So, How Did You Get The Job, Luis Colmenares, Lead Personal Assistant At Capella Washington DC?

Luis Colmenares, shown above, is standing just outside the hotel’s construction site at 31st and South Streets in Georgetown.

Meet Luis Colmenares, president of the Washington Area Concierge Association, member of Les Clefs D’Or and new lead personal assistant at Capella Washington, D.C., Georgetown. The 54-year-old Colmenares has spent 24 years at the city’s finest hotels, most recently at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco, where he served for the past eight years as lead concierge before taking the position with Capella in late November.

The always-smiling Colmenares sat with us over lunch, a cheery argyle sweater brightening up his somber jacket-and-tie uniform, to discuss just what he hopes to achieve when he takes over Washington’s first hotel with a dedicated personal assistant program in February.

Nearly a quarter century ago, Colmenares moved to Washington from his native Venezuela on a “whim.” He had visited on a week-long vacation and fell in love with the “great European feel” of the city. After spending nearly a decade as a travel consultant, he applied on a lark to the Capital Hilton after a friend suggested he’d make a good concierge.
He got the job, spending a year as a member of the concierge team at one of Washington’s largest hotels before moving to open the Ritz-Carlton on 22nd and M in 2001, a property that has deep roots in the Washington community.

It is also where he first met Alex Obertop, who was then the property’s director of rooms. Here, he worked as part of a team of six at his first luxury hotel, serving as both a butler to visiting VIPs as well as performing more personalized concierge duties on the hotel’s private Club floor.

An outgoing and self-described “people person,” Colmenares also spent a year at one of the city’s ultraluxury properties, The Mandarin Oriental, before moving to spend eight years at Hotel Monaco, a boutique property in the heart of Penn Quarter.

Here, he earned admittance into Les Clefs d’Or USA, the industry’s most competitive membership organization and rose to become president of the Washington Area Concierge Association, where he was honored with the title of “Concierge of the Year” by Where magazine.

Colmenares tells numerous stories of his days as a luxury concierge, although, ever discreet, he won’t name names. There was the notoriously temperamental opera singer who insisted that he join her for tea, the eccentric businessman who ordered a Hummer delivered to the hotel and would only purchase the vehicle after Colmenares accompanied him on the test drive and approved of the purchase. These are but a handful of loyal clients whom he says he’s had the pleasure of serving. He grins as he tells each story, his eyes crinkling at the corners, making him seem decades younger than his salt and pepper hair suggests.

When asked if he ever wants to leave DC, he shakes his head. “My roots are here.”
But Colmenares yearned for a return to luxury – he missed the fast pace, the one-to-one service ratio, and the guest relationships that developed over repeat visits. In fact, he craved the very attitude that Capella CEO Horst Schulze, a former Ritz-Carlton man, described recently to CNBC when he answered that Capella staffers would do anything for a guest, so long as it was “legal, moral and ethical.”

“Everything [at Capella] is about service,” Colmenares says. “We really want to know the guest, but not be invasive.”

Such knowledge is what sets Capella apart from its peers, and its staff are what make it possible, says Obertop. Assistants will begin by calling guests two weeks prior to arrival, making sure that basic needs like dinner reservations and food preferences or allergies are noted. Upon arrival, a dedicated assistant will greet each guest, doubling as front staff agents as they escort the guest directly to their hotel room for check-in. The process will run like a well-oiled machine, he hopes, the team of seven working shifts to ensure an individualized relationship with guests in each of the hotel’s 49 rooms. As of early December, two of the assistants in addition to Colmenares have been hired – one, a former colleague of his at Hotel Monaco and another who has personal assistant experience but who has never before worked in hospitality. It will be a tight ship, but there’s no one better than Colmenares to run the show.

See D.C. Like a Local: Visit Lead Personal Assistant Luis Colmenares’ Favorite Spots
• The National Gallery of Art … “my favorite on the mall.”
• Hillwood … “a great private space.”
• The Kreeger Museum … “for the architecture.”
• The Spanish Steps … “to sit and enjoy a spring or summer day.”
• Montrose Park … “for picnics.”
• The Key Bridge … “at sunset, there’s nothing better.”
• The Lincoln Memorial … “sit on the back to watch planes take off and land.”

[Image Credit: McLean Robbins]

Birth Of A Hotel: Farm To Table Is Here To Stay

This week, we’ve been busy talking to hospitality experts for our upcoming feature on hotel food and beverage trends. Simultaneously, our featured hotel, Capella Washington D.C., Georgetown, has been preparing their own F&B offerings.
Capella’s soon-to-be-announced restaurant won’t feature a celebrity chef (like their neighbor The Four Seasons, with its Michael Mina restaurant) but it will draw on a major trend in the restaurant world: local cuisine. Much of the hotel’s produce will be sourced from local farms. Guy Rigby, Four Seasons Americas vice president of food and beverage, says that local foods are more than just a passing trend – the use of local foods and high-quality ingredients has become an expectation of the discerning diner.

Trends do play an important role in menu development, however, as shown by the craft beer selections being considered for the restaurant. Hospitality expert Steven Kamali told us that the beer market is nowhere near its saturation point, and, in Washington, beer bars have made waves in the community in recent years, including the opening of the District’s first brewery, DC Brau.

Speaking to the local community will also be a critical part of opening this new restaurant. Located along the city’s scenic C&O Canal, hotel managing partner Bruce Bradley expressed his desire to showcase the restaurant as a place welcoming to the local community as well as hotel guests. Kamali and Rigby also spoke to the importance of this marketing segment, stating that hotels must carefully consider the local market when developing their restaurant concepts.

We look forward to bringing you a larger feature – just in time for Thanksgiving. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, catch up on all of your “Birth of a Hotel” coverage here.

[Image Credits: Capella Washington D.C.]

Birth Of A Hotel: Building A Living Room

capella washington living room

We took our first site tour of Capella Washington D.C., Georgetown’s interior this past week and are very excited to show you what we’ve found. One of our favorite images is actually this great shot, above, of the unfinished “Living Room,” the heart of the hotel’s ground level. Instead of a formal check-in desk, the hotel will feature a cozy living room where guests can relax with a book or glass of wine. Above, you’ll see the space as it currently stands, and below, the rendering of the finished product.

You’ll note that the builders actually sacrificed a room in order to bring this space to two levels.

capella washington dc living room

“The Birth of a Hotel” is a Gadling-exclusive series that details what happens as a hotel prepares to open. Follow along with the articles and updates at “The Birth Of A Hotel” page, here. We’d also love to hear from you, our readers. If you have a topic about hotel development or trends that you’d love to see explored, email us or leave a comment below.

Birth Of A Hotel: Choosing The Right Place (Setting)

The devil is in the details, they say. The image above shows Capella Washington’s management team examining potential silverware, china and stemware to be used in the dining outlets and rooms at the soon-to-open hotel.

General Manager Alex Obertop explained to us that this process is more difficult than it might seem. Hotels want to find pieces that are attractive, elegant, and fitting of a luxury property but that are at the same time timeless and relatively inexpensive. Items break daily, and you don’t want to bankrupt a hotel by choosing pieces that are difficult to replace.

“Birth of a Hotel” is a Gadling exclusive series that details what happens as a hotel prepares to open. Follow along with the articles and updates at the “Birth Of A Hotel” page, here.

[Image courtesy of Capella Washington]