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#035 - Hospitality Meets Eric Jafari - The Disruptive Entrepreneur & Founder
Episode 3516th September 2020 • Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street • Phil Street
00:00:00 00:56:33

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You really can come into hospitality at any time, with any background. Today's guest demonstrates that point beautifully but not only that, how you can come in and really get people thinking about the ways in which things happen.

We chat today to Eric Jafari, Chief Development Officer and Creative Director at Edyn Group ( and Co-Founder at Locke Hotels (

This chat is rammed full of interesting conversation with some golden content on re-imagining hospitality experiences.

We talk about being grateful for the time you live in, founding business, pursuing moments of joy, rethinking hospitality, finding true points of difference, Locke, learning from failure, Flexible living, hot tubs, outdoor dining, routine, sleep, psychology of experience and so much more.

A massive thank you to Eric for being so open.


Conversation Transcription


people, hotels, hospitality, Locke, experience, stay, london, spend, spaces, rooms, lock, week, Eric, unique, brand, moment, design, restaurant, days, Saco


Phil, Eric

Phil 00:01

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today's guest is Eric Jafari, chief Development Officer at Edyn group, the company behind the amazing Locke hotels. Coming up on today's show. Eric intrigues us all with this statement...

Eric 00:22

You know, I was brought up with what I've called kind of extreme hospitality.

Phil 00:26

Phil proves that learning can come from anywhere. How I remember learning about that was from an episode of "The Simpsons", and Eric reveals the one major strategy you need for success.

Eric 00:37

The reason for why I ended up where I am today was more to you know, kind of scratching my own itch.

Phil 00:44

All that and so much more as Eric talks us through His story to date, as well as some superb content on rethinking hospitality. Don't forget to give us a like and share across your favourite social channels. Enjoy. Hello and welcome to the next edition of hospitality meets with me your host Phil Street. Today We chat to someone who's definitely not had your your typical route into hospitality but has founded some superb and very recognisable brands, including Urban Villa, Union Hannover and now finds himself as part of the founding team at Locke hotels and Edyn group, as well as being the creative driving force behind those brands. He was also MD of is it SACO property group. Was it SACO?


Eric 01:27

That was SACO, Yeah.

Phil 01:29

Yep. SACO Property Group. Welcome to the show, Eric Jafari


Eric 01:35

Thank you for Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.


Phil 01:38

You're very, very welcome. How are you doing?


Eric 01:40

I'm good. I'm good. I mean, listen, if someone had asked me about six months ago, hey, by the way, Eric, you're not going to be able to travel for four months, you're not going to be able to go to your favourite restaurants, or your favourite bars. You're gonna have to spend most of your time working indoors. That's probably the closest thing to how that is. could have possibly imagined and yes, for one reason or another, I've actually, you know, there's a lot of downside to all this. But I've enjoyed it so much more than I wouldn't have anticipated in ways that I just couldn't fathom.


Phil 02:12

I completely agree. It's, there's good days and bad days probably i think that's that's the way to sum up for me is that sometimes I'm grateful to have the time and a bit more headspace perhaps, than the normal. And then there's other days where I just put my head in the headlines for a second and I am petrified about what happens next. But it's Yeah, funny all times.


Eric 02:36

It's an incredible experience that we're going through. I mean, this is one of those, you know, when I was growing up, and you you heard things, I mean, horrific things like world war two or one. It just felt like such a distant past is something that we just I couldn't relate to, and over the course of our lifetime, although there was a number of quite a life defining events Like, like 911 the Iraq War a lot unless you were physically there. It's It's It's distant. And yet this is this one experience. They're they're there. There's nowhere to hide from COVID everyone on the entire planet has been impacted by this and not in a Oh, yeah, I mean, I am I'm impacted, kind of in some way, but came back to seriously. And so it's, um, it's fascinating to see the type of change that this has already had on humanity, on our economy on how we relate to one another on how we consume and our priorities. And that, that, you know, I've always been one of those people that believes that we overestimate the amount of change that will happen over the course the next 10 years and we underestimate the amount of arms we underestimate the amount of change that happens in. Yeah, in basically 10 years and we under up underestimate the amount of change that happens in a year. And so, in this specific set of circumstances, that entire premise has been put to question, I really wonder what life will look like in 24 months time, and how that will impact things in five to 10 years time.


Phil 04:22

No, it's, I have to salute you as well. We're three minutes in and you've gone deep straight away. We normally reserve that for around about the 30 minute mark, but but well done, you just get it straight away


Eric 04:39

yeah, I'm not one for pleasantries, Phil, unfortunately, if you if you speak to most people who've literally just met me, I prefer to really get into the meat.


Phil 04:49

Yep. Yeah. No. Well, I think the thing is, is that your adversity has a habit of uniting us in some way. I think. If you'd have said to me that there would be a A global event that could unite everybody to one common which is that, you know, everybody's been affected by by this in some regard, whether it's health, economic, whatever. It's quite. It's quite a deep point to think about the fact that something like this has actually united everybody in a moment of thought, perhaps


Eric 05:21

Hmmm, Yeah.


