Our interview with Jonathan Vendrick, VIP concierge at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Loews Atlanta Hotel, had just concluded. Vendrick had given us enough of an inside scoop about his hotel and the city he’s called home the past eight years for us to write a book. Still, he insisted that we flick the recorder back on.
“How could I forget about the Center for Civil and Human Rights?” asks the 20-year industry vet who still looks like he could be applying for an internship fresh out of hospitality school. “I tell guests if they leave that [museum] without having any kind of emotion, you’re a robot. I give guests tissues before they go there. That’s one of the places that I cannot stop visiting.”
No tip left untold. That’s just the kind of detail Vendrick brings to the job every day. So, sure, this hotel has newly refreshed rooms, a spectacular Midtown location and an unbelievable salad bar, but if it’s looking for its strongest selling point, it may want to start with the young man at the concierge desk.
How have guests evolved in the 20-plus years you’ve been working in hotels?
The guests have become a little bit more independent. They have the resources in their hands — the phones, apps, websites, podcasts. There’s so much more information than they had before. Where before you would just go up to the concierge desk and you would get a Where magazine, or something along those lines, [that is no longer the case]. The difference, though, is the people who worked the concierge desk were more in the know.
My very first idol in life was Johnny Carson. And it went from Johnny Carson to Joan Rivers, Joan Rivers to Arsenio Hall, et cetera, et cetera. Talk-show hosts are the people that get the stories out of people, okay? When I’m at that concierge desk and I have a guest I know nothing about, I need to find out about you to send you to the right places. Whereas you going to an app, you’re going to read somebody’s review, and you don’t even have a clue who that person is.
Atlanta guests have a lot of choices for their high-end hotel dollar. What makes the Loews such a special place?
They should choose the Loews no matter where they are. One of our mottos is, honestly, “We are family.” And that’s one of the things that I definitely believe in. What you see in front of the scenes is what you see behind the scenes. I mean, these are the people that we actually hang out with. These are the people that we actually talk to on the phone and text at night. We see each other more than we do our real families, so when you come to our hotels, we treat you like a family. You’re part of our family.
They never told me to be anybody but me. And you know, when you have those bad days as we all do, it’s great because they are like, “Just be you. Just do you.” Don’t be afraid that a VIP is coming in. You can do this.
That must feel good, having a company like that behind you.
It does! One of my fabulous stories that I love happened right here. I was walking through with Diana Ross — she tells me to call her Mama Ross. There was this guy in front of her. And he was starting to “fan girl,” and I was behind her going, “Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!”
So, he stopped her and I was like, “Here we go.” And he was like, “I just want to say thank you. It’s amazing what you do. Blah, blah, blah.” [Afterward] we continue on, her and I walking, and I was like, “I’m really sorry about that.” And she goes, “It’s part of what I do. You’re doing your job and I do my job, and we are going to do our jobs the best that we can do our jobs.” Wow, words of advice right there.
Besides the rare chance of seeing Diana Ross, what makes this particular hotel special?
Once again, the people. We have an amazing spa, Exhale, and a 24-hour gym. I mean you can go work out at 3 in the morning, if you want to go work out at 3 in the morning and get your stress out. I love that.
One of my new concierges and I were talking and I was like, “If you are sitting here talking to a guest and you find out the guest has kids and the kids are sitting there, send them cookies. Do something a little special. For birthdays and anniversaries, we have these big cards, and we have the whole entire staff sign the cards, and we send them birthday amenities.
I would never hire anybody on my team — unless they’re allergic — that won’t pet a dog. You know what I mean?
Plus, we have an amazing restaurant, Saltwood. The salad bar is fabulous. And on the weekends, we have this incredible brunch there. We have live entertainment, too.
And another thing, we’re in the heart of it all. That’s a big part. We are in the heart of it all. Piedmont Park is a block away from us. You have the High Museum of Art down the street from us. The Margaret Mitchell House is right there. You have over 75 restaurants within three blocks of this hotel. So, if you want Thai food, we can send you to Thai. If you want Indian food, we can send you Indian. You want Southern, we have Southern.
You know, there’s so much. You see Atlanta expanding every single day. This city is just blowing up.
What do you love about Atlanta?
First of all, the people’s personalities here. Everybody’s friendly.
Secondly, I like to see the transition. I mean to think that Black Panther was filmed here. The Avengers was filmed here. So, you walk down the street and you’re going to see production crews. A lot of guests go, “I think I just saw such-and-such on the street.” And what I tell them is, if you think you’re seeing them, you’re probably seeing them.
What are a few off-the-beaten-path attractions around town you suggest to guests?
I love the Center for Puppetry Arts. I don’t care what age you are. Even if you’re our age, if you go to the Center for Puppetry Arts, you’re going to find Sesame Street [memorabilia]. You’re going to find the Muppets. You’re going to go through the world of Jim Henson. You’re going to find puppets from around the world, shadow puppets, box puppets and all these different kinds of things you never realized. And they have a great family program, too, for the little ones.
What are a few timeless restaurants and new places that you recommend?
I love Pasta da Pulcinella. They’re amazing. It’s been there for 20 some years! And you’re eating in the living room or the dining room. But they actually make the pasta, which is fabulous. The sauce — well, “the gravy,” as they call it — is just fabulous. That’s one of those places that I can send people and they have that old charm to it, they’re going to get the hospitality.
Mary Mac’s, which is a classic.
The Vortex down the street from us. They have incredible tater tots.
Another place I love that is in the Highlands, Osteria 832. Osteria is fabulous. It’s right around the Horizon Theater, right over there. That’s another amazing spot.
Bar Mercado at Krog Street Market. It’s more Spanish tapas. It’s right off the Atlanta Beltline [multi-use trail], so that’s really great.
C. Ellet’s Steakhouse over at the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. That’s a great spot.
Anything the Fifth Group opens is always fabulous. South City Kitchen in Buckhead is just amazing.
I love Staplehouse, but it’s almost impossible to get a reservation there. But what I like about them is if you can’t get a reservation, you can go upstairs and there is a smaller menu and you don’t need reservations. You can still get the experience, but not the full experience.