Putting Your Team First - Sarah Eustis - Defining Hospitality - Episode #105

Dan Ryan: Today's guest is someone who literally grew up in the hospitality industry. Her mission is to build things that last and create places with soul and purpose. She's responsible for some of the most iconic hotels in New England and beyond, including the Red Lion in Hams Canoe Place in the Hamptons, and Porches in among others.

The oldest hotel is 250 years old, celebrating at their 250th anniversary this year, and the newest is eight months old. They're all iconic and they're all from different eras. She's the founder and CEO, e O at Main Street Hospitality Group. Ladies and gentlemen, Sarah eus. Welcome, Sarah.

Sarah Eustis: Thank you Dan. So nice to be here after, after a long time of trying. I'm glad we finally made it happen.

Dan Ryan: well, I'm so glad we made it happen too. And I gotta say of the hundred and plus guests that I've had on, um, I know most of them very, really well, but I would say a few of them, I've actually had dinner in their homes. So I would like to say that you are one of those few. Um, so I really love that because I've seen a whole different side of pers of hospitality from you, um, and your family, and it's just cool to have that really deeper personal relationship.

So thank you. And I just wanted to give context for everyone as we're talking that we know each other really well.

Sarah Eustis: Mm-hmm. Well, it's fun to think that hospitality is actually what you do in your house when you have people over for dinner

Dan Ryan: Totally.

Sarah Eustis: fundamental. Right. And we love that. And when I'm, when I'm working with our teams and, and talking about it, I, I actually talk about that a lot. You know, thinking about how you want people to feel when they are in your home.

Um, so

Dan Ryan: a hundred percent. Well, I, and I think what that's a really incredible segue into like the first. Question that I ask everyone, but based on that and kind of teeing it up perfectly for the segue, like how do you define hospitality?

Sarah Eustis: I define it in a way that focuses on belonging and connection, and I think that when. A real sense of belonging is present throughout an experience, a sense of connection of welcome. That is when true hospitality is happening. And it may be a little harder to measure, but it is, it is the essence of, it's the product that we are creating beyond heads and beds and delicious food. And it, it's, it is the, it's the core of what we do.

Dan Ryan: I love how you say it's hard to measure because. I'm sure there's ways to quantify what it is, but to me it's something that you really feel

right. And I'd love to actually peel back on that a little bit based on how it is hard to measure. How do you know? Or is it through feedback? Like how do you guys try your best to measure how you're delivering hospitality to others?

It throughout all of your properties,

Sarah Eustis: Yeah. Well, I think I, I, I suppose I should retract some of that because it, it is measurable to some degree. It's measurable, uh, through what people say, whether it's inside the hotel, anecdotally, whether it's a written review, whether it is, um, to other people. When, and, and I picked this up from our mutual friend Danny Meyer, very early on, when people ha when people rave, it's because they felt amazing.

Yes, the food might be incredible. Yes, the sheets might be incredible, but really it was because of the feeling that they took away. And so, return visits, you know, reviews are great and we can all track our progress around guest feedback. But when people come back over and over again and they build a relationship with our places, which I could throw some statistics out there, but they, the, the return rates are incredibly high.

That's when I know that it's working because, because people are, have so many choices now, we are all spending our hard-earned working capital in different ways. And the fact that people choose us over and over and over again to such a high degree indicates that there's some feeling that they get when they're here.

And so those are probably the most measurable aspects of what we do. Otherwise it's, you know.

Dan Ryan: Right. Uh, so I love that. Okay. But at, at its at, at its core, there's some feeling that gets them to come back over

Sarah Eustis: Mm-hmm.

Dan Ryan: And what I think is so incredible about the company that you've built is how do you deliver that level of hospitality and get them to come back over and over with such varied properties.

Right. So the, the red line in is celebrating its 250th anniversary. It's also like, I don't know, a, a mile or two from where my mom lives. So I've

gone there so many times and sat out on the front porch, um, and had dinner in there. And I've stayed there, um, a bunch of times all the way to, uh, canoe place. So out in the Hamptons, which is I think eight months old or so, eight or nine months old.

How do you, it it, it's such a different type of guest that's coming to all of these places. How do you deliver hospitality to these varied properties and, and from different time periods?

Sarah Eustis: I know. Well, it's not, it's not easy. It's not a straight line for sure. That being said, the, and again, I, I, I bear, no, I take no, uh, original credit for these ideas. Um, but hire hard, train hard. Define who we are and what. Are what and, and what the, the culture of hospitality is in our company. So I just came back from three days of, of training.

I wouldn't even call it training. I would ta call it round table hospitality leadership discussions with four of our different properties. And this is sort of now what I do mostly. And I love it because we have a great structured kind of program around, um, the, the, the, the balance and the difference between hospitality and service.

The kinds of ways we think about empathy and generosity in our businesses. You know, everyone else has written books about it, will Gadara and Danny. And so we just take all of that and we try to, we try to actually bring it to life, you know, many of our colleagues in the business. Dan, I feel like you and I have known each other for almost 10 years probably.

And they've done amazing things building brands. We are not building a brand of hotels that we're rolling out across the world, right. We are. Building a brand of hospitality that we're rolling out across some geographical area. I won't say the world, I don't know yet,

Dan Ryan: A swath of the world.

Sarah Eustis: a, a corner of the world. And so you may not know that you're in a Main Street hospitality property because you see a big sign that says that.

But what we hope if we do, if we really do our jobs right, is that, you know, because you feel a deep sense of connection, a sense of character, a sense of knowing where you are, a place that matters to the community, that it's in, um, a feeling of authentic kind of generosity and attention to detail. And this is, this is what everybody's trying to do.

