Ben Weprin, Graduate Hotels founder and CEO, says in the introduction to his new book from Rizzoli that:
“In my opinion, the two most important days in your life are the day you decide where to go to college and the day you decide who you want to be.”
He went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He got immersed in football. Learned the words to “Rocky Top.” And took off on multiple road trips.
And then he decided to be a hotelier.
His first Graduate Hotel opened in 2014. Now he sits atop a chain of 32, with three more scheduled to open soon.
These are no ordinary hotels. They’re more like cultural mirrors of the college campuses, the communities, and the towns in which they’re located.
Weprin works hand in glove with Krissy Melendez, Graduate Hotel’s head of design, to tailor each hotel to the culture it’s immersed in.
“He and I pull together the vision for each property,” Melendez says. “We have a 10-person design studio to keep existing properties up to speed and maintained in the way they were originally envisioned.”
A self-confessed research geek, Melendez prides herself on attention to detail. “When the acquisition team comes to us and is ready to pull the trigger, we’ll start with heavy research,” she says. “I love taking the time to visit and tour the campus so I understand the school and culture.”
She started out that way when she was an interior design student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “My vacation time was in the summer when school wasn’t in session – I went to the Dock, the park, and the zoo,” she says. “I had no internship – I just wanted to work and feel like a local.”
Now she gets paid to do that – in places like Auburn, Alabama. “We looked at the university buildings and the deli shop and the pizza shop and the dive bars – all those experiences for students or guests,” she says. “We experience that first-hand and then tell the story.”
It’s a little like writing a love letter to the community. Take New Haven: “New Haven is famous for three old pizza places,” she says. “And we have a phone booth with a dial-up phone – it refers to a local tradition. We make each space feel like it’s an extension of the community.”
It’s no small feat. Graduate Hotels range in size from 52 rooms in Madison to 300 in Minneapolis. And no hotel’s the same – some are historic preservation projects, while others are built from the ground up.
But each is tailored to its school or community or city.
In Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, over each bed in every Graduate room is a stuffed and mounted, black-banded, deep-sea gamefish.
Like the students at U.Va., it has a name.
It’s a Wahoo.
For more, go here.