A grand opening is a whirlwind of worry and excitement at the best of times. Throw in a deadly pandemic and anxiety levels are through the shiny new roof. But for Todd Orlich, managing director of 1 Hotel Toronto, Canada’s first for the brand, the delays and uncertainty created by COVID-19 presented an opportunity for a more measured, systematic — even charitable — approach.

When he and owners, SH Hotels & Resorts, realized the extensively renovated and re-named former Thompson Hotel wouldn’t meet its end-of-2020 scheduled opening, they paused all hiring and sent on-site staff home. “But we made good use of the time, and kept as many people working as we could, including our culinary team,” says Orlich. “In fact, we had them deliver over 44,000 meals to Second Harvest food bank. Also, a good portion of the rest of the staff volunteered over 3,000 hours to local food banks.”

While all that do-gooding was getting done, the delay also allowed time to gradually onboard new hires. “Instead of having a start date for everyone a few weeks before opening, we broke things down into preliminary interactions with small groups where everybody could be masked and socially distanced,” says Orlich. “So instead of, say, a three-week period, we had a nine-week period that we onboarded in very small groups, which was a much more personalized approach.”

Even the opening is staggered. Phase one, slated for August, will be the hotel, 1 Kitchen, Floor Lounge, the rooftop pool and Field House gym. Phase two, in October, includes signature restaurant Casa Madera and the rooftop lounge. “We’re a very big footprint here when it comes to food-and-beverage [offerings] and we just felt it was the responsible approach,” says Orlich.

And, while others in the hospitality industry are scrambling to find staff, Orlich says that was never an issue for 1 Hotel Toronto, since the original Thompson Hotel employees were invited to stay on. For other positions, Orlich says he was “thrilled with the quality and quantity of applicants. They really want to work here because of the brand’s environmentalism and sustainable causes.”

Those causes, he says, include a commitment to conscious consumption and sustainable materials. “We’re a wellness-driven hospitality company. We believe in sustainability, and we believe that sustainability and luxury don’t have to be mutually exclusive. New construction is such a burden on the environment, [with] the waste that it creates. At 1 Hotels, we look for materials that can be restored. So, instead of ripping everything out of the guestrooms and starting over, the designers worked with local artisans to restore the wood, metal and stone to like-new condition. Also, we looked for ways to salvage and offer a second life to things. For example, we partnered with our neighbours, Just Be Woodsy, to [use] big old beautiful maple and elm trees that had either fallen down or needed to be taken down to create guestroom furniture, lobby tables,and planters for our pavilion garden. [We also use] humanely sourced down feathers in the duvets, 100-per-cent natural bathroom products, organic cotton towels — everything that puts the environment top of mind.”

As for why Toronto was top of mind for the first 1 Hotel in Canada, faces, food and the future factored highly. “[Our] vision goes hand in hand with what we see and hear from the community here,” says Orlich. “For example, the city’s initiative of Live Green Toronto, the focus on making Toronto one of the most environmentally sustainable cities in the world. People here are already into the things that we’re into. Also, its celebration of diversity and inclusivity, and that residents come from around the world. Our executive chef of Casa Madera, Olivier Le Calvez, was born in Mexico City, raised in Paris and now is a long-time Toronto resident. Casa Madera is the first Canadian outpost by the Madera Group out of Los Angeles, and it was important for them to open in a city with a strong food culture.”

Tosh Berman, CEO and co-founder of The Madera Group, says, “From the very beginning, it was a natural fit. The 1 Hotels ethos aligns perfectly with [our] core tenets as we both share a passion for sustainability.” The menu, he says, “features bold inventive flavours structured around sustainably sourced ingredients, and was inspired by our travels to the coastal regions of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera and the Mediterranean.”

While many other new builds are taking pandemic-induced adjustments into consideration in their plans, Orlich says the new 1 Hotel Toronto lobby’s tables and chairs were already spaced apart. “People are still going to want ample distance between other groups. [So] open spaces have been incorporated into every aspect of the building. This [pandemic] will be with us, and we’re very prepared, whether that is by staggering reservations or by [space] design.”

And now he’s prepared for a long-awaited opening, and the opportunity to pamper the people. “Especially after all we’ve gone through over the past 18 months, our guests deserve to be well looked after.”

Written by Robin Roberts


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