Phil 05:23

Anyway, that's definitely enough of that nonsense. Let's get back on point. Where abouts are you in the world today? Are you working from home? Are you in one of your sites?


Eric 05:35

I'm actually quite fortunate. So I'm actually sitting in one of the rooms, I'm at Locke broken Wharf, which is one of our properties that opened in March of this year of all time. So three weeks for COVID and I'm overlooking the Thames. So I've got a view of the Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern, so it's spectacular. I'm really lucky


Phil 05:58

Nice, nice. I have to say, given that kind of rap sheet that I built you up with at the beginning and then but actually before I wrote these after I wrote these notes. We had a chat about the fact that were also involved in Birch and Hertfordshire that's just opened this week. So the question I have for you on that, is there any business in hospitality that you've not founded?


Eric 06:25

(Laughs) Yes plenty because most hospitality is quite boring. I might my view on this funny thing is I don't come from a hospitality background. You're my father was one of the lead architects at Disney. And so from a very early age, I was brought up with what I've called kind of extreme hospitality. To say that you could literally create something in the middle of nowhere. And as long as is it's spectacular enough people will come but but really what what I learned through that process And I think we spoke about this once you and I feel was that, you know, we spend so much of our lives pursuing happiness. And I've come to the realisation that it's less less about pursuing this idea of happiness, and more about pursuing moments of joy. And that's what I learned, you know, being kind of the son of father Disney. I mean, you people spend fortunes to travel from all over parts of the world to come to Orlando or California, and really experience these exciting moments of joy that they'll look back on with fondness for the rest of their lives. And I think at a subconscious level, I've always asked myself, you, does that really have to be your Do you have to fly to Disney for that? Is there a way of doing that on? You know, in every city, is there a way of doing that so that instead of someone flying out to Orlando, they can go to somewhere? either go to a go to a city or somewhere within closer proximity to have the same degree of emotion? Yep. That's a constant quest, whether it's in a city like LA, or whether it's in the countryside like birch. I'm obviously not, you know, it was it was an original idea. And now fortunately, Chris brought on Chris and Chris, and they've taken it to a whole different level. And it'll be exciting to see what comes of that as well.


Phil 08:17

But I think that that's probably a bit of a talent in itself in the sense that, you know, I think it's one thing to be creative and come up with the idea, but it doesn't necessarily always translate that you're the best person I suppose to then take that and make it into something.


Eric 08:35

Yeah, a lot of it. That's it's an interesting point. I much like much like a lot of people in my position. You know, there are two different types of people who probably make it to where they were, I mean, one is people who, perhaps go work for a large hospitality company, and work with their way up the corporate ladder, and have the experience below them, but it's fairly kind of a straightforward path. And for many, I would probably suggest Just taking that path because it's a lot less heartache and headache than the path I took. I have mine wasn't that path. Mine I was in a completely different sector. You know, I was in wealth management and, and real estate kind of private equity. And the reason for why I ended up where I am today was more to, you know, kind of scratching my own itch 10 years ago, I literally would spend, I would spend every bit of earnings I may travelling the world to Excel to go to these hotels that were quite unique. And yet, you know, as a profession, I was investing in student housing and, you know, Holiday Inns and premier inns and properties that look safe on paper. But in all honesty, staying in these properties never really brought me any joy. And so, what I was investing in didn't coincide with what I was consuming and I remember thinking at the time, this was about 10 years ago. The type of properties I like consuming were your lifestyle hotels or high design hotels. And, you know, if I, if you really look back then to, you know, and just move to London from the States, there were only two lifestyle hotels here at the time. There's Hoxton. And so Wow, so we shortage house in comparison to New York, which at the time had good 4050 different lifestyle design hotels. So there was a series under supply of kind of high design hotels and fast forward 10 years, things have changed considerably since. Yeah, but the other part that that was missing was, you know, I I, the most transformative moments of my life always were came from me spending an extended period of time within a foreign land. And I had realised maybe by accident early on, that the traditional hotel format wasn't suitable to encourage a an extended length of stay. Yeah, yeah, I was fine staying in a hotel for two three days. You know, maybe four but much longer. It just wasn't comfortable. You know that the fridge wasn't big enough. You're working off of your bed just isn't suitable. There's no the gyms yeah the gyms got a few treadmills, but if you're into fitness, you've got to find go and spend 30 pounds just to you know, find a proper gym. There's just so many things that just didn't work for me. And so you're trying to find something that merged the ability to accommodate extended stay with high design. It didn't exist. And so I guess I kind of by accident, scratch my own itch and kind of went down this road. But I realised that the only way to deliver on this was to bring people who knew who were a lot more knowledgeable in specific fields. And so I had to bring in someone who was a specialist in construction. I had to, I had to bring in someone who was who knew how to deal with the lenders. I had to bring in someone who's very good at acquisitions, finding properties I had, and then eventually bring in someone who's good at, at the commercial element. And because and I had to blindly rely on them, because I just didn't know anything about that segment. And there hadn't been long hospitality enough to pretend like I did, right. And that worked out for the better. I think a lot of people are too scared of saying I just don't understand, or I don't know. And so because they're scared of being judged. But in my case, because I didn't have a background in hospitality, I was humble enough to go okay. What do you think we should do? And just, let's do it.