It's not revolutionary. Um, but there's something that we try to unlock that's a little bit more personal and a little bit more, and, and frankly, I, I just had two days of working with the teams to say, how are we taking it to the next level? And I do, I do thank Will Will Guera and his, and his new

Dan Ryan: Unreasonable hospitality. Hey, will, if you're watching

Sarah Eustis: Hey, will Shout out to Will,

Dan Ryan: just held the book up. Yeah,

Sarah Eustis: because it gives it language, it gives, it gives people a framework to think about how to operationalize their natural instincts for generosity.

Dan Ryan: okay. So when I hear you say that you want to take. Your hospitality to the next level, and you're challenging your teams who you've hired hard. Right? And they're really working on defining who they are, why they're doing what they're doing at that specific property.

Is there a good example from one of your properties that are so varied from eight months to 250 years old, um, that you could share what it was like before to getting it to the next level? Right. What, what was that change and, and like, how do people feel when they're experiencing it or, and delivering it?

Sarah Eustis: I'm contemplating for a second. I think, um, probably what, one, one that was. Very evident yesterday when I was doing a session with our team at Hammett's Hotel in Newport, which is coming on its third anniversary.

Dan Ryan: Oh, it opened at a great time too.

Sarah Eustis: June, 2020

Dan Ryan: oh my gosh. Wow.

Sarah Eustis: Um, and, and the whole story of how the hotel came to be and how it got done.

And our partners are amazing and the whole thing is, is an incredible story in and of itself. But we created with these talented people something from nothing. There was a parking lot there and there was a lot of controversy around this last open spot of waterfront on the downtown Newport. But we got it built, we got it open, and our general manager who's been there since day one, and many of her team who have been there since day one, where normally there's a lot of turnover in the first year.

And yeah, you know, there's been incredible consistency and. It's, it's incredible yesterday to see the pride and we went around the table, we really talked about what are you most proud of? What have we accomplished here? And it was interesting to hear them say, not that we've hit the budget and we've made so much profit and we've done all these things, but that we, meaning this is coming from them, have created a, a place that people both transient and travelers and community now have as an asset for them that they never had before.

And it just, it was interesting that they felt really part of the making of the whole thing and the success of the whole thing. And I think the training that we did from the very beginning, which is this kind of program that I'm talking about, and we do it in a, we do it in a formal way. We do it in an informal way.

It's part of every morning standup. And our general manager, who I think when she first started, was sort of trained in a, in a Marriott mindset. Which is a great mindset to be in, but we had to deprogram her a little bit, get her more open to, um, the, the, the spontaneous and very kind of empathy driven kind of generosity that we think that, that we feel is more our style of hospitality.

And I could, that, you asked me an example, I can see her now, three years later, leading her teams and, and talking about this in a way that was not the way that it was on her day one. Do, do you know what I mean? So she's owning it, which is incredible.

Dan Ryan: I do know what you mean. And a, as you're saying it, um, and hearing you say just this kind of spontaneous empathy and the deprogramming, I think that, and that's actually where I first met you at Independent Lodging Congress on a rooftop at, I forget what hotel it

Sarah Eustis: Where were we at?

Yeah. New York.

Dan Ryan: it was

a Brooklyn. Uh, but, and, but I think that's also what's so wonderful about all of your properties too. They're like truly independent. Yeah. Your main street hospitality. But each one has its own specific, Flavor and feeling, and, and it is so varied and all of your teams are there, and I can say firsthand from lots of experience that you really do put your teams first.

And I get that. And I've seen it. I've experienced it.

Sarah Eustis: Well, our, our covid, our covid, uh, uh, experiment that we did together

Dan Ryan: yes.

Sarah Eustis: was, was amazing. But you asked me a question that I didn't really answer, which was how, how we thread this through all these diverse properties. And it was so interesting because also two days ago we did a session like this with two different teams up in North Adams, Massachusetts.

So, uh, porches, which is a beautiful award-winning property that we've, we've been running for 20 years. And then Hotel Down Streete, which is just relaunching in two weeks, um, in North Adams as a renovated Holiday Inn. Um, and it's just on the other side of Mass moca, which is this incredible contemporary art museum that you know.

And so we did a session yesterday, or two days ago with both teams and Porches is a high end boutique, high character, high ADRs on the weekends place that everybody can't afford, but is amazing. And then Hotel Down. Streete is a cool art driven, functional, lean. Hotel that is half or less the price of an average night than porches.

Right. And I had both teams in the room and we're talking about the same quality of hospitality. It doesn't matter if you're spending 120 bucks a night or 420 bucks a night, right? And so that, that, I think that went to the crux of your question, which is it? The hospitality isn't better or worse depending on the price or the level of luxury of a hotel. And we're training, we're training for that to be high quality across the board, if that makes sense. We might have more amenities and throw more glasses of champagne at people at canoe place than we do at Hotel Downstream, but, but the ethos is the same.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. Oh, it, it does. Because ultimately it's about people. And if you're coaching and if you're really taking that, that culture that you have established it through main, main street hospitality of putting people first, that will transcend every type of property. Right? Yeah. You might not have all the bells and whistles at one versus the other, but it's really, it's, I think it's how you approach people with an open heart.

Sarah Eustis: Well, that's a nice way to say it. And I, I think that this may sound controversial, maybe it's not meant to be, but I think a lot of folks are afraid, kind of in, in our business, um, afraid to be wrong. Afraid to make a mistake. Afraid to get in trouble, um, afraid of breaking the, so p So my team gets really annoyed with me because I go into these meetings and I'm like, I know we have SOPs, but your job is to break them.

Dan Ryan: Yeah.


Sarah Eustis: of course, of course I'm being somewhat extreme, but the worst thing in a hospitality interaction is a young, you know, a young employee who maybe is not sure of their scope of. Authority. Right. It's normal. It's normal. Um, but what we're trying to do is, is empower and give everyone, whether you're a housekeeper or a general manager, an ability to create a great experience without having to go ask somebody. Do you know what I mean? And, and, and it's, it's easier said than done in some ways because people come with that built in sense of somebody's gotta tell me what to do and I'm afraid of making a mistake or being wrong. So we're trying to, we're trying to turn that upside down

and, um, and build, build a higher level of empowerment, which I think then spills over to a guest experience in a, in a really powerful way.

