In May 2016, EAST, Miami celebrated the arrival of Swire Hotels’ first EAST property in the U.S. with a special ribbon cutting ceremony and press conference. Haute Living caught up with Brian Williams, Managing Director of Swire Hotels, to get the inside scoop on the brand-new hotel that will boast some of downtown’s best new eateries and be attached to a luxury shopping destination due to open this fall, Brickell City Center.
HL: Swire is big in China, tell us about their philosophy.
BW: We’re not just hoteliers; we run independent restaurants as well. There are some hotels, of course, you just go to because you just need a bed for the night, period. But for me, a hotel without a great restaurant and a great bar doesn’t have a soul. If you come somewhere pretty like Miami, you want to feel as though you’re in Miami. You don’t want to be sitting around with a bunch of bored-looking conference delegates. What you really want is to feel the vibe of the city, and I think if we bring in great restaurants and bars, and of course the retail next door, then we have that vibe and will become a destination itself.
H: What does the EAST bring to Miami?
BW: Well, we wanted EAST Miami to feel like Miami; We didn’t want it to feel like Beijing or Hong Kong. I think if you come to Miami; you want to feel the city you’re in. On the other hand, we’ve given a little nod to Asia with our rooftop restaurant, Sugar. It’s like an Asian garden, with some Chinese cuisine on the menu If there is one thing we can do well, it’s Asian food.
HL:Miami is missing good Chinese restaurants, by the way.
BW: I’ve been coming here a lot for the last sixteen years, but because I live in Asia, I generally don’t eat Asian food in America! It’s obviously very popular and people love it, so we’re going to do that. I think one of the most important things for us is our people philosophy. I’ve sent about 25 staff from Hong Kong to work here and we’ve got about 35 who’ve come out from Uruguay. A lot of them are on the J-1 Program so they’re circulating around the hotel. Our philosophy is very much about people, and they are part of it. We always talk about a hotel’s physical aspect, but that is just hardware. The most important thing is the software, the people. And if we can have, you know, really energetic, service-oriented, fun-loving people then that is something we really will bring to Miami.
HL: That should definitely set you apart from other properties in Miami.
BW: It’s very much part of our philosophy, it’s what we do. I think that’s a very important aspect of what we do.
HL: How did you decide to do bring Quinto from Uruguay?
BW: If you look at Brickell, a high percentage of people are from South America or Central America, so I knew if we brought a known restaurant, people would automatically have an association with us. So I did a little investigation and we eventually got talking to the guys from La Huella and José Ignacio in Uruguay, and I just think they are the most outstanding restaurateurs. I’m a restaurateur and I can smell a good restaurant a ways away. I know when people are very good at what they do. So we brought them to create this wonderful, relaxed, informal, but quality environment.
HL: Do you find that there’s a really big built-in fan base for that restaurant already?
BW: Absolutely. Instantaneously. And if it works, which I think it will, I’m absolutely sure it will, and we get all those people coming in here then we have a bigger fan base again, don’t we? We just expand our local fan base and that’s what so important.
HL: All the hotels need that. So how is this property different from the other EAST branded…
BW: We’ve put a lot more meeting space in here. EAST Hong Kong doesn’t have any meeting space at all, actually. In many ways, it’s a great philosophy to have— have great hotel with beautiful rooms, with everything working, free wifi (which is a group standard,) and then great restaurants and bars and wonderful energetic bubbly people who work in them. That’s the formula.
HL: EAST’s other hotels in Asia are also anchored next to fantastic shopping destinations.
BW: Correct, we are always connected to mixed-use development.
HL: That’s sort of your signature now.
BW: In Beijing, when we opened the Opposite House which is attached to, one of our shopping malls, there wasn’t really a thriving center of the city. It’s got Tiananmen Square, but it never had a sort of social center. Now everybody talks about the Opposite House and the shopping center as being where you go to eat, dine, shop. It’s become the location of Beijing, and we created that. Through thoughtful, mixed-use development.
HL: And maybe you’ll do that for Brickell.
BW: I think we will, almost undoubtedly.
Photos by World Red Eye