E34: Dwelling on the Details of the Guest Experience with Atit Jariwala
November 29, 2021
Jeremy Wells: Atit, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re so excited to have you on our podcast.
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. Great. Thank you for having me, Jeremy and Dustin. I’m really excited to be on this.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. So we first met you at HD Expo a couple months ago and you’re on a panel there and you just had a lot of really interesting ideas and information you were sharing. So we just wanted to bring on the podcast so our listeners could get some value from that as well.
Atit Jariwala: Great.
Jeremy Wells: Before we dive into kind of the meat of the conversation, I’d love to just hear a little bit more, learning a bit more about you and about Bridgeton and kind of what your career journey was like and how you got into the field that you’re in and just a little bit more about that.
Atit Jariwala: Yeah, for sure. So my background is that I actually grew up in a town called Bridgeton, Missouri. Not close, but not too far from you guys. My parents managed Econo Lodge Motel Bridgeton and I grew up there. That kind of thing, I helped them out with all the chores that it would take to manage a hotel. And what was great about it is that we had a swimming pool. So I got to swim in the pool, but it really got me into the general real estate and hospitality world really from the time I could walk. And I couldn’t shake it. I went to undergrad out east to Yale University. When I went out of undergrad, I worked in investment banking in New York City and in the real estate groups there because they liked that I had some level of understanding in real estate.
I only do that for three years and then I worked at a real estate development firm that focused on hospitality and other real estate. And that’s kind of really where dive into it and started loving it a lot and I’d been in that and then I went to business school and started this company Bridgeton, which I just took my learnings from those prior experiences and really try to create a firm that I thought could be my own, but focused on hospitality, literally kind of the hospitality was going to be a core strength. So that’s kind of what got me here.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah, that’s really cool overview of the journey. When you were starting Bridgeton and you said you went kind of back to school, what was it like building that from scratch and like getting the team, the right people on board? What are the first few years of that business look like?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. So I did an interest, so when I was in business school, I actually did an internship at a company called CIM Group, which is a pretty large investor of real estate. And while I was there, my first hire and my partner now, Akash Sharma, he was working there. So he was an analyst or an associate there and I was senior to him and we were working on deals for a few months. And so when I left business school, that was in between my first and second year business school. When I left business school, I was able to recruit him and he joined me. And so he was my first kind of key person. And then outside of that, I didn’t take a scientific approach. I think if I restarted Bridgeton today, I’d probably be more scientific about it. I kind of took a kind of stroll and find great people approach. And so Jeff Haroldson joined me next, and he had a long history and track record in real estate investing and kind of like more of a corporate person. I had retired from HSBC in a senior role, and then I met him through an attorney and I kind of built the firm with great people that I thought could add value versus a more scientific approach where I’d say, “Hey, okay, well, we need someone that has great architectural background, great investment background, great development background. Let’s bring all these pieces together and build the firm together.”
But at the time, there wasn’t any money. So I kind of went through and struck deals how I could and kind of went and leveraged outsource firms and whatnot as much as possible at the beginning.
Dustin Myers: So Atit, what was the first project that you guys took on together?
Atit Jariwala: So the first project we did was actually a pile. So it wasn’t a hospitality project. So the first project we did, and what happened, so a good question. I think sometimes in hospitality, especially the first deal can be a little hard to get financing because debt financing is hard. Finding investors is a little bit more challenging until you have a track record. So the first deal we did was actually an apartment community in New York City that we bought and ended up doing really well. And so the investor that ended up buying that with us ended up allowing us to purchase our first hotel as well. because we did so well on that project. And so the hotels we ended up buying, there was a hotel project here in Boston, actually in Boston, that we ended up buying, that was a limited service hotel that we were able to renovate into more of a boutique feeling hotel that kind of got us started here.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, that’s really cool. I’m curious kind of a little more about your childhood influence and growing up in the industry. What were the aspects of hospitality that you really wanted to tap into with your life work?
