Interview: Circe Sher, Piazza Hospitality Group

Posted in Interviews on December 12, 2016

For Circe Sher, the hotel business is a family business. Sher opened Hotel Healdsburg as a part of Piazza Hospitality Group; the stylish, renowned boutique hotel complete with a Charlie Palmer restaurant. Sher had always loved the hospitality world, having done PR for farmers markets and event planning for former San Francisco mayor, Willie Brown. Here, she shares the inspiration behind Piazza Hospitality Group’s second success story, h2Hotel, the importance of a quality food and beverage program, and plans for upcoming California hotel projects.
What was the inspiration behind the h2 concept? How did you want it to differ from Hotel Healdsburg? We started thinking about doing a second hotel as early as 2005, for two main reasons. One we found ourselves turning away customers at Hotel Healdsburg; there was that much demand. We also found that there was a growing number of customers looking for a lower price point. There were more and more affluent young people; we were seeing the tech industry influence.
So, we came up with the concept for h2. We built it on the site of a former gas station, and we built it as a LEED Gold hotel. The feeling at h2 is a lot more DIY; it’s more simple and efficient. It’s stylish. We have a big cocktail bar as opposed to wine library to serve that different customer. We have a water bar on every floor, offering sparkling and flat — something you’ll see in restaurants but not hotels. It really resonated with that crowd, along with our bikes for rent. We very intentionally integrated the food and beverage experience into the whole space.
Four years in… do you find that your guests are responsive to the vibe of h2? Absolutely. And while it was initially really geared towards the younger customers, we get a lot of 50, 60-year-olds who really like the vibe, the simplicity of the space.
Tell us about the decision to pursue LEED certification when building h2. How did that become a part of the plan? The idea first came from our architect, David Baker; that’s something that his team really values. We were already really involved in creek restoration [which runs along the back of h2]. So, having that integrated into the building felt natural. We have a living roof, solar power, and sustainable materials. It was costly… but I think it’s worth it. We identify as a green property. It’s part of the branding, and appeals to the customer that we’re going for. The best thing is that our guests will say, “We really appreciate all of the green aspects, but it doesn’t feel super stripped down.” Some green buildings are so bare, so austere.
Both Hotel Healdsburg and h2 have restaurants that have earned reputations for being culinary destinations on their own terms with Dry Creek Kitchen and spoonbar, respectively. What’s your advice for creating a stand-out restaurant within a hotel? For Hotel Healdsburg, we were initially inspired by the fact that, well, everything grows here. This is an incredible wine region and we wanted to celebrate that. We were looking for chefs, and it happened that Charlie Palmer was planning on moving here. He was able to get involved very early on. My father worked with our architects to really design the restaurant area to be easily accessible to the public.. Dry Creek Kitchen really stands on its own. They do the breakfast, the turndown chocolates, but it’s its own entity.
spoonbar similarly has that accessibility. It has cantina doors and a big bar. Both restaurants have their own websites. That’s huge — if they were just built into the hotel website, guests always experiencing the restaurant through the hotel.
Charlie Palmer is, of course, a great chef with great vision. At spoonbar, we found really interesting young chefs with their own point of view. We want them to drive the vision for the menu.
What’s next for the Piazza Hospitality Group? We’re opening up h3, a sister property to h2 here in Healdsburg. There will be 39 rooms, a great roof deck, event space for 150, and the two properties will be connected by a path. There’s a bridge going over the creek and we’re building a park. We’ll have music events out there; there’s room for kids to play around, and outdoor space for both to share. Right now, we’re looking at opening in December 2017, and so far, it’s on track! We have another project in San Luis Obispo, which should be opening around March 2018. That’s 79 rooms with event space for 300 and  a bar. It’s an ambitious, exciting project. We’re also getting our approvals for a project in Sebastopol. Really, we just want to continue opening and running high quality properties.