Dan Ryan: Um, as you're saying, and I'm thinking, I had a previous guest on early on named John De Julius, who's like a customer service guru. He's written books on it. He speaks on it, he holds conferences, but he, regarding SOPs and um, and protocols or procedures, he, he's like, okay, it's good to have those. So like what you're saying, but really you can't call them that They have to be guidelines.

Right. Because this is how, this is like the standard by which we're trying to do, but when you get out to the margins of any situation, you can't have like hard, a hard edge. You have to be able to take a foot or a full step outside of that check box.

Sarah Eustis: You really do, and it's, it's hard because, you know, you, you were trying to work within a, in a flexible framework, and we're dealing with human beings, hundreds of them every day. And one of the things that I, I was laughing with the team yesterday because it can come down to, it can come down to language and it can come down to your ability to be present in the moment, dealing with a, a situation that needs where you may not be able to provide what someone wants, which happens to us every day.

And so we were laughing yesterday about trying to banish the word, unfortunately, from our vocabulary.

Dan Ryan: How's it going?

Sarah Eustis: It's, it's hard to do. It is such a, it is such a reflex when someone comes up to the front desk or they want something and, and we can't provide it. The reflexes to say, oh, I mean, we're, we're trying to be nice.

Oh, unfortunately we're sold out. Unfortunately, we don't, can't do that. So, but it, it sets up a negative vibe right away.

And so what, what, we're just like honing in on this thing and trying to, trying to not say, try it. Test


Dan Ryan: really difficult. I'm, I'm, as you're speaking, as you're speaking, I'm like playing through scenarios where I'm, I'm picturing a guest coming up, um, you know, they want a better view or, or something, and everything's full and you're, you're just like, Unfortunately, I'm so sorry, but unfor, so it's like, it really fo forces a different direction.

Sarah Eustis: it does, because what we wanna do with that, and again, this is not an original idea, but, but to say, I wish I could. Oh man, I wish I really could. I can see, I, I can imagine how much you would like to have that thing that I can't give you. Right. And let me gimme a minute, let me think about something else that maybe we could do to, to, to amplify your experience or to add something on or to, you know, just unfortunately, fortunately shuts it down and kind of makes you feel stupid as a guest.

It really does try it out.

Dan Ryan: Well, cuz in a way it's

Sarah Eustis: just, these are the fun things that we try to, we try to work

Dan Ryan: yeah, cuz they're, you're saying, I wish I could, it's almost like you're, um, you're on, you're putting yourself on their side immediately, but then there's like this impossible thing that can't happen. So it almost creates, it almost forces like, Empathetic understanding from the receiver of the bad news.

Wow. That's pretty cool.

I know you said, I know you said that, that, or you said that this is not your idea or I, I may have heard this. I've never heard this before. This is really awesome.

Sarah Eustis: This is, if you read setting the table and go back to this concept of, of letting people know you're on their side,

Dan Ryan: Hmm.

Sarah Eustis: that is the key. And that can diffuse a lot of frustration and a lot of anger and a lot of anxiety. Um, and, and I think now more than ever where people have those things in higher proportions seems that way anyway.

Uh, we're all just like a little more stressed out. And when someone's on your side and, and, and essentially acting as an agent and saying, I'm here to help you. I have limited tools at my disposal, but you know what, together, I bet we can figure something out. You know, there's always a way. So, so that's what we train for, honestly.

And, and you leave, even if you leave having said your peace, but not getting the room that you wanted, you, you, you leave with a feeling like, wait a minute. They were, they were, they were with me. And I'll come back and we'll try it again some other time. Anyway, you, you get my, you

Dan Ryan: I, I totally get it.

Hey, I, I want to go you, when you were referring to the, um, the creation of Hammonds, you said it was an incredible story, right? But I also think that you have an incredible story for how you came to be where you are, because so many of the people that I, that I speak with, it's like, it was almost like an accidental thing that happened.

It wasn't a planned thing. And I know you were in living, like, walk us through your story cuz like, I know you were in Paris, you were working in fashion, and then here you come back and you start this amazing company with, and, and you've grown and grown and like, so like how did you find your way to the, where you're sitting right now?

And like, what's your vision for what you're, what you're seeing in the future.

Sarah Eustis: Well those are, those are two pieces. I'll try to, I'll try to, um, articulate them. Separately and chronologically, maybe Dan. Okay. But, um, you know, again, when you, you started the podcast by saying, I grew up in hospitality. I really did. I mean, I started, um, you know, my father moved up to the Berkshires when we were really little from Philadelphia and, and started a whole extended family that included the red line in, and it was the place where good things happened and we gathered and we had family dinners and, and we started working here and we were 14 and my kids are down, you know, down there doing the same thing.

Um, but it, it got into our bones, right? It was just part of how we, uh, learned how to work, how we learned to work with people, how we learned how to manage, um, priorities and conflict, and all of those skills I, I have put to good use throughout my entire career. So for people out there, put your kids to work in hospitality, it, it pays off later.

And, um, But then I had a calling, I don't know where it came from, but I really wanted to, uh, explore the, the, the apparel industry. And so I did and jumped into New York City and did, you know, over 25 years of chapters with Ralph Lauren and Gap Inc. And limited brands, and then an opportunity to move to Paris, which we jumped at.

Um, all through that time, our family business was evolving and it was not pri it was not primarily hospitality, it was primarily retail. Home furnishings and hospitality was a little bit of a sideline, but, but an important one. And I could see the business evolving, the generations evolving, and they were really inclusive of us as the third generation, or G three as we call ourselves. And no, no one was pressured to come back in the business. There was always an opportunity if you had the skills and if there was a job. So it was not a shoe-in. Right. Um, but around 2011 we were in Paris and my, my grandfather passed away and came back and looked around and really had a, like a profound moment.

