Dream Hotel Group’s flagship Unscripted opens in NC

DURHAM, NC—There’s a void in the lifestyle market, and Dream Hotel Group (DHG), with its new Unscripted brand, expects to fill it in by moving new locations inward.

“The Unscripted brand was born largely from personal experience about three years ago,” Jay Stein, CEO of DHG, told Hotel Business. “After a few weeks on the road, we started asking ourselves why there aren’t more fun options in the middle of the country or so-called secondary markets.”

Boutique properties have traditionally been situated in larger coastal cities (e.g., New York, Los Angeles), but many of these types of hotels are now also making their way inward. “Now the whole country, coast to coast and everything in between, is also moving toward lifestyle,” Stein said. “We’re excited to be part of that movement.”

DHG saw opportunities in secondary and tertiary markets, and designed Unscripted to be “a new hospitality concept for the progressive, creative traveler,” according to the hotel company’s website. Though the term “progressive” can be used in a variety of ways, in this case the word is directed toward guests who are more aware, both politically and socially. “The world is far more progressive today than ever before,” said Cory Ingram, SVP of creative, DHG. “Just looking through the social lens alone, we’ve legalized gay marriage and embraced the transgender community. We finally have a voice to unify our thinking, and technology has been the portal for this. The way we eat, the way we exercise, the way we sit and meditate, our understanding of fashion and manufacturing—simply put, people today are more knowledgeable. They’re more aware—and that’s our customer. We want people who think outside the box and understand creativity.”

With regard to DHG’s properties, and the Unscripted brand specifically, the progressive, creative traveler wants the “perfect mix of consistency and uniqueness,” he said. These guests seek both value and experience when traveling. “They notice every detail, even if it’s in a subconscious way,” Ingram said. “These people are forward-thinking, vibrant, social and informed. They want to know where their food comes from and who made their clothes. They look to support small, independent businesses. They need to feel connected, both online and in real life, and are perceptive to visual and written language. This mindset is a natural fit for our brand’s offerings and the overall concept.”

Developed by DHG’s internal creative agency, Reverie Studio, under Ingram’s direction, Unscripted’s concept is similar to other brands under the hospitality group’s umbrella; after all, DHG has been in the lifestyle market for more than 25 years. The brand, however, differentiates its approach to marketing, positioning and messaging.

“To me, this brand has legs. It stands out from demographics of people and communities or culture and subcultures,” he said. “Unscripted has a unique positioning to itself so it can expand and contract its concept easily. Why do I believe it will become an emerging product? Well, in the three years since its initial ideation and inception, we’ve seen it manifest and translate easily across many conversations globally with developers.”

DHG’s new lifestyle brand strives to make great perks the rule—not the exception. “Through the Unscripted lens, amenities are not extras—they’re the physical manifestation of the brand’s commitment to providing guests with the best of the best and set the tone for the type of experience we want to provide,” said Christopher Mallon, VP of operations at DHG.

For instance, Unscripted Durham, DHG’s first Unscripted property, has a “Vegas-style poolside set up but without the exclusive reservations-required stuffiness,” Mallon said. “The amenities are also very high touch—we made our own beach bags and welcome mats to put your shoes on before you hit the pavement. People love that. It’s become one of several Instagrammable moments on the property and a lot of guests are purchasing them for home.” Unscripted’s amenities attempt to connect with both guests and locals.

Having undergone a multimillion-dollar redesign and revitalization, the property has 74 guestrooms and suites—each room paying tribute to 1962, when the hotel opened as the Jack Tar Motor Lodge. “Unscripted is a retro-inspired hotel with a fresh take on mid-century modern, celebrating the creativity, style and progressive energy of the era, with nods to its unique typography, design and cultural zeitgeist,” Ingram said. The hotel’s exterior architecture highlights the bones of the building, and original materials like stone and aluminum are used. “The guestrooms are awesome,” noted Ingram. “They are fun, well-appointed and approachable, accented by bright colors, geometric patterns and custom murals. Each space is full of distinct character, just like the city of Durham.” Designer Kevin Corn led the hotel’s interior design.

DHG noted that future Unscripted properties will remain small in size, less than 200 rooms.

Unscripted Durham has six F&B offerings: The Patio, a retro-inspired homage to poolside lounges; The Studio, a take on the classic mid-century “rec room”; allday, a coffee bar and marketplace; Pour Taproom, a pay-by-the-ounce taproom; the Neomonde Deli, a traditional and contemporary Mediterranean restaurant set to open early fall 2017; and Jack Tar Diner, a new lunch and dinner restaurant set to open in fall 2017.

“F&B is everything,” said Mallon. “I always say that we are building the hotel’s ethos first for the surrounding community. If we build something our neighbors love, the transient guest will too, because everyone wants to get a feel of the locale. This allows us to think and build outside the box. It also means not using a formula. It’s about understanding the local community, culture and what consumers want in that specific market.”

DHG collaborated with Austin Lawrence Partners, a Durham, NC-based real estate development firm, which brought in local partners as well, on the property. “Developers Greg and Jane Hills were looking for a hotel brand and management partner that was innovative, creative and entrepreneurial to breathe new life into the old motor lodge and bring action back to the location,” Stein said. “The stars aligned on a trip to New York when they grabbed a drink in the lobby bar of our flagship hotel, Dream Downtown in Chelsea.”

Depending on location, the Unscripted brand falls into the upper-midscale to upscale market tract. The brand expands DHG’s portfolio, which already includes Dream, Time and The Chatwal. “As a company, we’re committed to the philosophy that forward-thinking design, service and guest experiences should be available across market segments—and now we have something for everyone in the luxury, upper-upscale, upscale and upper-midscale tracts,” the hospitality group’s CEO pointed out.

Future Unscripted property locations include Dallas-Fort Worth, TX; Austin, TX; Cocobay Da Nang in Vietnam; and the Dominican Republic. DHG also has its sights on Phoenix; Orlando, FL; Long Island City, NY; Paris; England; and Central America.

“In many of these markets, there is a serious lack of true lifestyle product and nothing like we offer,” Stein said. “We plan on capitalizing on that oversight and have several deals nearing finalization. Every new location we open offers yet another way to explore the limits of the brand, and we’re excited to see it resonating so widely in emerging and established markets right out of the gate.” HB

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