Atit Jariwala: Aspects of my childhood that tap into my life work. I would say actually part of my childhood in the hospitality business and my father being very cost-conscious, I mean, we grew up in Econo Lodge and we were trying to save dollars as much as possible. I’d actually say the learning I had, it was both like I wanted to be like him in terms of understanding economics and math and making sure things work really well. But on the other hand, it took me a few years to shake some of that learning. So for the prior firm I was with before Bridgeton, I was a partner there. I became a partner there very quickly and we ended up buying a bunch of hotels and whatnot, primarily focused on franchise and branded hotels. And that made sense to me growing up because it’s like, “Well, I’m running hotels as a business of just selling hotel rooms as almost like a commodity.” It’s like, “It’s not my playbook. I’m not looking to create experiences. I’m not looking to create a lifelong memory. I’m providing shelter for someone for a night or two or three or whatever.” And in that case, it was creating something like basically trying to save as much cost as possible because it’s like, “Well, I’m a branded hotel.” Like, “Why would I overspend?”
And in fact, one of the first deals I did in New York as part of that other company was buying a franchise hotel and saying, “Hey, it’s in New York City, why don’t I upgrade the sheets and linens and stuff, because the rate is so high and maybe I can get a rate improvement?” And the brand came back to me and said, “Hey, you can’t do that. Thank you for upgrading and giving nicer sheets and soaps, but that’s not a brand standard.” And I’m like, “But I’m charging triple what the brand standard rate is.”
Jeremy Wells: You’re making the other ones look bad.
Atit Jariwala: Yeah, exactly, which I thought that was silly. I’m like, “You’re not like saying good job.” And so that was probably the biggest lesson, saying, “Okay, Atit, maybe the childhood lessons you learn about like maybe improving and cost-cutting won’t work. Maybe you can’t do branded hotels. That’s not for you.” And I think that was the start of me focusing on independent properties because I realized that we could give a better guest experience. So I’m sort of answering your question. My lesson I learned is that if I want to be in this branded hotel space, you probably want to be pretty cost-conscious like the way my father operated, but I think the way I operate now and the way we operate our hotels is we operate smartly. We don’t want our customers to feel ripped off, which is how I kind of felt back then where I’m a branded hotel and they’re used to paying $50 a night for a comfort in, call it, in St. Louis for $60 and we’re charging 200.
We got a lot of customer complaints. They’re like, “Why am I paying so much? Why the way the room is smaller? There’s no amenities. There’s no swimming pool. There’s no gym. It’s New York City, those types of products. And I now have to do the same sheets and soaps.” So anyways, I learned that in order to really, and maybe this is a conversation for later, but I’ve learned that in order to really get customers happy is that I got to give them a product they want.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah.
Atit Jariwala: And that means creating my own story.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah, definitely. Not to age you or force you to kind of age yourself, but when you were doing these branded properties, what year was that or when you started doing those?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. So that was like 2005 to 2008.
Jeremy Wells: Okay. So I’m curious, when you started out with those branded properties and then fast forward to when you started Bridgeton, what sort of shift did you see in like the guests and traveler preferences to where maybe the appeal of a branded property was becoming less so in travelers and they’re more looking for these boutiques? What was that transition like and consumer mindset that you saw?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. I mean, what I saw is that in Europe, at least at the time and in most of the world, independent hotels like boutique hotels and independent hotels were the more of the norm than the branded hotels. The US is so concentrated in brands. We went back and like looked at the history of like hospitality in a way. The first hotels and in the US or really the first places you would stay would be in these rooms above like a bar or a restaurant. And they were like more social places. And so it’s like, “Hey, you came into a city, you found a room,” but this is before hotels existed, and you found a room and you like stayed there above, usually above a bar or a club or something like that and you may stay there for a long time because you didn’t want to get a house and you were traveling a lot.
And what happened is when the highways were created and holiday inn came in, because they were kind of one of the pioneers in this, they started pumping out these hotels and eventually over the decades that holiday inn and Holiday Inn Express, and that Holiday Inn Express box is what defines a lot of hotels today or did where it just became, like I was saying before, a commoditized place to stay versus a social space. To answer your question, when we started seeing like a decade ago is there’s starting to being a shift from back to like how hotels were meant to be experienced, which is not just to commoditized room. And of course, there’s a need for that, of course, for people that just want a room to stay in for a night. But for many people, it’s about that bar scene and that restaurant scene and kind of that cool space. We started seeing 10 years ago that hotel bars are cool bars. Hotel restaurants are the cool restaurants. They stand for more than a standalone storefront or retail storefront. They stand for something much larger and grander. And so we started focusing on that, like how can we make an impact?