I mean, one of those ahas like that there was enough, there was so much that had been created over the, over the kind of generationally, um, in goodwill, in, in investment in the community, in, in business. And that I kind of looked around and wondered who, when G three was gonna step up to maybe steward whatever this would become.

Right. And that was it. And I just decided right then, you know, and, um, we moved back in, in 2012 with my husband and the two boys who you've met, um, settled in Great Barrington.

Dan Ryan: Who are now young men.

Sarah Eustis: They are now young men. One at one is at UMass Eisenberg in the hospitality program.

Dan Ryan: Oh,

Sarah Eustis: Um, so it was not, it, it was a very organic, I think it was written, I think it was written before.

I know I sound, maybe I sound like I'm doing too much gum. Too many gummies. I'm telling you, it was written before. It really, I think it was so, so it was sort of made sense and, and we dug in. It was a big lifestyle change. Um, I had no idea what I was doing, Dan.

Dan Ryan: mm.

Sarah Eustis: I mean, don't tell too many people that, but I, I really, I wasn't a, you know, I didn't have a Starwood background.

I didn't have a, but I had a, I had 20 years of, you know, executive management and leadership at these big companies. Uh, just, just selling something different, right? And the, the correlations between retail and brand. I learned a lot about brand integrity at all of these different places, especially at Ralph Lauren, where that's really sacred.

And the commitment you make to it is what draws people to you so you don't have to follow other people. Do you know what I mean? So, so I've tried to bring, tried to bring all that to bear and made a ton of mistakes and wasn't sure year after year if this whole thing was gonna fly, but we, we saw that there was enough, uh, interest in what we were doing at the Red Line and Porches in terms of our style, our approach, our vibe and others started to invite us to do projects.

And then I looked around and thought, wait a minute. We need a company. We need, we need to actually have some infrastructure. And so in 2014, we formed Main Street and started to build revenue management, hr, accounting, marketing, uh, and we had these functionalities within, within the red line, but it had to go higher and more horizontal to be able to provide it.

Um, and so fast forward 10 years, um, you know, we are, we have, uh, nine properties going on, 10 going on. More and, uh, different things in the pipeline, but a much more rigorous, uh, you know, we have to be op opportunistic in the beginning

obviously, but all the properties made sense in their own way. So now we can be more, uh, specific about the projects we're doing, the people we're working with, and, um, it's, it's getting pretty exciting.

My, my leadership team is amazing. Greta Kipp just got promoted to coo. Scott Williams is VP of marketing and amazing HR and finance. So I think we're, we're, we're primed for a couple in incre, you know, a great growth period right now.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. And then so as you're saying that, I'm just going back to when we first met 10 years ago and it made me remember I was just so amaz, I was like, whoa, you're from Great Barrington and the Red Lion. I love that place. Like my mom's lived up there for 20 years and um, I was just so. I remember talking to you and just being so surprised that, uh, I don't know why more people from the New York area don't go to the Berkshires more because there's so much to offer, especially the younger set, you know, they're heading out to, uh, the Hamptons or doing whatever, but I, I just feel like since that moment you've not, you've branched out so much beyond that area and grown so much.

It's just like a, it's a cool story to, to have seen you shortly after the starting of Main Street Hospitality and then on your path forward.

Sarah Eustis: Well, and, and I, you know, I think I L c let's give a shout out to Andrew and the team at I L C because I think they connected us early on, and I can credit some of my most rewarding relationships in hospitality through, through that, the independent lodge in Congress. And you know, I think we have to remember where, where our roots are.

I guess I'm sitting in my grandmother's office right now. Which we, which was her, her office at the very beginning of the red line on the third floor. We just renovated our offices to be a little more polished and keeping up with who we are. But we're very humble. We're not, you know, we're not, I'd often thought, wow, we wanna be a cool company, we need a really cool loft and blah, blah, blah, and we need to spend a bunch of money.

And then I, looked around, I thought, you know what? Being here in our family offices and, running our hospitality company out of a hotel, not a corporate headquarters, is something I never wanna change. Because when I'm, off of a, budget meeting or a podcast, I can get up, I can walk downstairs, I can interact with guests, we can test things out.

We can sort of remember why we're doing this. And so, Stockbridge is not the global epicenter, you know, of like, but it doesn't matter. And, and Covid and Zoom kind of changed that. And we have a team now who's living all over New England. We're all here together a couple days a week, maybe even one. And it just, it's, it really feels good to stay true to our roots.

We are from the Berkshires, we're gonna continue to invest in the Berkshires. Um, but we've seen that the communities, whether it's Newport or Hampton Bay or North Adams or Shabe Guyland kind of bringing what we do, which is a, a community minded way of thinking about hospitality. Um, it's finally, it's really, it's really paying off.

And I even asset managers are listening to me when I talk about love and empathy in what we do. Where before they're like, whatever. That's the soft stuff. Um, but, but it makes money too,

Dan Ryan: Yeah. So, and then to see how you started the Main Street hospitality, I guess within the past 10 years, or 10,

Sarah Eustis: Yeah.

Dan Ryan: 10 years, 11 years ago or 10 years. Then

Sarah Eustis: Yeah.

Dan Ryan: you've expanded beyond your original footprint through G up to G three, right? Or 3g,

Sarah Eustis: Mm-hmm. Two,

Dan Ryan: G three.

Um, where do you see taking, like what, I guess not so much where you see go and may, maybe you'll answer it in there, but like, what's exciting you the most as you look forward on your strategic roadmap?

Sarah Eustis: Hmm. Well, we, what, what's exciting is, um, We, we've, we've gotten, you know, this, this year actually is a bit of a, we have three new properties that we're opening that are all existing. They just have to get open for the summer. Um, amazing one in, in Canada for a great partner who we've known and loved for 20 years, um, in, in the, uh, Muskoka Lakes

one in sh ship Yeah.

