Robert Hannigan has worked with San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants for a decade, leading operations for hotels in Washington, D.C.; San Diego; Los Angeles; and Portland, Ore.
He's now come to the Queen City as the general manager for Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel, the 217-room hotel at Third and Church streets that's on track for a late-October opening. Among other duties, Hannigan is tasked with filling about 200 hotel and food and beverage positions, ranging from managerial roles, sous chefs, bartenders, room attendants and banquet chefs.
Hannigan is hoping Kimpton's accolades-earning employee culture and benefits will help draw in the best talent for those positions, though he acknowledges that the competition for labor is fierce, especially with the significant supply of hotel rooms coming online in the next several quarters.
"There’s always a concern about finding not only the right number of people, but the right people themselves," he said. "But we're going to keep looking."
Finishing work is underway at Kimpton Tryon Park, with furniture being loaded in and rooms on floors four to 10 at a significant completion point. Construction remains underway for the hotel's ground-floor Italian restaurant, Angeline's, and a rooftop bar called Merchant & Trade.
Hannigan recently spoke to the Charlotte Business Journal about the upcoming hotel, what the Kimpton brand is about and his take on the local hotel market. Excerpts have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What would you say are some of the key characteristics of a Kimpton hotel?
It’s very entrepreneurial. In a lot of other working environments in the hospitality industry, I was handed a set of rules — "Do this, say that" — and that's good. It taught me consistency and a good foundation for the operational environment. With Kimpton, we have the same benchmarks we have to hit: we have to have happy employees; we have to have a profitable business; we have to have a highly regarded hotel within our community; obviously, we have to have happy guests. But how someone gets there is left up to the individual property within that market.
We say, "OK, how do we make this brand and this hotel successful in Charlotte?" I think the amount of leeway I get to getting us there is very refreshing. That philosophy will trickle down to the employee level. We are not rigid in terms of operating structure. There’s going to be a lot of consistency in important areas — food service, check-in processes, handling guests’ information. There’s going to be a lot of standardization there to make sure that we’re operating in a responsible manner but how we take to the field for service recovery ... we want them to approach it with a lot of heart and a lot of compassion, as opposed to overstructuring the environment.
So what's specific to the Charlotte market in the upcoming Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel?
We have a social hour that’s daily from 5 to 6 p.m. We typically offer poured wines by the glass, we’ll have craft beers, we might have a fun cocktail. We will not say, "You must pour this Californian wine or this beer because it’s the least expensive." We’ll say, "OK, let’s invite Sugar Creek Brewing or Olde Mecklenburg in to collaborate with us with tastings and flights," or "Let’s find a great regional wine partner" — or, in the absence of that, let’s find a business that is female-owned, minority-owned or someone with a really compelling story.
Rather than, "Let’s do a steakhouse because it has X% of profitability," what does Charlotte want? We have found that there is opportunity for a great Italian-inspired restaurant, Angeline's, and Merchant & Trade is going to have a great, fun food menu and cocktails. We’ll look at the market and go, "What do we suspect Charlotte needs? Let’s do some research, let’s get out and talk to the community, let’s go see what’s missing."
In uptown Charlotte, there is a significant number of hotels in different stages of development. What does Kimpton have to offer that is either not here or perhaps is perceived to be lacking?
I think a top-flight culinary and cocktail program is something that the community is very excited about, and a very individualized spirit of service, where our staff is approaching you, wanting to help you on a personal level, as opposed to "This is my role; I’m going to take it so far and hand it off to the next person."
What are your key thoughts or takeaways looking at the hotel market here?
I am very excited about it. I know there are other hotels coming online. I think having a good, broad-based portfolio is important. You can’t have a "one and done" environment. Two or three large hotels is not going to drive additional jobs or help us with city-wide conventions. We actually need a good, healthy inventory of hotels here in the city.
Do you see any potential concerns in the market?
No, not yet. What’s coming online now are smaller key counts. What I’m seeing is 150-key hotels, 250-key hotels ... I believe there is the bandwidth for a convention hotel, something north of 1,000 rooms, but what’s coming to the market now, I think the city is going to be able to absorb without too much trouble.
Would you say we’re behind in supply right now?
It seems to be. That’s the feedback I’ve gotten — whether that was the Great Recession or deals penciling out in due course. These hotels coming online right now seem to be pretty highly anticipated. I think the community is very excited about it — I know we are. It’s going to be great to be part of a new crop of hospitality in the community.
Charlotte Business Journal