Jonathan Frolich, the General Manager at “Andaz 5th Ave”, is reimagining the hotel experience. He’s created a homely oasis in Midtown Manhattan which is no easy feat considering a bustling Bryant Park is located across the street. Embracing local farm sourced ingredients and open kitchen function rooms, the hotel has a boutique aesthetic, but at scale. Billabout joins Frolich for a chat in the living room like second floor of the hotel to see what drives this global hotel guru.
I’ve only been in the states for six years, the last two of which were spent in New York. Prior to NY, I was in Chicago, Hong Kong, L.A. and Sydney – which
is where I was born. I think the weather is better here [in the US] than in Australia; it’s more consistent. Living and working in three different countries gives me a special perspective on culture, and it is a humbling experience. I find that I rebuild myself to each culture, each time.
Opening up a hotel is a very intense experience, especially with Andaz, our lifestyle boutique brand. It was developed in 2007 and the New York hotel is
the fifth iteration of the brand. We have hotels in West Hollywood, San Diego, London and downtown New York. They’re designed differently because we don’t want them to feel like a chain, we want them to feel like a collection of independent hotels with a distinct feeling of the location. I don’t give a damn about stars or ratings; we truly embrace the culture– which is what hospitality is all about. We use this as a general focus or means, the notion that one must start from scratch each time, and it forces me to open up.
For the 5th Ave New York hotel, we were definitely inspired by the local agriculture community, every aspect of it; the designs, the food, the art– it’s all local. The whole ethos of Andaz is to create an environment that feels like home. We work with 25 different farms from upstate New York, and local food purveyors. We recently went upstate to Ancramdale, NY and visited Ronny Brook farms. Ronny took us on a tour of the farm and I milked a cow for the first time in my life! We want people to come into Andaz knowing that what’s on their plate is the freshest, most local produce available.
Throughout my first three months in New York, I rode the subways and researched only the best spots to develop Andaz’ food culture: pastrami, cheesecake, and the local food scene. We went through a Food Tour of NYC starting at 10am and finishing at 4am, spanning 23 food and beverage venues. We went to “Katz’s Delicatessen”, “Russ and Daughter’s”, the fish market on Bleeker Street and “Daisy Mays” and more. It was such an incredible day. These types of intense learning experiences really allowed us to delve into the culture of NY. That’s how we developed the “shoppe’s” menu.
The head chef is Roberto Alicea. I worked with him in LA for a while and his vision is a strong attention on produce really jives with the Andaz concept. Our wine list includes mainly American wines, with a few French and Australian wines as well. We’ve hired a local wine expert and we’re seasonally focused, so we change the wine and food menu every three months. We listen to a lot of feedback, especially when it comes to the menu; we’re always evolving.
The hotel sits opposite one of the most incredible public libraries on the planet. So we had them curate a collection for us. I wanted it to be authentic, so we even use the dewey-decimal system (a library classification structure). I love the passion of the people in America. I like that there’s a ‘create-whatever-you-want- to-create’ mentality and New York is its biggest melting pot. It’s all about what comes out of your mouth and what you can bring to the table. The opportunities here are great because the population can support it.
With any new country you can’t simply bring your strong opinion: you have to shut-up, learn and listen. In time they may come to respect your vision and creativity, and then will you have the confidence to break out and go for it.
As told to Pete Maiden.