And so a lot of our hotels, you’ll see in Bridgeton hotels, we’re not typically in like the city center. So we’re not in New York City. We’re not in Times Square. And part of that is we, as a hotel, can’t make a big impact in that neighborhood. There’s just so many of them. We have a hotel in Greenwich Village in New York, and we’re one of the few hotels in Greenwich Village, maybe two or three other hotels in Greenwich Village, in Manhattan and we have our big hotel in Tribeca, which is part of like a blossoming art scene there. And we are an anchor in that neighborhood.
And so for me, I found that people like being associated with the larger hotel presence in the neighborhood and people started feeling like, “Hey, I can go to the rooftop bar and I can go to the cocktail lounge and I can go to the restaurant all in one location,” and that kind of vibe and atmosphere and the energy could feed off each other versus going to a restaurant and then walking across the street and going to a bar and et cetera. So I think people really liked that. And we started seeing that about a decade ago. And that’s been our focus.
Dustin Myers: Yeah. I think it’s really cool that you’re tracing it all the way back to like the earliest hospitality concept in this nation. And it kind of reminded me of like the John Wayne movies where they just camp out for as long as they need to and it’s kind of just a completely different experience than what we saw after that.
Atit Jariwala: Totally. I mean, the way we all grown up really, especially in the United States, where it’s just a commoditized room in a way and great trailblazers like Ian Schrager and other folks like him, prior to Chip Conley, they really showed us that hotels can be cool and interesting and unique. And a lot more people have followed those footsteps. And I’d say that more recently it’s been clear to me that that is the strategy of the future. I mean, I think that probably going back four or five years, certainly the last, it’s accelerated dramatically in the last two years. I’ve personally seen people spending a lot more of their income on experiences, whereas a business trip eight years ago even to Columbus, Ohio, I may have just said, “Hey, listen, I’m going to Columbus, Ohio. I’m landing. I got this meeting in this location. Where’s the closest hotel so that I can go to the meeting and stay in this basic hotel and then come back?”
Whereas now I hear more and more stories of people saying, “Oh, I’m going to Columbus, Ohio, where’s the cool hotel in Columbus, Ohio?” “Okay, cool. We’re going to go stay at that cool hotel, and yeah, it’s only 20 minutes away.” And great. I get to like not waste an evening. And I feel like that’s a big deal with today’s Instagram world. They don’t want to waste the moment. They want to be special and they want to like say they happened and show their friends. They get to showcase their friends now, which they didn’t before. Say that, “Hey, we experienced like really great.” And I think that’s only accelerating where people don’t want to waste the day. They don’t want to waste an opportunity to experience something and they’re willing to spend more of their net worth and their income for that experience, not to say that they’re going crazy, but they’re willing to spend more than I would have 8 years, 10 years ago. They’re willing to spend double, triple for that great experience. So I’ve definitely seen that accelerated certainly in the last 2, 3, 4 years.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. That’s really interesting, you brought that up, the social media side of it because if you think about that timeline of the last decade, consumer preferences changing alongside the growth of social media, it’s not anymore. Obviously, people want to make memories and have good experiences personally and with their family and colleagues, but now you have the extra layer of not only do I want to make a good memory, but I also want to share that memory. I also want to send it out to my social media network and get those likes and shares and all this stuff. So it’s like this added layer of clout and intrigued that you want for your social channel.
Atit Jariwala: Hundred percent. It’s also one word I learned in business school was FOMO, fear of missing out. And it’s sort of like, “Hey, listen, these guys are going and doing experiencing great things. Well, I want you too.” And Instagram, obviously, magnifies and kind of re-imagined a lot of people’s worlds that probably be more interesting than possible, but the thing is that the end effect is that I think more people want those experiences and they want to showcase the more lively parts of their lives, and that relates back to like not wasting a day if they don’t have to.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, a hundred percent. And if you zoom out even further, it is because of the internet that we’re able to have these boutique experiences. Like the reason you wanted a Holiday Inn Express is because you knew what you were going to get in a city that you’d never been to, like you’re saying you didn’t want to waste a day. Now with the internet age and the information and crowdsourced information, you can visit the hotel before you even go to the city. And so now it’s like, “Why would I go to a Holiday Inn Express or something where I know what to expect when I can expect something new? But I have the social proof that it’s going to be something cool.”
