When sbe Group broke ground at the site of the old Ritz Hotel on Collins Avenue to create the high-style SLS Hotel South Beach, that was only the beginning of what the rapidly expanding Los Angeles-based hospitality group had in store for Miami. With the acquisition of the iconic Raleigh hotel on the same block, and this month’s opening of the rock ‘n roll Redbury South Beach across the street, they’ve secured a foothold on the South Beach hospitality landscape.
While the brand is expanding to other cities (Las Vegas, New York, Seattle, Philadelphia and abroad), they’re not finished with their mark on Miami. A 600 unit SLS residential tower and hotel is set to open in Brickell in 2016 and Hyde Midtown is another residential lifestyle concept in the works. To oversee the management of these properties, sbe dispatched Thomas Meding from his post in Los Angeles with the group to become Miami's Area Vice President.
Originally from Hamburg, Germany, the hospitality veteran has over 17 years of management experience in the industry with properties such as SLS Beverly Hills, Le Parker Meridian Palm Springs and The Ritz-Carlton. We sat down with Meding to talk about his approach to hospitality and what it is about Miami that sbe has gravitated to.
What initially attracted you to the hospitality industry?
I love people--people of all kinds and all walks of life. I think that was really the attraction. I enjoy having a great time. I enjoy the vibe and the energy of the hotel industry as a whole. The opportunity to travel, meeting new people and cultures, I think that was initially the attraction. Growing up we were traveling quite frequently and for some odd reason I was always by the kitchen and the back of the house, right by the service staff, and the bug just stuck. It really, really did.
Coming from L.A. to Miami with sbe, how does the Miami market differ?
The uniqueness in Miami really is the people. It’s a very genuine, fun and life-loving population, which is perfect for the hotel industry.
What is sbe’s brand culture?
It really is genuine hospitality, straightforward, very approachable. We want to be a part of the fabric of the community. We really would love for the locals to be supporting us. The community has, as a matter of fact. We don’t want to be known as, oh, here are the kids from L.A., they know it all. It’s a very humble approach on service, very straightforward, not stuffy, unpretentious.
What’s the hallmark of stellar hospitality?
We proactively try to anticipate anything a guest might want. And at SLS, as within the industry, service is always a live act. Things do go wrong, and it’s also how you recover. If things go sideways, which naturally happens, you will never hear an excuse from us. We offer a very sincere apology and then fix it right away. You will never leave dissatisfied. It’s like a sport. Even if you fumble, you still have a chance to score. It’s how you recover and how you make up for it in a very genuine way, you make things right.
What is the goal with the acquisition of The Raleigh?
The Raleigh is really the icon on South Beach. It has, right or wrong, it has lost a little bit of its patina, it’s a little bit tired, and we just look at it, it has such potential, it’s such a jewel. If you look at the property as a whole, if you look at the incredible pool, it’s like the most photographed pool in the world, so Sam Nazarian looked at it—he has some very fond memories from the early days at The Raleigh—and we partnered up with [developer] David Edelstein. Between the two of them, we are just now getting ready for a full renovation starting next year to really bring The Raleigh back to the iconic status that it once had and that we really feel it deserves.
What will the renovation involve?
It will pretty much be from A to Z. It will be a redo of the landscaping. We’re not going to be touching the pool, but we really want to make sure it’s going to be true to what The Raleigh once was, what we feel it should and could be and then really working within those confinements, bringing The Raleigh back to its old glory. It will all be redone in true Raleigh fashion because it’s very bohemian, very eclectic. It’s not about the bling and the high energy. It’s a little bit more subdued, very elegant.
You opened The Redbury across the street on Collins Avenue on December 1. How does that property fit into the sbe portfolio?
It’s the little sister to the one in Hollywood. The Redbury concept really is the rock 'n roll kind of culture. It originated in Hollywood and it’s very entrenched in Hollywood overall. It’s more for the hipster. We felt, looking at Miami and looking at South Beach, in particular, there’s a place for it. It’s a very, very different approach within the sbe culture. It’s a different model from a service aspect, but it’s all about being approachable, having great rooms. The rooms are just incredible. The rooms are very, very large. The ownership between [Nazarian], Bob Heyat and Larry Levy have done an incredible job renovating the property.
It really allows us now in South Beach for everything that we have in the sbe pipeline, all of our customers, all of our friends and family that are coming to Miami, we can offer them what they’d like to have. Whether it’s high energy, high vibe, bling, an incredible, playful, contemporary Philippe Starck experience or Lenny Kravitz in the penthouse—it’s almost like a little supermodel on steroids, that’s really what the SLS really is, in a very, very good way. Or, if you just want to participate in all of this, but you don’t necessarily want to stay here, then we have The Raleigh. It’s very tucked away. You can read a book, have a glass of wine or your gin and tonic. Or the Redbury, it’s a little bit more hipster, it’s a rock 'n roll kind of chic. The rooms have record players and vinyls. So no matter what it is you like to do, you have all of these options to you.
The other fun part is also, no matter where you stay with us in Miami, if you go and dine at any of our bars or restaurants, you can charge everything to your room. You don’t have to carry your wallet, as long as you move within the sbe family, and that’s a huge plus. That was always Sam’s vision, to have all of these aspects—keeping everyone contained within the family, listening to the feedback and creating concepts from there. Sam has been an incredible visionary making sbe what it is today.
Tell us about the residential SLS development in Brickell?
We’re looking at 140 to 150 [hotel rooms] and 450 residences on top. It will be over the next two years, and hopefully opening in the first part of 2016. It’s going to have a great vibe and all the services that SLS has to offer, residents can partake of. It’s going to have a large pool deck, probably the largest in Miami. It’s about 200 yards in length. It’s huge. And then, of course, we’ll have two or three restaurant concepts. One of them, we’re talking to Michael Schwartz, an incredible restaurateur and culinarian, as well as José [Andrés], our staple. It’s also 10,000 square-feet of meeting space and a large spa component.
You’ve lived in Miami for almost a year, how do you enjoy it?
I love Miami. I absolutely love Miami. It’s a very, very livable city. It’s a fantastic community. The people are just fantastic. Everybody lives and lets live. And what is there not to like about Miami? That’s always my counter question. The climate is great. You have the beach. It’s very centrally located in my book. Everything is only a three-hour flight away, unless you’re going to Europe or going to the west coast. Really, it’s like the epicenter for everything that’s going to come. If you look at the overall economy in Miami, and the increase and influx of investments coming in, whether it’s in the hospitality industry or the other markets, I think we just haven’t even scratched the ceiling yet. I think there’s so much more to come.
How do you spend your time when you’re not in the hotel?
Spending time with the family, taking out the boat, going cruising around the bay, running around the water, playing soccer with the kids [two boys, age seven and nine]. Also, going out for dinner. The kids grew up in the industry and they’ve been running around hotels since as long as they could walk. And my wife Alyssa is almost like the mini mayor of Miami. She has her circle of friends and it’s just really nice. At the end of the day whenever you’re in the industry, the hospitality industry, it’s not just a job. It really becomes part of your life, and it’s the lifestyle that you do choose.