew up in Queens, New York, and my parents moved to Manhattan’s Upper East Side when I was in high school. I went to New York University for undergrad and got a degree in finance and marketing, and then attended Cardozo Law in New York. I worked, albeit briefly, as a real estate and corporate litigation attorney and even though it was highly useful training, I knew it was not what my career would be. I always had a penchant for architecture, travel, and design, and my family had a background in real estate—mostly multifamily housing in New Jersey and upstate New York. But my father, Jack, dabbled in some flag hotels later in his career. My brothers, Michael and Larry, were working for him on luxury subdivisions, bridging into some hospitality with early stage cheap-chic hotels in Manhattan and airport hotels, which became a subspecialty at the time.
The market was changing and the biggest room for growth was for hospitality, particularly in nontraditional areas. When I stopped practicing law, the three of us decided we wanted to go into the luxury sector. Interestingly, we were bidding on a building in Midtown Manhattan that would eventually become the Hudson Hotel by Ian Schrager, and when we realized we weren’t getting the building, we decided to take the day off and have lunch in SoHo. In some degree of fate, we parked our cars in a small garage across the street from the property that would become home to 60 Thompson, the benchmark hotel of the Thompson brand. We were all fully immersed in construction from 1999 to 2001, and had our big opening party the night before 9/11.
Luckily, we weathered that storm. Suddenly, other people started to ask, ‘Why don’t you create this for us?’ It was the first time it dawned on us that the brand and the ethos went beyond the physical constraints of building—it changed our thinking from real estate developers to that of hoteliers.
We started with the intention of building a series of individual hotels—each one having its own language, look, and feel. Eventually, we grew the brand to roughly a dozen properties in New York, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Miami, with Chicago in the pipeline. We were fast approaching significant international brand status at a time when the competitive boutique hotel world with W Hotels, the Soho Grand, the Mercer, and Morgans Hotel Group was exploding.
There was a convergence of a lot of things that made us successful: We created a unique and thoughtful product; SoHo was emerging as a dominant neighborhood for innovative new luxury in New York; and independent boutique hotels went mainstream. There was a generation of tastemakers, celebrities, and fashion and media players who chose to make a few places, including ours, the new establishment.
Those things were coupled with a new hotel economic formula that made more sense. You spent more money on aesthetics and less on archaic hotel services. It was the changing of the guard in many ways. Whether by luck or by design—or a bit of both—we were very much in the middle of it.
In 2011, we merged with Commune Hotels + Resorts (now Two Roads Hospitality). It seemed like a unique opportunity for growth. In 2013, we decided to sell our interest, keeping the three properties in New York and Beverly Hills because our independence was of the utmost critical nature to do what we do successfully. There is such a thing as companies becoming too big. Being able to touch the details, being engaged in the creative process of each project was important, and there was a point where I was getting too far removed. At the end of the day, I am a hotelier and not a board executive—it’s what I choose to do. Being an innkeeper is what resonates with my brothers and me.
SIXTY is our next incarnation. We are going project by project with specific and careful thought. Great brands happen one project at a time, and great projects happen one decision at a time. It worked for us before, and it’s the right way for us now.
For our original hotel in SoHo, our goal was to make it part of the downtown fabric—to make our own icon. That’s the way we intend it to be for each hotel. There is no formula; it is a series of subjective decisions. I view my job as very cinematic where the guests are the actors, writing their own scripts. The unpredictability of the outcome is part of what makes hotels so exciting.
The second time around, you gain clarity and purpose in a more articulated way. SIXTY SoHo feels much better, more mature, more luxurious in a natural way. We are hoping to build something that will resonate with a youth-minded but sophisticated client base that transcends age and economic status. It’s a bit aspirational but takes into account other things besides just the physical. It’s experiential.
I have worked with Thomas O’ Brien, Steven Sclaroff, Yabu Pushelberg, Tara Bernerd, Studio Collective, Martin Brudnizki, Roman and Williams, our in-house team, and many other great designers over the years. For a successful collaboration, a mutual respect is incredibly important. You are working with creative personalities who fundamentally don’t work in conventional ways. They make an emotional connection. You can’t force great design; it needs to flow. But if you respect the process, you can achieve great design within clearly articulated project goals and still be on speaking terms by the time you are done.
For me and my brothers, our biggest mentor has been my father. Though he is in a different core business, many of the key values are the same. He always said treat people with the affection and respect with which you would like to be treated, regardless of their status. We’ve never believed our success is someone else’s failure or someone else’s failure is our success. I am not sure if it is good karma or just a healthy attitude, but it’s the biggest lesson we take with us.
Like all aspects of life, the greatest challenge lies ahead. Many have taken the playbook we helped write and expanded the boutique and lifestyle sector into the fastest growing part of the industry. How do we define ourselves going forward? We are answering that question.