Atit Jariwala: Great point. Absolutely. That’s on target. Those brands were created and they stick stringently to their brand and standards because they haven’t been able to shake the fact that that was very important for decades, that like brand consistency was the most important thing before TripAdvisor existed. Now that you’ve got all these online travel agent channels and with reviews and TripAdvisor reviews, you definitely don’t need that commoditized experience anymore. I still know people who focused on those brands and they do well, but I think that you definitely don’t need it and we’ve seen even brands started to launch soft brands and that’s like their growing thing or they’re “boutique hotel brands” like AC by Marriott and stuff or Indigo by IHG, which don’t have true brand standards. They’re like rough brand standards really, but I completely agree with you. That changed the world.
Dustin Myers: So on the topic of creating these truly unique experiences, I know that just looking through your portfolio, the properties are gorgeous, the restaurants, the bars, hotels.
Atit Jariwala: Thank you.
Dustin Myers: What has been your kind of methodology and approach to creating hospitality experiences?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. So it’s very different per hotel. So the first thing is, and I’ll back to like not to knock my childhood life experiences because it was terrific, but to go back to my childhood life experience, it was very different. It was very much like this standard way of thinking and saving costs. So I remember like my first hotel project, I was like hiring an interior designer. And I was like, “I’m paying that much for that?” I remember one supplier is like, “We’ll do the interior design for you. It’s free if you buy the stuff for us.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s a no brainer. Why would anyone buy it for an interior designer?” And I would say that was a while ago. And I’ve learned since then that design and experience and obviously like branding, it’s critical to these hotels. And so what we try to do when we look at a new project and identity, it was the other one I was missing is just critical.
When we were doing our projects now, we look at the property, we look at the bones, we look at the location, and then we spent a lot of time. I spend a month thinking through what is it that we want to achieve here. So who is our guest? So we think about imagining who’s staying there and how are they going to enjoy it? So our hotels are fairly different. Making sure through examples, Walker Tribeca was very much designed as a place to take you to what’s next. So it’s a smaller hotel room, but we have an incredible amount of amenities space. We have a rooftop bar. We have a cocktail lounge. We have a restaurant. We have a blue bottle coffee shop. We’re going to have hopefully a mini Michelin star restaurant there, also building on top of that, and then we have a lobby bar.
We have a lot of F&B spaces and none of them are huge. They’re all kind of like intimate spaces in a way, 50, 100 people. And the hotel itself, 171 rooms, but they’re not very large and they were designed to be like a Walker loft. Like you are a New Yorker, you’re coming in. And instead of like renting a loft on Airbnb or staying at your friend’s place or if you owned it, you now are staying at the Walker Hotel Loft that it was designed to look like a traditional loft in Walker, in Tribeca.
That was the experience is like, sort of like a go, go, go guests with a lot of F&B, a lot of drinking venues in a place to like take you to what’s next. It’s very different than our hotel called Marram in Montauk, which is barefoot luxury. That was a no-brainer to us, like just true luxury. It’s like just very simply designed, open spaces, we didn’t clutter things with tons of art. We just put beautiful plaster walls up, just a gorgeous bathroom with waterworks fixtures and like just a simple bed. We wanted it to be very simple because the beauty was looking at your window and seeing the ocean and the beach. And we kind of layered it on with like really great food. So we chose this. We actually suck up and suck out these great chefs from Argentina, which I can talk about it, which is interesting, the whole process there, but we really wanted this outdoor grilled cooking and food that was very much a beach-like food it didn’t have in Montauk and that’s such a great hit there. But it’s very simple and it’s delicious and it works really well with what we were trying to create there.
