SLS is a hotel brand launched by entrepreneur Sam Nazarian which claims to have taken traditional five-star service and luxury and injected elements of creativity and community. It won’t be a huge shock to learn that the lifestyle company—whose mission statement is to “deliver a guest experience that seamlessly delivers service, style and fun”—currently operates in Beverly Hills, South Beach, and Las Vegas. Later this year it will open a hotel in New York, and has openings planned for several international destinations from Bahamas and Beijing. This is part of a significant expansion by SLS’s parent company SBE — a flourishing hospitality, real estate and entertainment venture whose hand- selected partners include designer Philippe Starck, photographer Matthew Rolston, and top chefs José Andrés, Katsuya Uechi and Danny Elmaleh). While the hotels undoubtedly attract the fashionable set, they’re also attracting accolades for the high standard of their hospitality—particularly their restaurants. SBE president and chief executive Sam Bakhshandehpour says that behind the glitz there is actually a lot of grit.
Hotelier International: Your hotels have become incredibly popular with a surprisingly wide demographic. What do you attribute this success to?
Sam Bakhshandehpour: There are so many factors that come into play, but it’s really all about the people and our culture. We are so lucky to have such incredibly talented and dedicated teams that care deeply about service, style and constantly elevating the experience. This culture extends outside the venues making SBE synonymous with orchestrating uncompromising lifestyle experiences and creating a diverse portfolio of award-winning hotels, residences, restaurants and nightlife venues. We attribute these successes to impeccable service, imaginative properties, outstanding cuisine, forward-thinking design, entrepreneurial spirit, and unique style.
HI: Now that you have shaken up the hospitality sector in some key American cities, what is more important—strong branding or the ability to keep evolving? And do you ever worry that the consolidation of a strong overall company brand could undermine the cachet or personality of individual properties?
SB: It’s always a balance and they’re really one in the same. A strong brand is one that evolves and adapts over time. SLS Hotels for example is a great example of a brand that evolved over the past decade, and that’s due in large part to the communities in which the hotels reside. The SLS Hotels in Beverly Hills, Vegas, South Beach and the Bahamas are very different, yet connected by a distinct brand DNA that unites them all.
HI: How do you ensure that the culinary and design aspects of your hotels work so well together? That is a really difficult trick to pull off, yet you do it over and over again.
SB: Since we develop, design and operate our hotels we’re able to maintain the synergies between all aspects of a
property. Whether its a collection of iconic restaurants under one roof or a playful indoor-outdoor environment, there’s a seamless alignment that allows the guest experience to be very unique to an SBE property. It’s inclusive and ensures a guest has unlimited access to everything we offer on property and everything we offer beyond the four walls.
HI: Is ‘The CODE’, your new membership scheme, about strengthening a sense of community among your guests? How do you see this concept evolving?
SB: That’s exactly what it’s all about. The CODE is a true lifestyle platform that adapts to our guests’ preferences and over time offers them highly customised experiences, from preferred room rates, to access to exclusive off-menu food and cocktail items, to birthday month dining credit. It’s not about telling our guests what they can do, it’s about letting our guests communicate to us what they want to do. We feel that’s a powerful notion. The more you stay, play, dine and drink, the better we get to know you, and the better your experience will be.
HI: How do you keep harmony in your business team—from celebrities to celebrity chefs, there must be a few big egos in play. Are there plans to widen your circle of designers and chefs?
SB: That’s the culture of SBE! We embrace all the diversity of everyone involved and let it fuel our creativity and innovation. It feels far more like a family than a corporate environment. And like any great family, there are challenges,
but ultimately those challenges lead to something powerful. Yes, there are many chefs and designers we’d love to work with, and you’ll see that coming to fruition in the coming months.
HI: How can a hotelier possibly make a splash in New York now? What new restaurant and nightlife concepts are you going to bring the Big Apple? Specifically, what are you going to be doing on the rooftop of the SLS New York—which is the biggest battleground for statement hotels in the city these days?
SB: We have strategically tapped into the distinctive taste of our New York clientele, who are both discerning and elevated, allowing us to carefully curate the SBE experience to this particular market. This is a city that values many of the ingredients that have brought SBE great success in other markets, including brand exclusivity, high-end nightlife venues, and chef-driven F&B experiences. That said, our goal in New York is similar to our approach in any new market we enter, and that is to provide the very best guest experience possible. If we deliver upon that, then the wows will come. We’re still keeping the details of the property under wraps, but you can expect to see some very enticing collaborations.
HI: I notice you have plans to open hotels in the Bahamas soon, and there is even talk of a hotel for the Beijing style set. Are there plans for European openings, or do you think your sensibilities are too American, too razzmatazz for European cities?
SB: Actually, we’re targeting a number of markets worldwide and a few in Europe, including London. So watch this space!