How One Entrepreneur Is Bringing Back Old School Hospitality to the Hotel Industry
Hotelier Leo Grika shares his career journey, how he's customizing the hotel experience for guests, and his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Jessica Abo: Leo, how did you get into the hotel industry?
I stumbled upon a project in Culver City, an old, dilapidated, 49-room apartment motel, and the highest and best use was a boutique hotel. I loved the project and I loved the location. So, I started Grifka Group with that property as the first project.
How did you find your next hotel?
Finding a worthwhile and good project that's going to take several years to develop, takes time. I found the Farmer's Daughter Hotel, I started speaking to the owner, and he decided to sell the property to me. I loved the property because I live two blocks from the hotel so I walked by it all the time with my family. So, I was ecstatic to be able to take on a project like that.
What was that experience like during a pandemic?
It was a very, very scary time for hotel owners. That was a huge opportunity for me, being able to find a property like The Farmer's Daughter that was very prominent and well known in the area.
The hotel's new name is Short Stories. What can you share about the name?
The first meaning of Short Stories is in the '20s and '30s, there were many poets and authors living in this area, many of them working on short stories. Faulkner and Bukowski are two of the more well-known ones. The second meaning is when you stay at a hotel, you're not really creating a novel, you're just creating little short stories. I liked that. I liked that about the name. And lastly, it's only three stories, so it is literally short.
What can you share about the hotel in terms of the property?
The hotel has 66 rooms. There are three or four different room types, and we have a pool, which is great to have in Los Angeles. Short Stories restaurant is about 160 seats, and it has a really beautiful patio and courtyard area that is great for outdoor dining. Everything was overhauled. It's not too feminine, not too masculine, but just really pretty with very high-end materials. Almost everything in the room is custom-made. In the background there, you can see a Kenton Nelson print, who's a well-known artist, Los Angeles-based artist, which I think is very special compared to moat art you see in hotels today.
Given how important old-school hospitality is to you, how are you giving guests that experience?
With Short Stories the goal is to bring old school hospitality back because I saw, even pre-COVID, it sort of became the industry standard too, when you're checking in, they give you the key, and then it's like, 'We'll see you when you check out.' We started to see cost-cutting measures like mobile check-in and front desk kiosks instead of front desk attendants. At the same time, the ubiquity of Airbnb was coming onto the scene. The knee-jerk reaction from hotel owners was, 'Let's be more like Airbnb.' Which is pretty much like a stripped down, just, 'Here's your bed,' type of guest experience. So it really did something poor for the hotel experience, which at that point is no longer hospitable. The whole point of hospitality is to be hospitable. So with Short Stories, I'm bringing old-school hospitality back. So we're going to greet you by name. We're going to offer you a welcome drink. We're going to walk you to your room. We do turn down service, which is very unique for a small boutique hotel, and many other little touches like that, which really goes a long way for the total guest experience.
Why do you think it's so important for business owners to invest in local projects?
Someone who's local, who's developing in their backyard, knows the area better than anyone else. You're able to affect the end user the most. And that goes for any asset class, but specifically for hotels, because I know, for example, the Fairfax, West Hollywood, Beverly Grove area, I'm able to curate the guest experience more than a developer from across the country or even in another country.
Finally, what's your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I'll tell you what's worked for me. Never take no for an answer. I think it's important to listen, but if you let every 'no' stop you, there's no way that you'll be able to be a successful entrepreneur because there's always going to be naysayers. Hard work is extremely important. I mean, whatever you put in is what you're really going to get out in the end. Try to do something different. There's a lot of people who have been successful just doing the same thing as everyone else. But I think if you want to truly be in the upper echelon of entrepreneurs, you have to try to do something different and set yourself apart because people will surely take notice.