And then just the last thing is like during East Hampton, East Hampton is a very different town than Montauk. Montauk is a beach town, beach vibes, it’s lightweight. East Hampton is more of your estates on the ocean, near the ocean, very wealthy people. And the design of journey in East Hampton is very much like mimicking that lifestyle. It’s very, very nice, very high-end design. It’s very upscale. It’s just a very beautiful place. We’ve layered on a lot of décor and decorations in the rooms and in the lobby and throughout the grounds. And so that was meant to mimic what you would be staying at an East Hampton because that’s the type of guests we’re getting, guests of those guests. That’s why you come to East Hampton sometimes.
Anyways, a little longer than I was expecting, but that is generally each project we’re trying to think about who is our guests and how can we best make their stay amazing and memorable.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah, that’s super cool. I love the quote you said of, “Design experience and identity is critical.” And I think for a lot of people, the design, the interior design, the architecture and the identity, the branding, things like that are pretty seemingly like straight forward as far as how you approach them and how you get to good outcomes there, just because they’re more tangible. When you think of like an experience, it’s not as tangible all the time and I think just the thought and effort you guys put into, you mentioned you think about it for months, even of what’s the experience that our guests are going to have here. I think that’s really awesome and special about your properties, how you approach that. I know one thing we talked about prior to this recording even, you had mentioned that you guys do a lot of programming and the special events at your properties to help kind of cultivate that experience. So I think that’s one really unique thing you guys do and I’d love to hear more about the programming of your spaces within your hotel and why that’s important to the overall experience.
Atit Jariwala: Yeah, sure. I believe that I have a bit of a duty to make my guests experience as great as possible. And I also think it’s a privilege to be able to do that. Creating lifelong memories is something that I take seriously. For me, these experiences are a way to build these lifelong memories for our guests, and of course, sometimes they lead to press and PR, which is great. But ultimately, what we’re trying to do is get really loyal guests for our hotels and our brand as Bridgeton and something that we take really seriously. and in fact, we were just at our corporate retreat about three weeks ago. That was like a big point of topic that we’re only going to focus on hotels where we can really create great guests’ experiences.
So to answer your question, what are those experiences? Well, they’re all over the place. And frankly, we think like right now there’s a meeting going on that I’m missing that is all about thinking through our monthly programming for like the Walker Tribeca and Greenwich Village for the next couple months and where we just think about, “Hey, what is it we want to do for what time period, for what experience?”
So what are some of these examples to give concrete examples? Just recently, just right now is like Breast Awareness Month. That’s a big deal and we’re really big supporters of the cause and whatnot. We created a couple of guest rooms at Walker Tribeca that are entirely in pink. So we totally redid the room yeah. And everything in that room, and it’s a sense of fun room. It’s really beautiful. Definitely cool. We’ve had a bunch of Instagram influencers who’ve actually asked if they could take photo shoots there. And it’s also for a good cause. So all the pros, a lot of it is mashed with the nonprofit world. We’re really big into that and getting back. And so anyone who stays in those rooms, a hundred percent of those proceeds are going to the Breast Cancer Awareness. And so we did that and that’s like a little fun thing that people could stay in.
A few months ago, we did something for Mother’s Day where we brought in a really great tattoo artist for Miami that would do tattoos either like permanent and non-permanent tattoos. And we set up this like cool little tattoo parlor within one of the hotel rooms and all the proceeds went to some benefit.
Jeremy Wells: That’s really cool.
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. That was fun.
Jeremy Wells: Did you get a tattoo while they were there?
Atit Jariwala: I got a little handout tattoo. So it’s a non-permanent. We actually said that if you wrote something about your mother, actually a little bit more. So it was a fun thing. A couple of other examples, we actually created a movie theater room. So we totally changed two bedrooms into two personal movie theaters, like little miniature movie theaters. We put everything from like the red velvet carpets, curtains, to popcorn machine, to really great lounger chair. So really huge screen. And we just gave it away, it’s first come first serve. It was just for fun. It was so great. I think we’ve kept it up much longer than we expected because people just had it. It was just like a fun thing to be able to pop in a movie if you were there by yourself or with another and wanted to just have like a chill evening and watch a cool movie in movie room. And we wanted to make sure that the design of that room was beautiful and interesting. Not just like, “Oh, here’s a movie room with a couch and a TV.” We actually want it to feel like you’re going to a movie theater. And it was like your own private movie theater.