Sh Island in with Apprentice Group, which is a beautiful main property, um, off the coast of Portland. And then a restaurant in Newport that is also owned by someone who's already a partner. So this year's kind of theme, if you will, has been to expand our existing partnerships because the learning curve on new relationships and kind of brand new teams, although we love it, it, it, it, it takes more time and energy to really get into a, a kind of flow with a new owner, with a new partner, with a new development team.

So this year has been great on that level. Um, what we, what we have in the pipeline and what I'm excited about, um, are. Perhaps expanded partnerships that involve more than one hotel at a time, because that's also the bespoke nature of what we do is great, but it, uh, it's a little less scalable always to kind of go one by one.

So some opportunities we're looking at in terms of kind of multi-property partnerships, uh, which gets me, gets me excited. Um, we're still very northeast and east coast based at the moment, and frankly, who knows? We, we, at the moment, we, we, we can get to our properties within, within three to five hours. And there's something about that immediacy that I like.

So we're not, and some of our, my amazing colleagues in the business are all over the south and out to California. We're, we're staying pretty focused. We feel like there's a lot to do on the East coast.

Dan Ryan: Something you said is resonating with me. It's just, um, kind of expanding your existing partners, right? And it's, you've, it's like, it's as if you've already struck gold with them, right? You're, you're already delighting each other, you're working well, and

Sarah Eustis: That's a great way

Dan Ryan: okay, so if I've already struck gold there, well there's gotta be another vein of gold in there.

So let's dig another mine in there and see how we can keep growing together.

Sarah Eustis: yeah. That's a, that's a great way to say it, Mr. Ryan. The, the thing I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll share, and I maybe have already said this to you, but, um, my, my stepmom Nancy, who, who was a two G at the Red Line n um, second generation, she, um, between the ages of 65 and 70, she walked across America.

Dan Ryan: Whoa.

No, I had no


Sarah Eustis: walked

Dan Ryan: Huh.

Sarah Eustis: Yeah.

And she, she set out on this whole. Yeah, well it took five years cause she, she would walk for a period of time and then she would come home and then she would go back. Um, Nancy takes a hike.com, you can check it out. But, um, the reason that I brought it up was why, oh, I went out to Omaha, Nebraska to see her and I, and we walked for a little while together.

And in Omaha's I was coming back, I was in the airport and I picked up a, a book, uh, on Warren Buffet, right? Because the whole, there was a whole bookstore about Warren Buffet.

Dan Ryan: Yeah,

Sarah Eustis: And um,

and I just was picking up on these, on these Warren Buffet things, right? And I, this was, this was almost 10 years ago. And, um, people are always asking him like, how do you do these billion dollar deals on a handshake?

Like, how do you decide? Right? And everybody wants a piece of his, his brain. And he articulated it so simply that I've never forgotten it and I use it all the time. And he called it l t r. And it stands for like trust and respect. And he is like, I don't, I don't do business with.

anybody who I don't have that with.

Dan Ryan: Lt r.

Sarah Eustis: I just don't. And when you really think about it, you peel it away. Yeah. And, and we now, it's so embedded in our culture that my, my team and we've had, listen, we've had, we've had some projects that didn't work out so well. And if we really look back, it's because we didn't have l t r. We didn't, we didn't have it.

We, we had, we had, and we were, had to be more opportunistic in the early days of our growth, right? Like, we'll take any business we can get, you know, and now we put new partners, new situations through a heavy duty l t r filter.

It works, I'm telling you, because you know, when you feel you gotta go to this meeting, but you got kind of a stomach ache and you don't really trust the guy.

And it's just like, it's not curly. It could be somebody who's working, taking care of your kids or working at your house or something. I mean, It, it, when you have it, the business flows more smoothly, the communication flows more smoothly. You can get through difficult periods, which we've all been through, and it's so great to see my team really, they've come to me often and said, Sarah, I know this deal looks good, but I tell you I don't have L T R with this person.

I don't wanna do it.

And it's great.

Dan Ryan: how do you quantify that? And like, do it, is there like a checklist or like, do, okay, do we like these guys on a scale of one to 10, do we trust these guys On a scale of one to 10, do we respect these guys?

And then, and then you step back and look

Sarah Eustis: We do, we haven't, we haven't, we haven't charted it like on a matrix, but we, we have the discussion and we use situations and examples to illustrate why we do or don't. Right. You know, um, in the, in the courting phase of this, you know, possible partnership that we just went through, you know, they don't get back to us that quickly.

Um, they seem to want things that are unreasonable. They want us to give them all of our good work for free. Hmm. Interesting. Um, we, we check references on new clients, obviously, as everybody should. Um, so there, there are ways to kind of get a, get a feeling, but it really is, do you wanna have dinner with these people?

Do you wanna have a beer with them? Do you wanna, could you, could you enjoy. Sitting in a, in a, in a social setting with them. Um, it, it's really, we're not perfect at it, but it, it, we've really used it and if you really dig in and you look at situations and people and try to put it through that filter, you, you'd be surprised what you find.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. Um, I, I want to go back to your, that idea of true hospitality and as far as an experience within one of your properties. Um, Walk me through, like, so when you're taking on a new property, um, and if you can gimme a specific, be as specific as you can. I know it's hard to do sometimes cuz you love all of your properties, like you love all of your children equally.

Um, but like, what do you, which one of your properties do you think best Exemp is, is, or it is just a shining example, maybe not best, but a shining example of a guest experience. Like what, wh which property would it be? And kind of walk us through what, like a, a guest experience that would be incredible.

Sarah Eustis: Well, I'm definitely not gonna choose who's best, right? Because I think all the teams are amazing and doing things, uh, very creatively and, and in their own ways, in a lot of, in, in the main street way, but also in their own ways, which we, we wanna foster that, that balance and independence and also, you know, align aligning with our, with our way of doing things.

