When Sam Nazarian opened his first nightclub in Los Angeles in 2003, it wasn’t just the latest celebrity hot spot. This Sunset Boulevard club launched SBE, which evolved into a worldwide luxury lifestyle empire.
SBE was already building a reputation for hotels with bold, dynamic design and trendy destination restaurants (its stable included SLS hotels, The Redbury, The Bazaar by José Andrés and Katsuya). Then, in December 2016, SBE acquired Morgans Hotel Group for $805 million and more than doubled the number of properties in its portfolio to more than 100. Morgans’ well-known lifestyle brands Mondrian and Delano became SBE enterprises.
But Nazarian isn’t slowing the pace. Mondrian Doha — SBE’s first property in the Middle East — opened in October, and the new SLS Baha Mar in the Bahamas followed shortly thereafter in November. He maps out an ambitious pipeline with plans to open more than 25 hotels, and 44 restaurants and lounges by 2024. Nazarian says he anticipates four hotels, 12 restaurants and three lounges to debut in 2018 alone.
The company also is delving into experiential travel with The Suite Life by SBE. The brand-new luxury program upgrades every part of your trip to SLS South Beach or Delano South Beach. You’ll get access to private flights, airport pick-up in a BMW, a luxury cruise with VanDutch, a 24-hour “experience connoisseur” and more.
We talked to the trailblazing SBE CEO and founder about his first foray into the international hotel scene, how to curate memorable moments and the one hotel amenity that he keeps stocked at home.
A year after the Morgans acquisition, the hotels are fully integrated into SBE. In this new SBE era, how do you differentiate the SLS, Mondrian and Delano brands?
SBE creates destinations and 360-degree experiences for guests. While part of the SBE family, our hotel brands are unique so each guest experience is different. SLS offers a 21-century playful reinterpretation of the classic grand hotel experience, offering an irresistible combination of style, luxury, service, creativity and community.
Mondrian, on the other hand, oozes groundbreaking design, progressive programming and international allure. Delano is our nourishing retreat where sophistication and ease seamlessly blend with timeless design. All of our brands are trendsetting and have their own niches — together they form one cohesive lifestyle experience.
How has SBE been working to refine the service and experience at each?
In hospitality, we are expected to deliver comfort and service, but that is just the beginning. At SBE, we are here to take it one step further: we curate moments and create destinations. We are in the business of making memories, creating experiences, evoking feelings, and most of all, giving guests a reason to look back at their time with us and yearn to come back.
By managing restaurants and lounges, we’re able to expertly deliver a holistic experience with culinary and nightlife, for example, as an integral part of a hotel’s operation, rather than an add-on to a guest stay.
Take the newly opened Mondrian Doha, designed by Marcel Wanders. Our guests can have breakfast at Cut by Wolfgang Puck, then spend the day at the rooftop pool or have a relaxing treatment at the world’s largest ESPA spa. As evening hits, they can freshen up for dinner at Morimoto before going for drinks at Rise and then on to the Black Orchid lounge for the rest of the night. It is a complete destination, and service and experiences are key to this.
In the past, lifestyle hotels were in a separate category from luxury properties. But those lines are blurring. Where do you think lifestyle and luxury are intersecting?
The new luxury is all about experiences and lifestyle. Where once it was white tablecloths and white-gloved waiters, luxury customers are now looking for incredible experiences and exclusivity. The concepts are really interchangeable with lifestyle concepts being at the heart of all our hotels. It always goes back to curating memorable moments and creating destinations.
What made you choose Baha Mar in the Bahamas for SLS’s first international property?
We assess new destinations based on wider trends, demand, current landscape, suitability and connectivity as well as potential local partners. Graeme Davis, president of Baha Mar, and his team have been incredible partners to us, and we’re thrilled to be working with them on such a spectacular destination that is set to change how travelers and locals experience the Bahamas.
SLS Baha Mar truly embodies our 360-degree ethos. A hotel with incredible design and culinary concepts such as Cleo, Katsuya, Fi’lia and Bungalow Pool Bar & Grill and unmatched nightlife and entertainment options, including Monkey Bar, Bond, Privilege and Skybar, the first-ever rooftop bar in Nassau to open early this year.
Baha Mar’s shared world-class amenities complete the luxe experience with guest access to the beach and pools, the Caribbean’s largest casino, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature designed golf course and a flagship ESPA spa.
The new Mondrian Doha has the first Middle Eastern outposts of Masaharu Morimoto and Wolfgang Puck restaurants, the world’s largest ESPA spa and is the first Marcel Wanders-designed hotel in the region. How has it been received?
The hotel is doing extremely well. Qatar is a strong luxury lifestyle destination and our hotel with its impeccable design is really making an impression in the country. I recently traveled there, and already it is establishing itself as a creative hub ideal for Qatari connoisseurs and foreign travelers to the region looking for a unique stay. The restaurants are must-visit destinations on the Doha food scene.
The success of Mondrian Doha has paved the way for greater growth in the Middle East region for SBE overall. We have plans to introduce SLS Hotels and Residences to Doha as well as our Mondrian and Delano brands to Dubai as soon as this year. With each of these hotels, we will be featuring our award-winning portfolio of culinary and entertainment brands as well. The Middle East is a critical market for us and we’re excited to continue our momentum there with our fantastic partners and owners.
Tell us about SLS Lux Brickell. How does it differ from SLS Brickell?
SLS Lux Brickell is situated in the heart of one of Miami’s most vibrant business and cultural communities. SLS Lux is an extension of and complement to the successful SLS Brickell we opened in November 2016, whose residences immediately sold out. With 450 residences and 85 luxury suites designed by Yabu Pushelberg, SLS Lux Brickell will feature world-class art, private residential elevators, a tennis and fitness center and a sky rooftop pool, wine cellar and cigar room in addition to two SBE culinary and entertainment experiences, Katsuya and S Bar. We are set to open in the first half of 2018.
What are your favorite hotel amenities?
I think it can be agreed that one of the most important amenities in hotel rooms are the bath products. But, in most cases, they’re small and not really luxury or quality products. For this reason, we developed our own bath amenity lines, Ciel and Ciel Reserve, for our hotels. The quality — from the wet and dry product to packaging — is the definition of luxury and another way we like to provide our guests with best-in-class services. It’s also available for purchase, so I even started using it in my own home.
What would you say are the biggest lifestyle hotel trends right now?
At the upper end of the market, we are seeing more and more guests looking to stay in design-led accommodations with a comprehensive array of services at their disposal. We call this the “destination within a destination.” Design is crucial to a hotel’s success and is a core part of our DNA and a critical part of the overall experience we provide for our guests.
Many of our guests enjoy living their lives through social media, and here, image is everything. We want every inch of our hotels to create memorable experiences. Since the beginning, we’ve collaborated with visionary partners such as Philippe Starck, who has designed 12 of our current 23 hotels and 12 Katsuya restaurants, as well as Marcel Wanders, Yabu Pushelberg, Piero Lissoni, Matthew Rolston, Lenny Kravitz Design, DesignAgency and David Rockwell.
You’ve worked with chefs such as Katsuya Uechi, José Andrés and Michael Schwartz. Are there any new names that will be part of your restaurant expansion?
To remain trailblazers in the crowded field of hospitality, we make it a priority to continue to forge strategic alliances with visionary designers, architects, developers and chefs. Together with some of the world’s best chefs, we have incubated and grown award-winning, cutting-edge concepts.
Our most recent example is with chef Jose Icardi. Our new Argentinian concept, Leynia, debuted at Delano South Beach in early 2017 and has really flourished. We have more concepts and partners up our sleeves.