And so that was a really great thing we did there. I can talk about a ton of experiences. The last one I’ll say which we just did is at Walker Greenwich Village, we worked with this amazing curator of like ballet and he did a silent show with people in the theater and in the living space, in our restaurant. And so this incredible artist did this whole, like couple hour performance while people were sitting and eating and like chilling out in the lobby. And it was a complete surprise to people and it was really cool. It was really great. And these were like truly amazing professionals. Brenton Fernandez is the name and he was just an incredible artist. We just think about these like every month.
We’re trying to think through other types of experiences that are fun and unique. Of course, we layer that on with just basic experiences that are like a daily ritual. At Marram, we kind of have like the yoga and stuff like that people have, but we also match it with like… weekly we do, we bring in some great speaker to come in that speaks about something in the world. We just had a futurist come in and talk about the future. A couple of times a week, we’ll have this great speaker come in and talk about something and everyone’s just invited to join, and it’s kind of a fun, cool thing to do. We’re going to do a pottery making class. It’s random ways. We’ll be there on a Saturday and whoever’s around can just make some pot if they want to bring it home. And that’s more of our maker type of program that we have in Marram, but we do that like bead making and other types of jewelry.
So we have so many experiences that we think about, and it’s all a lot of fun and then the whole point of it is to be memorable and unique.
Dustin Myers: That’s really cool. I mean, one of the potential downsides to not just following a brand standard is that a lot of things can go wrong. There’s a lot of details that you have to get just right and it hasn’t ever been done before. Have you guys had any projects that went terribly wrong at any point in the process?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah, we have. We’ve had some projects that I’d say that, like, I don’t know if it’s terribly wrong, but we’ve had projects where we pulled, like we were like, “Hey, we really want to do this, but maybe we shouldn’t and we can’t do it.” And so we pulled the plug on it for one reason or the other. You’re right. And it’s hard because we’re not trying to do the same thing over and over again. We’re kind of experiencing and sometimes we partner with people that were like, “Okay, maybe this shouldn’t work out.” Well, one thing we did, we did it, but it was like a little stressful is we did something called “A Day in Their Shoes” and it was about guests being able to jump on a bike and following your bike messengers. So that’s like a big thing, delivery and bike messaging is like a big thing.
Dustin Myers: That’s so cool.
Atit Jariwala: And these bicycle riders, you see them. I mean, there’s zipping through in and out of traffic that are crazy. They’re like awesome drivers. And so we were like, “Oh, we’re going to do a day in their shoes,” and it was like more than a day in their shoes. We were going to do it for like a month and where guests can line up and sign up and then follow a bike messenger around. And they would start at one hotel and end at the other hotel and back. But it was like kind of a fun way of experiencing New York while the bike messengers showed them around town.
We were about the launch, and right when we were about to launch, we were talking about it to the company and our general counsel is like, “What are you guys doing? Hold on!” We’re like, “Jeff, what are you talking about?” Like, “It’s going to be so much fun, so great.” And he’s like, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! You got insurance for this? What if someone trips and falls while following a bike messenger throughout the city? Really?” We’re like, “Oh, okay, you got it.”
Dustin Myers: What can be wrong?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah, what could go wrong? We’re like, “Okay. Okay.” He’s like, “You absolutely cannot do this.” Okay. Got it. So we did it, but we had to get insurance for it and we have to like have these waivers signed and all this other legal stuff that we fine print. We’re like, “All right.” But it was one of these things that we had to delay it for a few days actually until we figured that all out.
But yeah, so those types of experiences do happen from time to time, but it’s all fun. We all worked through it from time to time, but that was a fun event.
Jeremy Wells: So one other important piece that I know we’ve talked about and you’ve brought up a little bit in our conversation is to create like an experience, like the ones that you have at your properties and your F&B outlets and all these places, like obviously it takes a great team to do that and not only a team of like from the development standpoint, when you’re actually developing the hotel and property, but also obviously your team and the culture and the atmosphere you’re creating on site. How do you pick and choose the vendors, the consultants, the partners, the team members you work with and then really like go about curating and building that A-team, so to speak?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. So I would say it takes energy and effort and the main reason is because for me, these are my most important projects. This is what I live and breathe. And if I feel that the vendors and the partners I have in these projects don’t think of it as just as important to them and just as life altering for them, then I won’t use them. I probably shouldn’t say this, but if I’m getting pitched and I call them empire builders, if I’m being pitched by someone, I remember one restauranteur who we were thinking about partnering with, and he was like, “I’m doing this project here and I’m doing that project here and I got three projects over there.” And I’m like, “Wow! You’re busy. You’re not going to give a crap about my projects.” I mean, I’m just like one of the next 20 projects you’re doing. I clearly not that important to you. And so I call them empire builders.
