Foodies at the Exchange, the restaurant in the Freehand Los
Angeles hotel-hostel, will pony up $46 for chraime, a Sephardic Jewish dish
with prawns, squid and mussels. And if a food coma should set in, they can pay
less than $60 for a bed in a shared room.
The high-brow/budget-conscious hybrid is an unusual model
for traditional hotels, but the approach is fueling steady growth at two
urban-oriented chainlets that are combining acclaimed restaurants and bars with
stylish but sparse rooms that compete with some midscale hotels on price.
A Freehand competitor, Paris-based Mama Shelter, whose first
property debuted in its home city in 2008, opened a 125-room hotel in Belgrade,
Serbia, last month and will unveil a 238-room hotel in Prague, Czech Republic,
Having tapped Michelin-starred French chef Guy Savoy as a
consultant, Mama Shelter operates all of the restaurants and bars in its seven
properties. In an industry where full-service hotels generate about 30% of
their annual revenue from food and beverage sales, 52% of the company's $62
million in annual revenue is from its restaurants and bars, according to
co-founder Jeremie Trigano.
Mama Shelter, whose investors include AccorHotels, pays
commissions on agent bookings.
Meanwhile, New York's Sydell Group, whose properties include
the Big Apple's NoMad Hotel, debuted its Freehand hotel-hostel hybrid concept --
258 beds in 80 rooms -- in Miami in 2012, then added a Chicago property in
2015. The Freehand Los Angeles opened last June with 167 private rooms and 59
shared rooms, while the Freehand New York opened in January.
Beyond their whimsical designs, both Freehand and Mama
Shelter hotels have come to be known for their restaurants and bars.
The rooftop bar at Mama Shelter's Los Angeles outpost, which
opened in Hollywood in 2015, was tapped the following year by LA Weekly as the
city's Best Rooftop Bar. The Freehand Miami's Broken Shaker cocktail bar and
lounge was listed among Esquire's 24 best bars in the U.S. last year, and the
Freehand Los Angeles' Exchange, which offers Israeli, Mexican and Asian
cuisines, was listed in 2017 as Eater LA's readers' choice for Most Gorgeous
Restaurant of the Year.
Freehand and Mama Shelter appear to be turning hotels'
traditional food and beverage model on its head. While many full-service hotels
grapple with cash-burning room service operations and minibars, the two
chainlets have largely eschewed those amenities, though Mama Shelter has
vending machines at its properties, and instead have made their restaurants and
bars a focal point.
For example, the Freehand Miami's Broken Shaker was
conceptualized by restaurant and bar consultants Bar Lab as a pop-up bar. It
has since become a permanent fixture and spawned Broken Shaker lounges at the
Freehands in Chicago and Los Angeles. Trigano said Mama Shelter executives
consult with Savoy approximately every three weeks to tweak the company's menus
"We wouldn't outsource our food and beverage for a
million dollars," said Trigano, whose father and Mama Shelter co-founder,
Serge Trigano, was formerly CEO of Club Med.
He added that the restaurant's popularity has helped secure
"We really manage to make money where other brands with
big lobbies and cafeterias for breakfast don't," he said.
As for Freehand's future, Sydell Group said recently there
were no plans for additional properties.
Having opened in New York at what was previously the George
Washington Hotel, the 395-room Freehand New York is both the chain's largest
property and its only one without shared rooms. The hotel also features
food-and-beverage operations overseen by New York-based neighborhood-restaurant
specialist Gabriel Stulman (Jeffrey's Grocery, Joseph Leonard).
Mama Shelter, on the other hand, is scheduled to add a
property in Toulouse, France, later this year, and next year will open hotels
in Lisbon and London as well as a second Paris location. The company is also in
discussions to convert an existing hotel in Washington into its second U.S.
Either way, both chains will attempt to stick with moderate
room-pricing models, even as their restaurants attract a more affluent
clientele. As of last week, late-May weekend rates at the Freehand New York
were starting at less than $300 a night, which is reasonable by Manhattan
Mama Shelter's Trigano is also vowing to keep room rates
down, listing lifestyle chains like the Ace or Marriott's newer Moxy brand as
"I would say we're cheap relative to so-called
lifestyle brands," Trigano said. "We're a budget hotel at the end of