Phil 12:49

Yeah. Well, I think the point there about not having hospitality experience Okay. Yes, you might not from a business perspective, per se, but certainly from a consumer perspective. We're all consumers of hospitality in some form, and you know what you like, right? And what you don't like by the same token, so I guess you bring that experience. And I suppose that's where the creative creativity around the idea comes from in the first place.


Eric 13:16

Yeah, I'm am I one of the challenges with with hospitality is, especially when it comes to hotels, is that if you think about the gatekeepers to brands, the the person that makes the decision on what what type of food offering, they'll be, what the design will be, tends to be someone that's sitting in an ivory tower, and they tend to be someone who perhaps has has made it and in their own personal lives, they'll stay at a five star hotel or luxury hotel. And so the moment they're a pining on something other than a five star hotel or experience that they personally consumed, there's a disconnect. They don't really and so I think that's where A lot of the challenges is that the moment the decision maker isn't the consumer, you've got a problem. Yeah. And I always tell the guys, the moment that I stopped becoming the primary consumer, for Locke, or for for any brand for that matter, I no longer have the credibility to be pining on design on music on what type of skincare line we use, what type of you know what type of f&b experience is, it should look like. And I think this is part of the reason for why I think the standard was so before its time was because you had someone on your belaz, who was the decision maker had the autonomy to make those decisions and yet spent all this time consuming. spent all his time there. Yeah, and that's quite a special formula.


Phil 14:46

Yeah, I mean, that I completely agree with you. I think that sometimes there's an awful lot of spreadsheets and an awful lot of soulless decision making goes on without actually, you know, have you how many hotels have you been to around the world where you you go into Just maybe for a couple of nights stay for business or whatever, and you're not inspired by spending any time in their restaurant because maybe the menu is just dated or uninteresting. There's just no thought or care gone into it because it's just a round spreadsheet decision making.


Eric 15:22

Yeah, and simplicity. I mean, use use the other issue with hospitality. You know, I'm not going to name any names, but there's so many amazing concepts out there where I'll never forget that yeah, these concepts which are very, very unique that come out in the show disruptive. And since so much effort goes into the very first experience, and so much heartache and so much headache and they finally figured out the the operators too scared of going through that effort again, and trialling something new. So what they do is they take that first experience, and they'll do minor adjustments there. After but every other hotel they end of launching thereafter, is is basically a carbon copy of the very first one, right? And the problem with that is you when you go to that first one, as a consumer, you're the reason for why you're paying a premium. The reason for all the fanfare is because you're thinking in the back of your mind is consumer. This really is unique. I love this. The moment you go to another property, let's say you go to what in, in, in Paris, and it's amazing. And then you go to their branch in Turkey or in a symbol. And the moment you walk in there, and it's literally a carbon copy of the one that you saw on Paris. You've been robbed of all of the joy of its unique fabric. Because you're thinking well wait a minute, I part of what made the Parisian woman so special was because it integrated the local fabric. It was so unique and so different. I was hoping that by coming to assemble and experiencing the version assemble that it would have integrated some element of the micro location and so it's it's quite soul destroying where as a consumer to see that and so that that is one of the reasons and I think missions that lock is that we really go through a lot of brain damage right to ensure that every single lock is is completely different. So we've got a we've got two more locks opening by here in London by the end of the year. So by the end of this year you'll have Lehman lock, which is an all gate. You got lock in broken watch brokerage is the one that I'm sitting at now which is across from the Tate Modern. You got Kingston lock, which will be opening in Dalston, and you got Burma's lock which will be opening on Bermondsey Street. The differences between the four locks will be comparable to the difference between Hoxton a citizen M and the standard. Right? And I really that probably that arguably is our greatest achievement. I because I feel I'd rather you go to the one in in Dalston. And go, Ah, I actually don't like this, Eric, I'd love the one you had any in all gate, but I really don't like this. Then you walk into the one in Dalston and go, yeah, it's nice, it's great, but it's a carbon copy of the one and Lehman just with different colours.


Phil 18:19

Sure. That's that's actually groundbreaking maybe too big a word but it's your it's a really unique and fresh way of thinking about your spaces, rather than going well that worked there. So let's just make another one and put it there. Because it might not work there because you're what people are looking for in that area is...