This is the reason why I wouldn’t use David Rockwell for interior design. I’m not that I don’t think he’s incredibly talented, and I think all these folks are really talented, I just need a very talented partner and group that cares enough about my project. I want it to be studio changing for someone. I want it to be the highlight of their career today or close to it or important enough to them that they’re going to spend their energy and effort on it. Maybe it doesn’t have to be studio changing, but like that’s ideal. It’s a Catch-22, right? Because you don’t want to go too early in someone’s career where they haven’t been able prove that they can handle it. But at the same time, I don’t want them to be so discovered that like now the main principals aren’t working on my project.
Dustin Myers: Right.
Atit Jariwala: Like now they have like this deep bench of 50 people and I potentially didn’t get the C-team once the A-team signed me up. And so that’s something that’s really, truly important to me. And that’s one of my biggest things is really discovering folks that frankly are maybe in the peak of their careers, but unknown, maybe not as known as some firms. So that’s kind of how I try to choose and it depends on I’m being vague because we’re talking about like probably 10 different types of folks, but when it comes to certain things, I know some people are just better at it than others. I’ll pick on interior design, for instance.
I made the mistake of hiring interior designers whose projects all look very similar. And when they pitched me, they’re like showing me design documents that are much different. And I’m like, “Okay.” And they pitched me that they could do the design that I like. And ultimately, I hire them and they came back with the design that looks like the projects they’d done in the past. And so what I’ve learned is that at least with interior design that folks, sometimes like they’re really good at their craft and their craft is a certain way.
So for Walker Tribeca, we use four different interior designers because of this experience where I’m like, “You know what? I want an incredible cocktail lounge that looks like it’s been around since the Victoria era. I want everyone that walks in there to think that I took a sledgehammer and hit that door and broke the brick down and I discovered this room, which is partially correct, actually. So we did do that.
Dustin Myers: A twist of that.
Atit Jariwala: But yeah, there’s truth to that. Yeah, of course, we have to put in new floors for instance, and those new floors, they came from the 1800s from some old building that we were able to buy. And that was because I hired this incredible interior designer named Johnny McCormick. it’s a small shop. It’s just him and his wife. And he’s in Brooklyn and that’s his craft. I mean, he’s crafty. He’s done a dozen incredible, incredible bars, mostly in Brooklyn, and his home that is just gorgeous, but they’re all from that Victoria area. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s incredible at. And there’s no way anyone could replicate what he does. And so for the different areas of the hotel that I want it to look a certain way, I look for persons that’s great at their craft.
And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work because most people want to say, “Hey, I’m hiring an interior designer.” That interior designer takes any great hotel, the high chairs, the chairs, they’re going to do the bar, they do the restaurant, do the rooms, lobby, and the rooftop, and guess what? They all look the same. There’s just like slight derivatives from one another. And that’s cool. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. They may all look great. But personally, I didn’t want that experience in my hotels, in the Walker Tribeca, I should say. For that one, I wanted different spaces to look different.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, that’s so cool. I love that. And I think that’s really smart way to approach things. And it sounds like you’ve learned kind of from experience a little more how that needs to look in the real world. So the results are outstanding.
Atit Jariwala: Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. No, I learned my lesson, that specific designer, I’m like, “Hey, this doesn’t work out. This isn’t looking the way my things look like.” And he’s like, “Okay, I can redo it.” He redid it. It looked very similar to the way he originally did it. I’m like, “I don’t think you’re getting what I want here.” I’m like, “I don’t want it to look contemporary. That’s not the design that you’re showing me on the mood for.” It’s like, “That’s not what we talked about 20 times.” And the guy couldn’t get it. I usually give people multiple chances. Finally, we just have to let him go. We tossed that all up and started from zero. But these projects are really important. They’re the diamond that we’re creating.
