HB EXCLUSIVE: Maverick Hotels & Restaurants makes debut

CHICAGO—There’s a new hospitality operator in town—Maverick Hotels & Restaurants. While the company’s story is new, Maverick’s top executive’s history goes back decades.

“I committed myself to spending the first six months really establishing the company and what our DNA is about, and what I felt would set us apart from other hotel companies,” said Bob Habeeb, president and CEO of Maverick, a management company the former First Hospitality Group (FHG) executive established in December 2017.

Many industry leaders know Habeeb, a 35-year hotel vet, for his lengthy career at FHG, where he—along with other FHG executives—reshaped the focus of the company’s portfolio, geographically restricting the majority of FHG’s managed properties to the Midwest in an attempt to provide clients with an additional area of market expertise.

FHG’s current portfolio is made up of 41 properties with 6,708 keys in a total of nine states. Twenty-one brands are represented in the management company’s portfolio.

On the first of this year, he left FHG, where he’d been for 22 years. “Loved every day of it—first to last,” Habeeb said. Following his departure, FHG hired David Duncan as president in May 2018 and tapped founder Stephen Schwartz as CEO.

The Navy Pier hotel is scheduled to open in 2020.

In the months following his exit, FHG’s former top executive began building his own management company from the ground up.

“I’d always had this desire to start my own firm,” Habeeb said. “I have some thoughts on where the industry is going, and what I think the new trends are, and things just kind of came together timing-wise—moved, got married.”

While there were personal reasons behind his decision to establish a new management company, the market conditions, to Maverick’s top leader, seemed to be just right, too.

“I think we’re really on the precipice of a different kind of hotel industry,” he said. “I think we all see it every day in everything we do. Consumer preferences are changing. The workforce is changing. Owner expectations are changing.”

As for the meaning behind the name, Maverick embraces the “spirit of substance over form, bringing the creativity and talent of inspired individuals together to accomplish great things,” according to the company’s website.

When developing the brand, one of the main challenges for him was building a team from scratch. “I went from being in an environment where I was surrounded by throngs of people every day to one where I was starting from zero and hiring employees number one, two, three, four, five and so on,” Habeeb said.

At the moment, the company’s home office team is made up of about a dozen or so people.

“We hope to offer a work environment in keeping with where we think the modern workplace is going,” he said. “Our office in the South Loop is like a loft office; it’s an informal space. It’s a no-tie office. People are welcome to work from home. Our accounting functions and so on will all be outsourced from providers that offer that service in the cloud.”

Currently in its portfolio is the Navy Pier hotel, which will operate as a Curio Collection by Hilton property after it opens in Q1 2020. First announced in April 2016, the property, adjacent to Festival Hall at the eastern end of the Navy Pier, will have 220 guestrooms and a 30,000-sq.-ft. rooftop restaurant and bar.

FHG originally had this project in its portfolio.

“The first deal was the Navy Pier hotel development deal, which I had started at FHG, and it was a project that I had invested a lot of time in,” Habeeb said. “Steve and I were able to work out terms, where Maverick was able to assume that development project.”

Even though Maverick’s current portfolio only consists of one property, there are more deals in the works. Currently, the company is working on a project in the Chinatown section in the city, which, according to Habeeb, will be the first branded hotel in the neighborhood. In total, Maverick has four definite construction projects and four more in various stages of the pipeline—all ground-up construction.

“We want to be opportunity driven,” he said. “We’re trying to build a company that’s capable of handling multiple assignments.”

For Maverick, according to Habeeb, select-service is “definitely still a great investment”; however, due to the company’s ability to manage restaurants, too, there will be a continued focus on full-service properties—especially those offering guests rooftop bars. Maverick is open to not only managing properties but also investing in them.

“We want Maverick to be known for being incredibly responsive to owners’ desires and delivering the bottom line for owners, which is obviously the hallmark of any good company,” Habeeb said. “We want to pride ourselves on being a company that listens, and listens to our team members, listens to our guests, and, obviously, listens to our investors.” HB

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