Industry Insiders: Brandon Freid, Vice President, Impulsive Group; President, Sanctuary Hotel

Brandon Freid has worked the front desk, been a concierge, and developed new properties like the Sanctuary Hotel in New York. This background suits him at Impulsive Group, a major player in the rapidly evolving hospitality landscape. “We have anything from a young hipster hotel to a four-star hotel with five-star service,” he says of the company’s properties. I chatted with Freid at Haven, the Sanctuary’s gorgeous rooftop bar, to get the lowdown on his busy life in the hotel world—and enjoy a pretty pink cocktail.

Where did you grow up? What kind of stuff were you into as a kid?

I was born in Melville, Long Island. I went to junior high and high school there, and then I went to college at the University of Miami, where I graduated in 2001. Ever since I was young, besides playing a lot of sports, I’ve always been involved in working with my father [longtime hotelier and CEO of Impulsive Group Hank Freid] with hotels. I’ve done everything from demolition—which is fun when you’re a kid—to construction, to concierge, to the front desk, to sales trips. I’ve run the gamut as far as the hotel industry is concerned. I’ve done acquisitions for some of our properties. For example, I found the Sanctuary property several years ago, purchased it, and hired the designer. I’m involved with hiring all the contractors for everything from the architecture to the design to the construction teams. I have my hands in everything.

Is that just for this property or are you that hands-on for all the Impulsive Group properties?

It’s for all of Impulsive Group. Sanctuary was really my baby, my first hotel, well as Haven, the rooftop restaurant and bar. I was really completely hands-on with this project, but I’ve been involved with every Impulsive Group hotel.

Which hotels are those?

We have the Ameritania Hotel which is on 54th and Broadway. And then we have some on the Upper West Side. We have a Moroccan themed hotel called Marrakech. We have another hotel called Broadway. So we have anything from a young hipster hotel to a 4-star hotel with 5-star service. We have two yachts that we use for charter. One’s based in Miami, in the Caribbean. And the other one is in the Mediterranean, in the South of France.

So you’ve grown up in the industry.

I really have. From day one I’ve had a hammer in my hand, and now I’m in a tie and I’m up in Haven, our latest venue, making sure that it’s running properly, that the food’s great, the drinks are great, that the atmosphere is what it should be.

What exactly is your job title? It sounds like you do just about everything, but what’s an average day like for you, if there is such a thing?

I’m involved with the overall umbrella company, which is the Impulsive Group. I’m the Vice President of Impulsive Group. So I’m in contact with all five hotels on a daily basis. And on a weekly basis I visit every hotel. I’m constantly meeting with the general managers of each property to get updated on what’s going on. I’m also the President of Sanctuary Hotel. I oversee everything from hiring the general manager to the front desk employees, and making sure that the service is great. You know, we have 111 rooms here, and with 111 rooms you are able to really provide service above and beyond, because we don’t have 500 or 1000 rooms. We know every guest that comes in and out of this hotel. We know what they like, what they don’t like, and we really cater to their needs. When Haven opened in the summer, my hours of work got extended. Before, I was up at 6:30 in the morning and I was getting home around 8. Now I’m not getting home until like 11 or midnight, I’m sleeping for a few hours, and then I’m back here again.

Do you have a specific type of guest that you try to target with Sanctuary and Haven?

Sanctuary and Haven are both located in Midtown Manhattan, which is really the center of corporate America as well as tourism. It’s the number one tourist destination in the United States. So during the week we’re heavy with our corporate business and on the weekends we have a lot of tourism. So we have a very big differentiation between the two.

It sounds like you have a pretty fun job.

It’s a great job. I’m not complaining.

Is there anything you don’t particularly enjoy about it?

I almost don’t consider it work, because I love what I do. I was just away for two weeks in Europe and I was looking forward to coming back. I couldn’t be any happier being here today than I was in South of France on a yacht yesterday.

Do you have a secret to your success?

I think that the only way to ever own and develop and properly manage hotels is to experience doing the positions of front desk agent, the housekeeping department, reservations, being a manager, being a GM, and so on. You have to know what to expect from those people and the only way to know that is to have been in those positions before. So I’ve been there and I’m able to really identify what those positions entail and what they require.

