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HB EXCLUSIVE: Journal Hotels taps new CEO

LOS ANGELES—Sometimes outsourcing management isn’t what’s best for a property. There are also times where building out a new company to fulfill a need is also worth considering. Case in point, the underlying motivation behind Journal Hotels.

“It’s been great so far,” said Stephen Brandman, CEO of Journal Hotels “Obviously, it’s a very familiar place for me—some of the hotels—because The Hollywood Roosevelt [in Los Angeles]is a place that I helped create and put on a map many years ago, so it’s very comfortable having that as the foundation of Journal Hotels.”

Stephen Brandman
Journal Hotels

Since his appointment, he’s been reviewing the levels of operation at each of the properties—making sure service levels are appropriate and there’s consistency. Additionally, he signed the paperwork to acquire a 200-room property in New York, which will have a restaurant, a rooftop bar and a lounge. “There’s a lot of excitement for us around this very luxurious lifestyle hotel that we’ll be managing,” Brandman said. The management company could not disclose any additional details about the new property.

In his view, Journal is a “collection of hotels.” Journal now owns and operates buildings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palm Springs and Chicago. Created by Goodwin Gaw and David Chang, the owners of The Hollywood Roosevelt, Journal came to life fairly recently—both Gaw and Chang developed the idea a year ago. “We felt with the right people it would be better to create our own than go to a third party,” Chang explained.

Despite having been approached by several hoteliers and management companies over the years, both Gaw and Chang decided to move forward with the management company’s newly appointed CEO (they “felt most comfortable partnering” with him, Gaw told Hotel Business). “Over 10 years ago, Stephen approached us to have his old management company, Thompson Hotels, manage the Hollywood Roosevelt,” Gaw said. “When he sold the company a few years ago, we started thinking about what we would do in the future.” Brandman was the co-founder and CEO of Thompson Hotels and Commune Hotels before selling his stake in the companies. While he oversees Journal’s affiliated properties, both Gaw and Chang will continue assisting Journal with long-term strategy and seeking out equity positions in properties.

Establishing the framework for Journal’s culture has been another one of the CEO’s immediate priorities. “My goal is to ensure there’s a company culture that will exist, as I’ve created in the past when I’ve founded lifestyle companies,” he said. Oftentimes, there’s a lack of appreciation for employees, and this, according to him, will not be the case at Journal.

Being open to ideas keeps a company’s culture fresh. Journal’s approach to its own personality will mix the new and the old. “The hospitality industry is just like everything else,” he said. “There’s an evolution to our industry, and so what worked five years ago doesn’t necessarily work today. I’m sensitive to that, and I want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward.” There are timeless considerations, however: ensuring revenue at each property is where it should be; ensuring expense management is in place; and identifying staff dedicated to satisfying guest needs.

He attributes part of his success within the lifestyle market to the way he’s treated his employees and colleagues over the years; it’s a give-and-take relationship. “I think it goes back to mutual respect,” Brandman said, responding to a question about preventing employee turnover, a concern in the industry. “I’ve always tried to impress upon my team that everybody has a place at the table and everybody’s valuable.”

The owners of The Hollywood Roosevelt established Journal Hotels to avoid working with a third party. INSET: The Hollywood Roosevelt in 1985

Many of Journal’s properties will  undergo renovations in the near future. The plan for The Hollywood Roosevelt, which recently underwent a $25-million revamp, is to create a new restaurant with a one-star Michelin chef. Located in Desert Hot Springs, CA, Two Bunch Palms, an adults-only resort dating back to 1930, is in the process of a $20-million renovation (changes are being made to guestrooms, spa spaces, public spaces and the restaurant located on the property). The 285-room Public Chicago will undergo room and restaurant upgrades, in addition to a rebrand at the end of July of this year. A new restaurant is being installed at the 12-story Hotel G in San Francisco.

Journal’s move into New York isn’t the only new market it sees opportunities in (although, the company’s CEO does foresee acquiring more properties in the Big Apple). It will also add locations to its existing Los Angeles portfolio. New markets will include Miami, as well as two international markets: London and Canada. “We’d like to think that we’ll, in the first few years, develop approximately three hotels a year,” he said, noting Journal’s ambition to also have properties in Boston and Washington, DC. The management company’s ideal property size is anywhere between 100-500 rooms.

While much has changed in the industry over the years, particularly within the management space, the focus remains on the guest. “The only way that you can deliver a great guest experience is if you have some great staff that have been trained properly,” he said, adding that being able to provide employees with the right technology is also of the utmost importance. “If you have the right technology, if you have the right staff and train them properly—you care about them—ultimately you can give great service to your guests,” he continued.

For Journal, keeping guests “on the compound” is essential. “We want to make sure we have dynamic F&B programs and things to make the guests want to stay on the compound, whether the compound is a 100-room property or it’s a 300-room property; we want to ensure there’s lots going on for them to enjoy while they’re staying with us,” said Brandman, who also acknowledged the importance of connecting a property locally through strong F&B programs. HB

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