Hospitality heroes in Japan, the US and Spain, united by their willingness to take a risk on an inspired idea, talk us through their nascent ventures in F&B and the hotel business.
Kazuhiro Hori only set up his uniform company Unix Tokyo in 2014 but already has an impressive list of clients that includes the Japanese hotel chain Hoshino Resorts and the legendary Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu. He recently formed a design partnership with fashion heavyweight United Arrows; their first project is a rebrand of Skymark Airlines’ uniforms.
Osaka-born Hori, who has been in the hospitality business since he left university, has an eye for detail. “For 10 years I did everything, including waiting at tables, cooking and wedding-planning. I noticed the kitchen whites were oversized and the restaurant uniform was badly designed.” He knew that solving these problems could be turned into a smart and unique business. “Nobody was tackling it because designing, making and producing these garments repeatedly is hard work.”
In 2010, working alone, he set up a uniform division inside the hospitality company he worked for, Plan Do See, coming up with modern and durable designs on a tight budget. In 2014 he set up Unix Tokyo as a separate business, employing a staff of two. Today, Hori and his team of five work with small factories across Japan to manufacture a range of uniforms, including suits, dresses, shirts, aprons, trousers and ties. “It’s about looking the part,” he says. “Sexy yet at the same time functional and durable. I know because I’ve been there.”
Monocle comment: The devil is in the detail. Once he spotted a niche, Hori was able to exploit it thanks to his intricate knowledge of the hospitality industry.
With the launch of Maple in 2015, New Yorkers Caleb Merkl and Akshay Navle put an upmarket twist on the proliferation of indistinguishable meal-courier services. Their business doesn’t just deliver food: it’s a restaurant missing only a physical dining space.
“We’ve built the infrastructure and supply chain from scratch,” says Merkl. There’s a commissary centre in Brooklyn where ingredients are prepped then shipped to one of four smaller kitchens scattered across the city. Customers place an order online or via an app, meals – conceived by Soa Davies, previously of Le Bernadin – are cooked in the closest kitchen and sent hot to their doorstep.
Merkl went through numerous options before settling on the name and brand aesthetic, conceptualised by creative agency GrandArmy. “We liked all the positive connotations that come with the word ‘Maple’,” he says. Sustainable materials are used to create the food container and the brown-paper tote with its fabric handles. A yellow strip bearing the company name wraps around the base. If you didn’t know better, you might mistake it for a shopping bag from a fashion boutique. This was the point, says Merkl: “We want it to feel like a gift.”
Monocle comment: Maple combines technology with the humanity of hospitality.
So well conceived is Barcelona’s Casa Bonay, it’s hard to believe that it’s the first project by the 32-year-old Ines Miró Sans (pictured) and that no big-name brand is behind the scenes. On the contrary, she handpicked a cohort of the city’s creative set to craft a hotel with elements that express her own tastes, from a cold-press juice bar to hand-painted signage.
“I came up with the idea as coursework for an mba degree, aged 23,” says Miró Sans. “I wanted to create a place where locals would also go and hang out.” After stints at Barcelona’s big-chain hotels (learning, among other things, what not to do), her most formative three years came as brand strategist for the then-nascent Ace Hotels group: “No one in Spain understood how to infuse lifestyle into the hotel experience like Ace.”
Hindered by her limited experience, Miró Sans’s vision only became possible when industry veteran Luis Rullán stepped in as partner to provide the necessary gravitas to negotiate a 35-year lease on the 1860s residence now occupied by Casa Bonay. It opened earlier this year to sparkling reviews and has already become a favourite haunt in the Eixample neighbourhood. For Miró Sans there is only one way to prepare for a career as hotelier: “You can’t study hotels. They’re like schools and theatres: you need to live them to learn.”
Monocle comment: As Miró Sans puts it, “Follow your intuition and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.”