Jessica Abo: Leo, how did you get into the hospitality industry?
I stumbled upon a project in Culver City, an old, dilapidated 49-room apartment motel, and the highest and best use was a boutique hotel. I loved the project and I loved the location. So I started Grifka Group with this property as my first project.
How did you find your next hotel?
Finding a worthwhile project that will take several years to develop takes time. I found the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel, started talking to the owner and he decided to sell me the property. I loved the property because I live two blocks from the hotel so I spend all my time there with my family. So, I was excited to be able to take on a project like that.
What was this experience like during a pandemic?
It was a very, very scary time for hotel owners. It was a great opportunity for me, to be able to find a property like The Farmer’s Daughter that was very prominent and well known in the area.
The new name of the hotel is Short Stories. What can you share about the name?
The first sense of Stories is in the 20s and 30s, there were many poets and authors living in this area, many of them working on stories. Faulkner and Bukowski are two of the best known. The second meaning is that when you stay in a hotel, you’re not really creating a novel, you’re just creating little stories. I liked that. I liked that about the name. And finally, it’s only three stories, so it’s literally short.
What can you share about the hotel regarding the property?
The hotel has 66 rooms. There are three or four different types of rooms, and we have a pool, which is great to have in Los Angeles. The Short Stories restaurant seats around 160 and has a very nice patio and patio area ideal for alfresco dining. Everything was checked. It is not too feminine, not too masculine, but very beautiful with very high-end materials. Almost everything in the room is custom made. In the background, you can see a print by Kenton Nelson, who is a well-known artist, an artist from Los Angeles, which I think is very special compared to the moat art that you see in hotels today.
Given how important old-school hospitality is to you, how are you delivering that experience to guests?
With Short Stories, the goal is to bring back old-school hospitality because I saw that even before COVID, it had also become the industry standard, when you’re checking in, you’re given the key, and then it’s like, “We’ll see you when you check out. We started seeing cost-cutting measures like mobile check-in and check-in kiosks instead of check-in attendants. At the same time, the ubiquity of Airbnb was coming in. The knee-jerk reaction from hotel owners was, “Let’s be more like Airbnb.” Which is pretty much like a guest experience, “Here’s your bed.” So it really did something bad for the hotel experience, which at that point is no longer hospitable. The point of hospitality is to be hospitable. So with Short Stories, I’m bringing hospitality back old school. So we’ll greet you by name. We’ll offer you a welcome drink. We’ll take you in your room We have turndown service, which is very unique for a small boutique hotel, and many other little touches like this, which really add to the total guest experience.
Why do you think it is so important for entrepreneurs to invest in local projects?
Someone who is local, developing in the backyard, knows the area better than anyone. You can impact the end user more. And that goes for any asset class, but specifically for hotels, because I know, for example, in the Fairfax area, West Hollywood, Beverly Grove, that I’m able to curate the guest experience more than a developer of the whole country or even to another country.
Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I’ll tell you what worked for me. Never take no for an answer. I think it’s important to listen, but if you let every “no” stop you, there’s no way you can be a successful entrepreneur because there will always be naysayers. Hard work is very important. I mean, what you put into it is what you really get out in the end. Try doing something different. There are many people who have been successful doing the same thing as everyone else. But I think if you really want to be in the top echelon of entrepreneurs, you have to try to do something different and stand out because people will definitely notice.