Um, but I would say that, um, most recently, our team at Canoe, at Canoe Place in Hampton Bay, which is an unbelievably special property, it is the newest for us when we say it's eight months old, but it is actually on that site, has been an inn since 1697. So it is, it is, it is technically on the oldest in location in America, and it's surrounded by, by.

Incredible indigenous lands. Um, a lot of revolutionary activity and it's, it's pretty incredible. So in partnership with our, our owners, Greg and Mitchell Reckler, and an incredible development phase of getting open, you know, we knew that we wanted to design, this is a luxury property. It's not a, it's not a relat chateau today, but it is.

We, we really spent months and months and months talking about what is, what is luxury? Like, what is it really, you know, and we have all the luxurious appointments and beauty, the place designed by Workstead, unbelievably, aesthetically, right. Um, but we really spent time thinking about what is luxury. And yes, we have beautiful amenities in the rooms.

Yes, we have incredible food and um, uh, beach service and all of these things that people can do. And. Partake in and experience while you're there. But we came down to the fact that luxury, the essence of luxury as we were thinking about it, was recognition and personalization, right? At a high level. So I wanna credit Mario, who's our GM there, he has built with his team an incredible, and it's, it's 20 rooms and five cottages.

So you, you've gotta, you've got a pretty targeted audience there, but he has created the most beautiful and very g genuine way of knowing about people who are coming, recognizing them when they arrive, um, asking them in advance what temperature they like their room to be observing, which side of the bed they sleep on, and doing the turndown to, to, to, um, to, to reflect that.

Um, finding out their, their likes and dislikes and making sure the mini bar is. Is is stocked accordingly. Um, organizing experiences for them that are very personal in the Hamptons. It's kind of tricky to figure out if you don't know the Hamptons. Um, and just spending time and listening and paying attention and, and, and connecting in a very personal way.

So I would say that in terms of bringing about this very luxurious, because it's Unrushed and it's very thoughtful and deeply researched that Can New Place is doing a pretty incredible job right now.

Dan Ryan: Has Bashar stayed there yet?

Sarah Eustis: No, I'm terrified of him.

Dan Ryan: No. The reason why I'm asking is he o he often says like, why can't a hotel just know what temperature I want the room set at? So when I'm walking in the room, it's that temperature. So maybe you have figured out like how to make him happy.

Sarah Eustis: We just ask, we ask ahead of time.

Dan Ryan: Now he's gotta stay there.

Sarah Eustis: Oh my God. No, I can't. I just, I need to get through my first real season before Bashar Cubs. I, I, I, yeah.

Anyway, it's, it's great, but he, but it's good because, I mean, you want people to put you through your, their, your paces and, and, and give feedback and make it better

and would

Dan Ryan: uh, on the personalization side, I actually, um, I, I just said I l c out in Denver and I met, there was a, one of the sponsors was called, oh my God. Hens Henson shaving. So they like, basically they make these satellite parts, right? They make satellites or parts for satellites, but then now they take their, like their, their machining capability for these precision things and they make these really luxury razors that you put like an old school razor in it.

And he was there thinking, oh my gosh, it would be really cool, like if the hotel could engrave the guest's name or the hotel name on it. And it's like, it's, it's an investment, but it's a cool gift that you would give to someone who's staying there, but they would really notice it. It's got a nice weight, a nice heft.

Like are there any things from, aside from the service side of this hyper-personalization as you called it, are there any kind of like gift ideas or, or anything that you do or have thought about doing that, that have really resonated? Um, well with your guests at any of your properties.

Sarah Eustis: Yeah. Well, it's interesting. I I, I come from the world of retail and, um, and, and brand branded merchandise, if you will. And I think we can do a much better job across all of our properties. And actually, I'm excited about a potential new advisory board member who has a deep retail background who I, I would, I wanna stimulate some this in the next phase of our growth.

Um, but at can new place in particular, we've been working with a incredibly talented, uh, branding company called Farby Lane. Yep. They're amazing. They're based in, in, um, south or North Carolina. And, um,

uh, so we, yes, and they're, he is, you check him out. He's incredible. And so from the very beginning, we started developing products that, um, we felt reflected the, the spirit of Canoe canoe place, but we're an atypical.

So we started with a gorgeous filson bag, and it's kind of, it can go on a boat, it can go wherever you need it to go, but it's a beautiful filson bag with leather handles and canvas. And we branded it Canoe Place, and it was one of our opening gifts to press and, and PR and people, and it just, it was, it was amazing.

People went crazy for it. Um, Scott Williams, who is our amazing head of brand, he worked, um, with, um, John Darien, who's a beautiful,

Dan Ryan: Oh yeah,

Sarah Eustis: you know, designer to create. To create amazing paperweights, and you think, oh, who needs a paperweight? But when they look like this, I dunno if you can see it, this is canoe place, the historic image of he made one for Red Lion.

And they're not cheap. I mean, they're like, you know, a hundred plus dollars or whatever. They're so heavy and beautiful and they create this sense of permanence. Um, and when he brought it up, everyone was like, really? And now people are crazy for them. They love them. So these are, and yes, we do all the other things too.

Um, one of the things that one of our team members did at Canoe Place that I'll never forget, she had a, a lovely couple who was staying for the first time and they had a baby brand new with them. And they had such a wonderful time and they said, oh, we really wanna come back and like, make this our place, which is what we hope for every, every guest at our hotels.

And Molly, Molly spontaneously followed up. She had a, a beautiful quality little cotton onesie. Made for the baby with the, with canoe place on it. And she, she packaged it up and sent it to them with a thank you note for, for staying with us. They freaked out and they'll never go anywhere else. I mean, they probably will go other places, but you know what I mean.

So that sometimes a piece of clothing or an article can, can resonate and be something that brings you back to that place. So we we're trying to focus, focus on, on those kinds of things.

