For almost 140 years, the Birks name has been synonymous in Canada with upscale jewelry. Now, with the recent opening of the Hôtel Birks in Montreal, the hotel’s owners are hoping to translate that sterling reputation to the hotel landscape. For Fernando Fernandes, being involved with the 132-room-and-suite hotel is the latest feather in his cap. The 46-year -old hotelier has spent the past year working on opening the doors of this elegant new addition to the city, set in a building that was originally constructed in 1894 by businessman Henry Birk.
“As a family-run business, one of our strengths is to be able to act and respond quickly to demands,” says Fernandes. “The employees that make up our team are our most valuable asset and the reason we’re so successful,” says the Montreal-born hotelier, who also serves as VP, Operations of the ownership group Les Hôtels St-Martin Group, which purchased the Birks building and obtained the rights to use the Hôtel Birks’ name.
Fernandes loves the hotel industry but he fell into it by chance. “My mother was working in the industry and suggested I meet with her GM to see if a path in this career would interest me.” Immediately after the meeting, he enrolled at Lasalle College in Hotel & Restaurant Management. He got his start as a bellman at the InterContinental Hotel in Montreal, where he quickly came to love the responsibility of creating “the first and last impression for our guests.”
Though the new hotel opened last September, Fernandes has been with the ownership group for more than 13 years and now oversees 350 associates.
The GM is fully committed to promoting the company’s first five-star property. “Hôtel Birks is our main focus. We’re working to position this new property as the best five-star hotel in the city,” he states. Elegance is an overarching theme of the hotel, which sports a colour palette of aubergine and black and features high ceilings, custom beds and marble bathrooms. He’s intent on “providing the best hospitality service, which doesn’t involve technology — it’s about creating memorable moments that make guests feel like they’re in a home away from home and make them want to come back.”
Though opening a hotel in a competitive market presents a challenges, Fernandes says his biggest is “recruiting qualified employees and creating a sense of belonging for each member — all the while staying true to our brand’s image.”
To this end, he leads by example. “It’s key when it comes to overseeing a large group of diversified employees — hard work and loyalty are very important values I try to demonstrate. The best way to bring out the best in the team is to empower them,” he says, pointing out he’s “committed to teaching and guiding each member of my team to maximize their talents.”