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]