Dan Ryan: Well, I also love the idea of that idea of permanence and weight and heft. Right? And especially when you look at one hotel that I did the math on the 16, 20, whatever, it's a, it's 320 something years old. Uh, and then Red Lion in is 250 there. You know, there's this, like, there is a sense of permanence with those places as far as, even though one's new, one's not new.

Um, I don't know. They bec they're like these fixtures within the communities within which they lie. You know what I mean?

Sarah Eustis: They are. And they, they are. That's, that's why the, the stewardship of them and the, the keeping them relevant and keeping them thriving. You know, my grandparents bought this hotel that I'm sitting in, in 1968. It was, it was going to be torn down and, and it just, the whole, the whole landscape of the Berkshires would be different without the Red Lion, um, canoe place.

Canoe place was also falling into the ground. And our partners bought it 15 years ago. Um, and their plan was to do some residential, cuz that's what they're great at. And the town, the town basically revolted and said, no, we need the canoe place and we need it to be thriving. And little by little they found a common ground and a, and a way to, to get it done.

Um, so can you imagine, and people walking in are, are just their, they're, their eyes are wide and they're looking around saying, oh my God, I was. I was married here 50 years ago

and, and my, I used to work here at the front desk. Right. And it's just, it's just remarkable. It's very moving. And what's great about Canoe Place in particular, and, and redline too, is that you have a diversity of, of guests that I love.

Not just culturally diverse, but but also socioeconomically. So you have people sitting at the bar, sitting at the bar together, one guy's coming off of his construction job and having a beer, and the other guy's coming from his Wall Street job to his squillion dollar house in the Hamptons. But they're, they're sitting together in an environment that's kind of democratic and everybody's enjoying it.

And I like that a lot. That's part of our mission too.

Dan Ryan: Are the be between the Red Line and Canoe Place, are there any, um, remnants that are, or parts of that hotel that exhibit the permanent or that have been there since the beginning? Or have they, or have they all been fully rebuilt and reconstructed?

Sarah Eustis: Uh, at Red Lion Inn there, you know, after the fire there, there are probably parts, there are some small parts of the foundation that are original. Absolutely. Um, actually the foundation, lot of it is the, the body of the building is, is 1897, I wanna say. Um, it got rebuilt very quick. It got rebuilt very quickly, which is why, you know, I have the best structural architects and engineers working on this building because we need to.

Um, but then at Canoe Place, what's interesting is I don't think there's anything that's pure to 1697,

but the building did burn. It went through a couple of iterations, um, over the early, early years, but then it, it was in its heyday, um, and then it burned a hundred years ago. It burned to the ground

except for the fireplaces.

So there are a couple beautiful original fireplaces that can be place that provide a kind of. Um, they're like the old redwoods, you know, standing in the building and they're really gorgeous. And

Dan Ryan: An original from 17th century.

Sarah Eustis: Well, no, these are original from a hundred years

ago when


was rebuilt, right. So, so they've, you know, these, these places have all gone through a lot of evolution,

Dan Ryan: Hmm.

Sarah Eustis: but what we, what we lean on is the fact that we were still doing the same kind of business on this location continuously.

It's always been a place of gathering, place of convergence, a place of hospitality, a place of welcome

Dan Ryan: Mm

Sarah Eustis: and just, we're just bringing it back. It's not like we're even, it's not, it's not revolutionary, you know, it's, um, it's really great to see. It's very, it's very, it's the most, one of the most rewarding parts of.

What we do when we did a, we did a hotel in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which we now don't, we don't manage it anymore, but we helped to create it and get it launched and we managed it for five years called Hotel on North. And it's a beautiful hotel. And I remember when we opened people coming in wide-eyed because Pittsfield had been a city that was, you know, a little left behind after the big industry left.

Right. And people were feeling not as proud of their city as they should. And so they walk in the lobby of this place and they go, this is Pittsfield. Right.

And that's really cool. And, and Can and Hampton Bay too, they're walking like, this is Hampton Bay. Whoa. So it's when you see pride of place in people who live in the community where you're doing business, I also find that very.

Rewarding and, and it also helps your business. It's not even just a, it's not even just a nice to do, it's like part of the business plan because you need the locals in the winter and you need them. You need them to feel connected to what you're doing. I think to be financially successful also

Dan Ryan: Yeah. And that goes back to that metaphor of, of mining where you've already struck gold, right? You're, you're wowing your captive audience and engaging the community. Uh, the community, uh, that's around it. And that's one of the things I love so much about independent hotels is I think that look, all hotels engage the community in some way or another.

I. Many feel like a spaceship that just landed there, but there's still some engagement. But on the spectrum, I think that the, uh, the independent hotels do a much better job, in my opinion, um, engaging the local community and like, and working with them to make a, you know, it's an accretive, um, relationship between the two.

Sarah Eustis: That's a nice way to say it should be accretive. Um, you know, and we work really hard, you know, when it comes to, and I know, I know staffing has been like this big buzzword for the last two years because it's been, it's got shaken up, right? And so our response to that, not only, and, and, and everybody wants to say, well, are you fully staffed?

And what's happening with staffing? And while, while the, the sort of staffing crisis was very real, I don't accept it as an excuse anymore because I feel like if you've, if you've doubled down on your culture, you've really looked at what it means to work in your place and that it's positive and rewarding for people, check.

Right. And then look out into the community to see how you can, we're doing this in Hampton Bays where we, we co-sponsor. A hospitality academy with the high school, where we're actually cultivating growing roots in that community and cultivating people and training them in hospitality so then they can come and work for us and, and other people in the neighborhood.

We have found that to be incredibly successful. Um, and we've just had to, we've had to look at more creative ways of attracting people to work with us and it, so far we're, we're coming into the summer in a relatively good staffing position,

Dan Ryan: Do you have something wood to knock on right there?

Sarah Eustis: I know, I know,

Dan Ryan: That's

Sarah Eustis: I know. I shouldn't jinx it.

