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Yvonne Lembi-Detert and Her Multiple Personalities

September 18, 2006 at 10:08 AM | by | Comments (0)

We recently got a chance to speak with Yvonne Lembi-Detert, the woman behind Personality Hotels--a small boutique hotel group in San Francisco that includes Hotel Union Square, Kensington Park, Hotel Diva and Hotel Metropolis. Each hotel has a distinct personality, decor and vibe, but all place customer service at the top of their priorities.

Since Yvonne is the first woman hotelier we've encountered and a hotelier who is very involved in the day-to-day operations, we had plenty of questions for her about her hotels and the hotel world at large.

HotelChatter:
How did you get started in the boutique hotel business and when?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
My first hotel was the Hotel Union Square. We purchased it when it was the Golden State Hotel in 1977 and reopened it in 1982. Bill Kimpton was just coming into the picture then too. There was nothing else like it. And the footprint of the building only had a 130 rooms so it wasn't a big hotel anyways. Then I just branded it as a boutique hotel.

Originally my father individually owned the hotels and I would renovate and reopen them. I'm the youngest in my family and no one else had taken an interest in hotels so I really didn't have a choice.

HotelChatter:
How old were you?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
I was 18 in 1982.

HotelChatter:
Ooh! Do you know Chip Conley of JDV Hospitality who started his hotelier career in San Fran around the same time?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
I do! Chip, before he even got started, wanted to work for me because he liked what I was doing. But in the end, I felt we would be stepping over each other's boundaries. Still, he followed in my footsteps. He hired my COO from me and my interior designers and he even wanted the name Personality Hotels. I said no but there are no hard feelings between us.

More on Yvonne and her hotels post-click.

HotelChatter:
How did you come up with the name  Personality Hotels?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
Originally, we were the Hotel Group of America, but I kept getting so many guest comments about how the hotels have such personality, that I changed it in 1992. Also, I wanted to give my guests a place to stay that lets them be their own personality and they can do it the different hotels that we have.

HotelChatter:
Of your hotels--Hotel Diva, Hotel Union Square, Kensington Park, Metropolis--what's your favorite one?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
The Metropolis. Its our freestanding hotel and the decor is the elements of life-earth wind fire and water. We also opened a new restaurant in there, Farmer Brown, that serves organic soul food. Everything's hand made and just has a great menu.  To me, it's my favorite because I love the rooms. They have huge double-hung windows and views that you don't normally see in San Francisco of the bay and its  industrial section. I also love the zen playfulness and the location. We're right near where the new Bloomingdale's is opening.

HotelChatter:
What is your biggest challenge running these hotels?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
Keeping the lines of communication open. Making sure my front desk staff to my housekeeping know what's going on. I can be a creator, but if I don't follow through then I lose. Also, keeping my staff excited, helping them make a guest experience fun and recognizing guests on a first-name basis. As old-fashioned as it sounds, that kind of service is so important in this industry.

HotelChatter:
What's on the horizon for Personality Hotels?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
We're building a new hotel from scratch behind Union Square called M31 and what's important to me is to make sure that the hotel is really in touch with the latest and greatest technology. We're also partnering with Surface magazine to renovate the Hotel Union Square this January.

At the Diva, we have little lounges on each floor that we are turning into designer showcases. Our first one is by lighting designer, Pablo lighting, who is showcasing his light switches and light sculptures. Also, fashion designer Colleen Quinn isdoing a lounge. She was recently nominated at the San Fran fashion week. One of her dresses isgoing to hang from the ceiling as a sculpture.

Another lounge features Pete the Ox skateboards. He's doing a Diva skateboard especially for us. The furniture store Design within Reach also will do a lounge. They just did our Kids Suite at the Hotel Diva. Hopefully all these showcases will be done by October and we'll have a launch party in November.

HotelChatter:
Any thoughts on the hotel business today?

Yvonne Lembi-Detert:
The business is getting out of hand. Movie people want a hotel. Designers want a hotel. They are losing touch with guests but at the same time giving us all competition to be smarter, more effective and be creative.  For example, Nicky Hilton. She won't want to have anything to do with day to day operations, its a headache! I mean, you need to be creative and think of out the box but also come back to reality.

Stay tuned later today for more on Yvonne and her adventures in blogging!

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· These Dogs Got Personality [HotelChatter]

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