Have you ever worked in hotels under other companies?

I did when I was in college, when I was in the University of Miami. While I was in New York, I pretty much always worked beneath my father.

What did you study in college?

I studied Business Management.

Do you think going to college is important in your industry?

I do. I don’t think that it’s absolutely necessary because there are people who have succeeded without it, but I think it does help and it does broaden your horizons. And it’s always smart to go out of your element, from wherever you’re from, for a few years and experience life somewhere else.

Do you have any future plans?

(Laughing) Yeah, I’m young. A lot more hotels.

Anything specific in the near future?

I am looking at acquiring another hotel. I really can’t say more than that right now, though.

My pretty pink cocktail arrives.

What drink did you get?

This is the Aura.

I created that drink. It’s a great drink. It’s got muddled raspberry, mint leaves, simple syrup, and a half a squeeze of lemon. I love gin. This one’s made with Bombay Sapphire.

It’s delicious. [It really is.]

I think it’s great that that’s the drink you ordered.

Are you very involved with the menu here?

I am. I had the chef make me three things that I have no interest in eating right now, because I want to know how they look and what they taste like before they go on the menu. I taste every drink and every food item before it’s served to customers.

Did you have a hand in the decor as well?

Every single piece of it. I completely designed everything here, from the cedar that wraps around there, the reclaimed lumber in the ceiling–I went to Brooklyn to find it–to the umbrellas, to the tables, to the cushions.

Do you do that solo or do you work with a team?

We do it as a team at Impulsive Group. But these days I’m really the person in charge of finding it and making it happen, and I bounce my ideas off them.

Do you work a lot with your father?

I do.

Is that a smooth relationship?

I have a very unique relationship with my father where we’re best friends. We have a great work relationship, as far as partners. It’s great because we have five hotels and we’re able to both be in different places. He’s able to shine where he shines and I’m able to shine where I shine. It’s great to have another person you can trust to work with, but who will have a different opinion and sees things a little bit differently than you do.

What are the areas that you shine in as opposed to him?

He happens to be very, very good in the management. And I’m more of the creative, construction, visionary person. And I spearhead the acquisitions.

Have you thought about expanding outside of New York?

I have. And we’ve looked many times. At this point we just haven’t found the right opportunity. But I do plan on doing it. I would probably go into a major city like Los Angeles, Miami, or Chicago.

What do you do to unwind when you have time off?

I like to work out. I play tennis. I love hanging out with my friends and seeing my family.

Do you travel a lot?

I travel quite often. For me, Miami’s always an easy two-hour run on a plane, so I’m there a lot. Or California. I’d say I’m there four times a year. And every summer I travel to Europe.

Is there anything else I should know about you or your venues?

Yes. Try some food. You have to try the tuna and you have to try the crab.

A Tuna Tower and the Crab and Avocado Palette suddenly appear on the low wooden table before me.

Do you like crab?

I do.

Jump in there.

That’s delicious. [It really is.] 

The food’s good right?

Yes it is. Is it mostly seafood based?

No, it’s French-American cuisine. We have a great cajun chicken dish. We have a steak. We do have other fish though. We have a tilapia. We have a salmon. It’s light and fresh. That is also, I think, one of the things that makes the Haven Rooftop stand out – our food. We have two chefs and they really execute and we have a ridiculous menu.

Do you get a lot of outside customers at Haven or is it predominantly hotel guests?

I’ll tell you where we get the most, and honestly it’s our best publicity – our neighbors. All these tall buildings around us. That’s Fox right there. The glass building over there behind you is Morgan Stanley. And they all are taller than us, so they look down on us and were watching us build. Look around – it’s all people in suits that are well dressed–these aren’t tourists. I don’t want to stare at them, but if you look, they’re actually all working in the neighborhood and they’re coming here after work to blow off some steam and have a few drinks. I love that they’re my clientele.

It probably ensures a regular crowd too.

It does. But you have to give them great service. You have to give them great food and great cocktails, otherwise they’ll just go somewhere else. I mean it is New York. Survival of the fittest. Do you want to try something else? Another cocktail?

Before I can respond, a plate of the aforementioned Cajun chicken arrives. Freid turns to a couple of friends at a nearby table and grins.

How’d I do with the interview, guys?