Dan Ryan: But RA and additionally like, okay, yes, they can come work with you, great. But also, like you said earlier in our conversation, Working in hospitality at any, at a young age will only serve you on whatever path you're, you're going down or where whatever path your life takes you.

Um, so in that sense, I'd love to kind of pull on that thread back to when you're 14 years old. I, I don't know if that's eighth grade or ninth grade. So maybe you're in high school, you're, you're putting in some hours at the Red Lion in, um, maybe, what were you doing? Making beds, cleaning up, just doing

whatever you had to do, checking people in

Sarah Eustis: cha chamber, chamber mating

as it was called back then.

Dan Ryan: Okay. So if the Sarah I'm talking to right now were to magically appear in front of the 14 or 15 year old Sarah, what advice do you have for your younger self?

Sarah Eustis: I think that it seems very basic, but I would, I think, I think, um, showing up on time, sort of following through on what you said you would do, uh, working with people on a team in a respectful way. Kind of covering those basics as you're growing up through your career, making sure that, that when you show up to work, that you're making it a better place in the way that you're behaving and interacting with people.

And that, that, I see it in my children. I see it in young people working here. Um, it, it is kind of mastering the fundamentals when you're a teenager, not, not waiting for people to come to you, to, to, you know, staying, staying out of victim position. Right. Especially for women who are, are, are growing in the, in this business.

And there's, you know, I, I I have so many amazing female colleagues, uh, in different parts of the business now, but, um, but we're still not all the way there yet. And I, I do think that there's a little bit of, of. Possibly, um, that, that feeling of, oh, this is all happening to me. I can't, I can't be an agent in my own outcome.

That that's what I would, I would wanna make sure I trained myself at 14. Um, and I, I wasn't, you know, I was, I was someone who had to, you know, we had a modern family, a kind of blended family. I had to do a lot of navigating between different situations. Um, but I think hospitality trains you to be able to adapt to people to pick up on the vibe, to read a room, which I also think is a great skill as you grow as a professional.

Dan Ryan: So, as you were saying, just mastering the fundamentals. You know, I just think back to that l t r with Warren Buffet, and also, I don't like UCLA as I went to U usc, but Coach John Wooden, you know, he was all like, he'd have the best players in the country. I think he's the most winningest coach in college basketball history.

And when they would start as freshman, he would focus on, this is the right way to put your socks on, show up five minutes early. This is how you tie your shoes. Cuz it's really, if you master those real fundamental, basic things in life, it's a foundation that will only serve you. And I, I get on my kids sometimes just about, look, show up five, get there five minutes early.

Do this. Like, if you, you can't take yourself out of the game. By just not doing the basic things that we all could do, you know? And, uh, I think that that's, that's really powerful. And, you know, you think about all these other matrixes or this or that or strategies that we were talking about, but really it's like master the fundamentals don't lose


Sarah Eustis: fundamentals.

Yeah, finish the job. Do it better than someone expects you to do. And I, I can't claim perfection even in those categories, but you know, it's, um, And I have, you know, I look at my teenagers and one almost is 21, so no longer a minor. And they have growing to do. But I do see in them, uh, a sense of like this, this last summer, uh, you know, I didn't, there was no worrying about whether they were gonna get on time to work.

There was no driving them because they overslept. There was no, so it's, I could see it taking hold a little bit more. Just that sense of personal accountability to the people who were count waiting for you at work

Dan Ryan: So that just proves you're an amazing parent. If they're doing that on their own, now you've done something right.

Sarah Eustis: Well, well talk to, talk to my husband and there might be a different response.

Dan Ryan: Well,

Sarah Eustis: It's okay. They're, they're doing fine.

Dan Ryan: yeah. No, they're, they're doing great and you're doing amazingly well and your expansion over the past 10 years and growth is just really, um, I don't know. It's just so nice to know you and see this success that you're not doing passively, right. You are actively doing it while mastering the fundamentals, but also, you know, laying out a really cool course.

And, uh, it's just, it's an honor to have you here and, and have your time. So thank you so much. If people wanted to learn more about you or Main Street Hospitality, or any of the properties, uh, what's the best way for them to, to get in touch?

Sarah Eustis: Uh, I think best way is main street hospitality.com. Start there. And, um, we're just about to renovate our website and, and a new little brand refresh is coming and, um, you know, ping me on LinkedIn. I'm pretty good about responding. Um, and you know, I just in closing, Dan, thank you for having me. It's really, this is, this is the, this the stuff that we should be talking about a lot and, uh, I really enjoy it.

And, you know, I just, I wanna sort of say out loud. Um, how incredible my team is. The people who have helped me build Main Street. I'm so, I am, so I'm like display only at this point because they are really doing it and I feel humbled by the fact that they're, they're interested in the mission or they, you know, they, they want it to succeed.

And, um, we've been, we've been pulling in some really amazing people over the last few years, and so it's really, it's really them who are, who are making this happen. So I can go on your podcast and brag about it,

Dan Ryan: Yes, well, it is them, but it's also, you know, it's you attracting them as well and you're, and all the, and what your teams are building and, um, it's, you know, it's all about the people and you're, you're pulling the right people towards your ar into your orbit. So

Sarah Eustis: Wow.

Dan Ryan: cool. So don't

give yourself,

Sarah Eustis: thank you. for being in my orbit.

Dan Ryan: Give yourself some credit, please, please give yourself some. Um, but I, I'm really honored that, um, you've invested your time in this. Um, and thank you and, um, thank you to all our listeners because it's again, hum like much in the way that you're humbled. It's humbling that this, the listenership and the engagement keeps growing every single week.

Um, so I know like I'm having great guests like yourself on that are sharing their experience, which only makes all of us better within guidelines,

right? So, uh, I just wanna be sure to thank all the listeners and, um, yeah, thank you.

Sarah Eustis: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Putting Your Team First - Sarah Eustis - Defining Hospitality - Episode #105
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