Possibilities of an ill Repute VenueOctober 25, 2012 By: Steve Lewis
Ravi Patel fell into it; which seems to be his modus operandi. The young hotelier got lost one day and stumbled across a hotel of ill repute a hundred feet from the Queensboro Bridge. However, the location had a spectacular view of the river and Manhattan skyline and Patel saw the possibilities.
His investment in 2004, in a neighborhood more known for its desolation and those who seek out those lonely places, has paid off big time. Now, all around him are newer hotels, luxury high rises and new parks. Long Island City is booming and Ravi was there before most.
Patel’s hotel Ravel, a combination of his first and last name, is sold out constantly and its food and beverage components have brought revelers from all over.
Recently, he invested in a nightclub in Manhattan’s lower eastside named Hotel Chantelle. Although there are no guest rooms, Patel made it a smash hit after the operator he invested in couldn’t make it fly. The once quiet neighborhood is now bustling with other trendy boutiques restaurants, clubs and bars.
Ravi is either real lucky or real good. Either way he made something that wasn’t “happening” a major success. Today, he is working on the expansion of his highly successful hotel Ravel. Nightclub Confidential stopped to ask Patel all about it.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): How did you first make your mark in the hotel business?
Ravi Patel: I opened my first hotel in 2001 which was a 100 unit Best Western across the street from the Newark Airport. I was 25 when I opened that property but I knew I wanted to run a hotel. When I opened I quickly realize how little I knew about the business. I was, however, extremely dynamic and wasn’t afraid of getting things done. Basically, I was naïve and a punk kid who thought he knew everything. Luckily, once I opened I shot up like a bat out of hell. Business was great, I was sold out every night and I had more volume then I could handle. My biggest problem was there was no contingency plan for unplanned interruptions.
I had only one elevator, one shuttle, one laundry machine and no back up. Needless to say it wouldn’t be uncommon to find myself in the middle of a snow storm, the airport closed and my guest can't get to the hotel because the shuttle driver crashed the only shuttle into a snow bank and the only elevator in a six story building is down for repair.
You could imagine the dismay of my guests and how many how many sleepless nights I encountered due to the fact I wasn’t prepared. Later that year we had the encountered my biggest challenge September 11, 2001. That was the turning point in my career, when others in the industry were downsizing and not investing in their property I was repairing the deficiencies my product. When the market returned two years later I was way far ahead of my competition and I went from a punk kid who knew nothing to a person who led the market in rates and occupancy. It was at that point I realized that I had found my niche in the market a considered myself a hotelier.
NCC: When you entered the club business you were an investor but quickly became and operator. What was the learning curve and what hotel experiences helped or hurt this new venture?
Patel: Being an investor and being an operator are two entirely different experiences. Say for instance you purchase stock in apple. Apple announces that they are have come to agreement with the US government to supply every family within the United States a iPad, in an effort to get a computer in every household. As an investor you are delighted that the stock you purchase prior to the announcement has just tripled in value and for minimal to no effort on your part. Now, say for instance you owned Apple and the agreement with the government was valid only if you could deliver 40 million iPads to each family within 60 days. In order for you to make that commitment you would need to leverage all of your assets and expend all of your resources in order to meet the timelines. On day 59 the ship carrying all of the iPads hits another ship and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Congratulation, you now know what it feels like to be an operator/owner.
Investors rarely have opportunities to make a difference. They are only needed for monetary value. Operators on the other hand are controllers of their own destiny. Choose right person and they can propel the business forward but choose poorly and it can lead to your demise. Hospitality and commonsense applies to all business if you do it well you will succeed. If you don’t you won't last.
NCC: Your success has far exceeding your expectations. Are there plans to expand to other club ventures?
Patel: Although I love the excitement of the Nightlife business, it’s a very tough business and takes a lot work to be successful. I'm not quite sure if I would consider only expanding the club portion without attaching it to either a hotel or restaurant component. To me a great hotel and restaurant is only great when it can successfully attach a great nightlife program to it. It just
makes the experience that much better.
NCC: How important is delegation and how do you maintain a real life outside the business?
Patel: Without a good team no successful business can survive. It's hard to find a great team and cultivate a winning program. It takes a lot work, dedication, and flexibility. Without all three you’re doomed in this business. You and your team constantly need to ask yourself is this the best you can do. Our rule of thumb here is no one is getting rich by themselves. If the company does well we all share in the profits, if we don’t do well then there is nothing to share. Our full disclosure policy has paid in dividends. Manager, promoters, and business associates all actively participate in improving the bottom line. When we do well we all win, when we don’t we all lose. Very Simple.
NCC: Ravel is just across the river from Manhattan in the exponentially expanding Long Island City area. Tell me how you came to throw the dice and go where no hotel had gone before?
Patel: To me it was very simply. As I told you before I'm hotelier, that's what I do. In 2005, I came across this 23 room motel known as Q-Plaza Motel by accident when I got lost coming back from the JFK airport. Although, the area was a bit rough and the neighborhood was still undeveloped, I somehow fell in love with the property. The views, the proximity to NYC, and the transportation hub into the city made this an ideal location to develop. Sure, people thought I was crazy, including my father. No one believes that someone would invest in the area let alone put a high end boutique hotel there. It took me over two and a half years to build, but finally I was able to open my own brand which I named RAVEL. The name I derived by combining my first and last name. The hotel is now four and a half years old and continues to operate in the 97%.
NCC: How much did your roof top Food and Beverage operation drive revenue and public awareness?
Patel: Our rooftop venue at Ravel clearly showed me how valuable the F&B program is to the hotels operations. The concept of Ravel rooted around the idea that a hotel was not a place just to rest your head but rather a lifestyle brand venue where you go to meet friends, hang out and relax. I spent a lot of time developing the common area to conduce socializing. With the completion of the rooftop we were able to fully realize the evolution of what Ravel had to offer and how vital the F&B plays in the success of the social aspect of the hotel.
NCC: You are building new spaces or expanding the property?
Patel: Yes, we are adding a 78,000 square ft. addition that will enhance the lifestyle choice in our brand. Although, I don’t want to give away all the details I will share with you some of the highlights of what you can expect in 2014. Items like a 500 person catering facility, a private rooftop park with an ice skating rink, a ten story tower with rooftop pool, and a private dining facility with 360 degree views of mid-town Manhattan. When it's finished, I am hoping to turn heads or at least raise some brows for a second. We will see how it goes.