Downtown Houston hotel taps rich history

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Cara Smith | Houston Business Journal | March 25, 2016

Virginia-based Sotherly Hotels Inc. (Nasdaq: SOHO) bought the hotel in 2013 for $30 million and has been renovating the 259-room hotel since 2014. The hotel’s current restaurant, Brazos, will reopen as Edgar’s Hermano, led by chef Silvia Covarrubias.

Andrew Sims, CEO at Sotherly Hotels, talked with the Houston Business Journal about the hotel’s journey.

In terms of renovations, what specifically is being done?
In the guest rooms, we’re trying to add more of a residential feel. We’re adding hardwood floors and getting away from wallpaper and going back to painted walls. We’re getting rid of heavy drapery treatments. We’re giving it a more modern, residential feel.
In terms of public space, our restaurant has a new concept, and that’s undergoing a total renovation that’ll be complete at the end of the month. We have huge pedestrian foot traffic because we’re connected to the Cullen Center on both sides, so we have thousands of people walking through our second-story lobby. We’re going to open an outdoor venue on our patio with a stage and bar. That’ll get the after-work crowd. We’re launching that in concert with our grand reopening.

What’s the story behind branding the restaurant as Edgar’s Hermano?
My dad (Edgar Sims) started our business in 1957 when he bought a 12-room motel in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., with a whopping $30,000 investment. We’ve grown the company to around $600 million in assets. It’s been a long journey. My dad passed away four or five years ago and we’ve taken him as part of our heritage. We’ve named some of our food and beverage outlets after him. We’ve also got a private-label bourbon called Edgar’s Truth that we serve at our restaurants. He liked his bourbon.

Houston’s economic landscape has changed pretty dramatically since 2013. Have you had to scrap any renovations you had planned?
We pretty much stayed true to what we thought we were going to do. When we relaunched (the hotel), we wanted to make sure The Whitehall was one of the premier boutique hotels in downtown. We haven’t backed down from our spending at all.

Why throwback to The Whitehall instead of launch a completely new brand?
We started looking at how folks book their hotel reservations today. People do reservations on their phones. They use Google maps. With the way rooms are booked these days, if you have a great location like we do, we don’t think you need that worldwide brand affiliation. Millennials are looking for an experience, not the cookie-cutter hotels you have in every city. We’ve associated ourselves with Preferred Hotels & Resorts, which is a worldwide marketing association. This group is really our portal into the Internet.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.