Charleston-based restaurant group Indigo Road is venturing into the lodging business, and according to its new head of hotel operations, the company's food-and-beverage expertise will be key to having a competitive edge.
"Never ask a hotel guy to do your restaurant, but don't hesitate to ask a restaurant guy to do your hotel," said industry veteran Larry Spelts, president of Indigo Road's new lodging division.
Spelts, a former vice president of business development for Charlestowne Hotels, first met Indigo Road founder Steve Palmer 20 years ago, working at Charleston's Planters Inn, where they helped launch the acclaimed Peninsula Grill.
Indigo Road is behind multiple downtown Charleston dining venues, such as The Macintosh, O-Ku, Indaco, Mercantile and Mash and The Cedar Room. The company operates 24 restaurants across the Southeast, in cities that include Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh. Its first hotel projects are boutique concepts being developed at historic properties in Asheville and Savannah.
Spelts, who started his career in food and beverage but has spent more time in the hotel business, said that the food service side is always more difficult, so having a restaurant group venture into the hotel space makes much more sense to him than the reverse.
And with hotels facing the competition of short-term rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo, Spelts said high-quality food and beverage programs are crucial.
"That's something that Airbnb just cannot offer," he said.
In his previous positions with Expotel Hospitality and Charlestowne Hotels, Spelts said he sometimes had difficulty securing some attractive hotel deals because of a lack of food and beverage capability.
"Now I have in my tool box this amazing food and beverage program, and I'm just ready to set the hotel world on fire," Spelts said.
Spelts said he thinks the successful hotels of the near future will have three key components: an authentic feel, opportunities for discovery — that's where food and beverage comes in, Spelts said — and services that contribute to the well-being of guests, whether it's healthy ingredients for the F&B program or other aspects of the growing trend of wellness tourism.
Indigo Road's lodging projects will likely focus on Southeast cities where the group already has restaurant holdings, Spelts said, though they'll be open to "any market that makes sense for an experience-driven hotel." They are also looking to take on a project in Charleston, though one isn't lined up yet.
For the projects in development in Asheville and Savannah, Spelts said they're anticipating bringing them to market in mid-2021. Branding and other details of the projects are still being determined.