Gregory Peck was not what I
expected. His very name implies tall; hes on the short side. Hes
already well into a second career, but hes only 32, with a baby
face that suggests younger still. And though his ambitions would be
consistent with an outsized ego, he comes across as soft-spoken and
But what I found
most interesting about Peck was his approach to his hotel business.
He seems to pay scant attention to many of the current business and
marketing assumptions about hospitality.
Peck, with high
school friend Matt Moss, aims to build a hotel group. Their
business is five years old, and they have one hotel, The Crescent,
in Beverly Hills. Its a small but stylish property, 30-plus rooms
on two floors, with a well-regarded restaurant and bar.
If that property
was a baby step, their next seems like an attempt to leap the Grand
Canyon. Their current project is a 23-story tower near Cooper
Square in Manhattan, being built from the ground up. The amount of
money needed just to purchase that much New York real estate is
substantial, and the additional investment required to actually
build something that grand from scratch makes one hope, perhaps
somewhat paternalistically, that these guys know what the hell
When we met for
lunch, all I knew about Peck was that he was a former finance guy
who had worked with Ian Schrager, the godfather of the boutique and
style hotel movement, and that his strong interest in design had
inspired him to evolve from funding hotels to building
Its not an
unprecedented story line. Barry Sternlicht, who created Starwood,
was a real estate guy who became fascinated with the hotels being
built on the land he was trading. (Pecks partner, Moss, also has a
background in real estate.)
These days, money
seems easier to acquire for hotel investment when there is some
residential aspect, and I had assumed Peck would be incorporating
apartments into the new property.
But Peck seemed to
find the idea distasteful, from both a financial and philosophical
perspective. If the hotel is put to good use, you shouldnt have to
dilute the asset, he said. I dont think its a good approach. If
youre going to do a hotel, I say do a hotel. You have to be
comfortable with the model. Youre in the business of leasing rooms
for one night, and yes, that can be volatile. But we dont want to
be in any other business.
common sense even, dictates that you have to define your target
demographic, but Peck is equally contrarian when it comes to
structuring his hotel to appeal to a specific clientele.
Theres a trap in
saying, This is who we are for, Peck said. I want to be inclusive.
It wont be for everyone, but I want my parents and my
contemporaries to be comfortable there. I want guests from creative
and fashion, but also businesspeople.
Among the signature
features hes shooting for are fast room service, lots of storage
space and a performance venue thats evocative of the old Copacabana
There was a lot of
glamour back then, he said. Frankly, people have evolved beyond
trendy. Sleek design, yes, but not off the trend meter. Im not
interested in being the hottest place for five minutes. I want Old
World hospitality. Its more important for the staff to be
well-trained than good-looking. He paused. Well, nice to have both,
of course, but Ill err on the side of service.
Schrager as a friend and inspiration, and indeed, The Crescent
suggests an updated Morgans. A good hotel needs soul, Peck said.
Electricity. You need to feel it when you walk in the door. Ian
would simply say, Lightning strikes again when a hotel would open
Saying this and
actually producing lightning are, of course, two entirely different
matters, and it can be difficult for someone to move successfully
from bean-counter to visionary. I dont agree with all that Peck
says (people have evolved beyond trendy?), but I think his vision
incorporates a fundamental understanding that separates him from
the financial guys who fail when they try to create
seems to recognize, is ultimately more about chemistry than