Hani Rouston has a natural affinity for the hotel business. The 43-year-old general manager of Toronto’s luxe Hazelton Hotel says hospitality has always been a way of life for him. “It’s something ingrained in our culture,” he says referring to his Lebanese roots.
Not surprisingly, success follows him. As a Hotel and Restaurant Management student in Cyprus, he won the Student of the Year award from the Cyprus Hotel Association, graduating with Honors Cum Laude. Later, in 1998, he graduated with a BA in Hospitality Management from Bournemouth University in the U. K., finishing first in his class. And, in 2006, the affable Roustom earned a Masters degree from the prestigious Hotel School at Cornell University, where he was awarded the Rama Scholarship for the American Dream.
Roustom started his hospitality career inauspiciously as a dishwasher while in college. “I got to experience being in the kitchen where all the action was…drinking in all the behind-the-scenes details that go into creating a signature dish.” The job taught him to appreciate that “every single member of the team contributes to the bigger picture,” and that, big or small, each task directly impacts on the overall guest experience. These days, the charming and ebullient father of three young boys oversees the 77-room boutique property, nestled in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville neighbourhood within walking distance to luxury brand flagship stores such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s and Christian Louboutin. The hotel’s winning design — created by renowned Yabu Pushelberg — and popular restaurant One, helmed by celebrity chef Mark McEwan, featuring the “hottest patio in town,” attract well-heeled guests from around the world. It’s also the only low-rise property in the city with balconies.
A year into his job, Roustom believes it’s his team of 220 associates (including the restaurant) that sets the hotel apart. “I’ve rarely worked with a group of individuals who are so talented, focused and unwavering in their commitment to excellence,” he says. Determined to lead by inspiration, Roustom motivates and challenges them to “bring the best out in each of them.”
Like many hoteliers, his biggest challenge is recruiting, retaining and mentoring talent. But, he adds, keeping track of the ever-changing technology to enhance the guest experience, keeping up with the evolving needs and demands of guests and preparing for the future (millennials’ needs and wants during luxury hotel stays) are also important considerations.
Through it all, Roustom is reminded of a quote by E.M. Statler engraved in the lobby of the Cornell Hotel School: “Life is service — the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow men a little more — a little better service.”