We’ve all been there. Arriving at a hotel in a city we don't know, checking in, hungry and cranky after the hassle of travel, to learn the only option for food is the hotel restaurant. Then sitting down, ordering an overpriced (and usually mediocre) cocktail, and choking down a rubber chicken dinner with wilted vegetables that makes us question our life choices.
H3D Hospitality Design is out to change that. Candice Schiller teamed up with Craig Schuster and other partners a few years back to form the group. Schiller — also a partner at Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group, the foundation of the swanky Café Annie, The Grove, and others — has been designing restaurants for a quarter century. Schuster spent 20 years designing spaces for the Pappas restaurant empire. They came together after Interstate Hotels, a leading U.S.-based global hotel management company, asked Schiller to help revitalize one of the group's hotel restaurants in Dallas.
"We wanted to see if it was possible to create something that could compete with the many good street-side restaurants — a venue that could, of course, take care of the hotel guests, but also draw from the surrounding trade area," says Don Meredith, senior vice president at Interstate Hotels & Resorts. "A restaurant that extended beyond a necessary amenity into a local destination."
H3D Hospitality Design focuses entirely on the hotel food and beverage sector. The group also offers other key elements in the restaurant-creation process such as branding, hiring the right team, marketing, and social media, from design conception all the way through opening.
"We know the restaurant business," says Lonnie Schiller, a partner with H3D. "And we believe hotel restaurants can be really compelling spaces."
If the idea of a hotel restaurant as a compelling dining option seems like an anomaly, consider the trends. Decades ago, with real estate tight and prices high, some of the best restaurants in Hong Kong opened up in hotels. Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse put his equally acclaimed Spoon in the InterContinental Hotel (late last year, the Spoon concept gave way to Rech, a more upscale casual spot than the swanky Spoon that's garnering great accolades).
Wolfgang Puck has long been synonymous with Los Angeles cuisine, and the world went wild when he opened his eponymous restaurant at the then-newly renovated Bel Air Hotel in 2011, turning the place into destination dining. In recent years, hotels in Las Vegas and New York have amped up their restaurant games; just last month, Tilman Fertitta jumped into the hotel restaurant arena in Houston, opening four concepts in The Post Oak Hotel in Uptown.
So change is happening — even if we don't see it writ large.
"The perception from 20 years ago was changing; better hotels now needed better restaurants," says Candice Schiller. "So we help them bring in good culinary talent, as well as better design. We request that [restaurant] managers have experience from independent restaurants, and generally try to [have the place] function as an independent restaurant that just happens to be attached to the hotel."
H3D's initial project in Dallas — R Bar & Grill at Hilton Arlington — became a model for what could be done in hotel dining. Interstate was so happy with the redo that it held its 2015 National Culinary conference there. Today, H3D has hotel operators and owners as clients all over the country. The group is a preferred designer for Hilton International and other nationwide hotel operating groups, including Interstate.
"[Hotel] owners now recognize that not only can the restaurant be a draw but it can help the overall image of the entire property, bringing conferences, business events, and just general recognition," says Schuster.
In Houston, the team recently completed the re-branding and design for The Pearl, the restaurant in downtown's Sam Houston Hotel.
"The previous restaurant was 15 years old and had become a little faded," says Candice. "[In our re-branding, we created] a coastal look that enhanced the new menu of seafood and oysters."
The menu pays homage to both Houston's culinary exploration and its Gulf Coast ties, with fresh tastes and beautiful presentation. The wine list boasts an eclectic selection from around the world and it, along with the craft cocktail menu, is designed to enhance the menu options. Meanwhile, decor harkens to the hotel's historic roots, managing to feel both clubby and contemporary.
H3D is now working on its biggest project, developing four food and beverage outlets for a new hotel and resort in Fredericksburg, Texas: Seven Hills Resort and Conference Center, developed by Murphree & Company, with architecture by The Beck Group and hotel interiors by Montgomery Roth.
"This project will be a game-changer in Central Texas," says Schuster. "It will have a true resort feel, a conference center, and an adjacent retail village. The destination restaurant will be attached to the hotel but have the feel of an entirely independent restaurant. [We're using] native Hill Country stone and locally sourced wood. The large bar and outdoor patio will overlook the property's rolling hills. It will be a spectacular setting."
That ambition is well in line with H3D's mission to create exciting places for its hotel clients and diners alike.
"We're creating spaces that aren't just necessities for hotels, but true destinations for diners," says Lonnie Schiller.