Dustin Myers: Do you have any projects currently in the works or in the pipeline that you’d be able to share with us?
Atit Jariwala: So I have a really great project I’m working on. I can’t name it, but it is a beautiful piece of land in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, that is going to be this incredible indoor-outdoor experience. With talking about experiences, I mean, we are layering on the guest’s experience here. You could do everything from being on the water or to like hiking, to like outdoor bars and like picking some of your own ingredients from the garden that you’ll cook, maybe even being able to fish and have the cooks cook it for you or like a pan lunch.
We’re not going big into glamping tents, but this place is zoned to have a few. And so we’re going all in on the glamping tents. So there are some cool hotel rooms on site, which we’re gutting and renovating and making beautiful. But the expansion space, because it’s hard to build a lot of rooms in that area, the expansion space for us is to create like really incredible glamping tents. And so I don’t want to just create a glamping tent. I don’t like that concept in general. I mean, I shouldn’t say I don’t like it. I think I like it, but for me personally, to serve my guests, I want it to be super luxurious. I want it to be a home.
And so we’re trying to design these homes to be large and have a living room and a bedroom and its own private bathroom. I don’t want it to feel and have it be a sound proof as possible, which is really hard sometimes to be soundproof in these tents. But we’re figuring out all these challenges all in once. You’re working with code and zoning and everything else, but that’s our next project. We’re kind of currently in the stages of finalizing that contract to buy the property, which is why I can’t shout about it. But we’re very close and that’s going to be a super exciting West Coast project for us, drive-through destination resort, which is what we’re focused on these days and really being able to craft a lifelong memory for every guest that steps on the property. That’s like really important to me.
Jeremy Wells: That’s really exciting. I can’t wait to see that project take shape.
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. No, thank you. Yeah, that one’s going to be great. So we’re excited about that. We are also working on a potential hotel in New Orleans as well. Again, it’s early. There would be a Walker Hotel expansion for us. So we’re trying to expand that brand to other locations as well, if the bones of the building fit, it’s what we’re doing.
Jeremy Wells: Well, the final question we always like to ask, if you have any thoughts that you’d like to share related to like the future of the industry, is there anything that you’re kind of looking forward to or that’s on your mind and you’d like to explore further, you’re just kind of keeping your eye on it regarding the future of hospitality, travel or real estate?
Atit Jariwala: Yeah. You know, I mean, I think that outside of what we’ve chatted about around like kind of experiences and people willing to spend more, and I think that accelerates, I think that gets bigger and bigger, I think the times of a wasted evening at a commoditized product or more going away. I do think that people started getting sick of the more Airbnb experiences, which really don’t have an experience. I think those kind of replace the Holiday Inn Expresses in the long run.
I think that for me, I could see a way where hotels get back more of the share that online travel agents take by better incentivizing people to book direct. I don’t know when that will happen, but I hope it happens soon because we can charge a lot less, if our expense load wasn’t so high to these aggregators. And I do have a feeling that people will value points less now than our parents do. So points are important for sure, but I do see it over the coming decades that they become the less important. So if I were to say some aggressive thing about the future, I do think that people care less about the points as they care, which touches on the fact that I think people are willing to pay more for experience. They care more about just staying in a place they want to stay. They don’t want just that commodifies room.
And so points don’t matter as much anymore. So you may start seeing these bootleg Marriotts, you’re already seen it, just becoming more and more independent in a way. And they’re just more of like a booking engine for their independent hotels.
Jeremy Wells: Definitely. Well, Atit, I thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. If people want to find out more about Bridgeton, how can they do that?
Atit Jariwala: So yeah. So they can go on Bridgeton.com in about two months because in December we’re launching our new website. We actually took it down. Bridgeton.com right now is mostly about our hotels. So they can go to Bridgeton.com right now. See some of our hotels, some of our restaurants, but a much grander Bridgeton.com is being launched in December, 2021, and talk more about our larger business and about more of our projects and how we think about things and whatnot. But that’s a great place to look.
Jeremy Wells: Awesome. Well, Atit, thank you so much again and we can’t wait to see everything you guys have planned and start to be developed.
Atit Jariwala: Thank you so much, guys. Really great to connect.