With an all-star line-up at the helm, Toronto’s first five-star hotel hopes to define a new standard in luxury

When the owners of Toronto’s posh Hazelton Hotel went shopping for an executive team, they did what many championship sports teams do: they acquired the best talent money could buy. As lovers of grand hotels like the Cipriani in Venice, Claridge’s in London or the Ritz in Paris, Peter Cohen and Bruce Greenberg wanted to create that same kind of luxury destination in Toronto.

As developers, they know location is integral to a hotel’s success, so they purchased prime real estate at the corner of Hazelton and Yorkville Avenues. They also needed someone at the helm who intimately understood the world of hotels and the tenets of great service. Enter Klaus Tenter. After sharing their vision with him to redefine luxury and create a new standard for urban living, they were able to lure the former GM of Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel and the luxury chain’s vice-president, Eastern Region, out of retirement to captain their team. Next, they commissioned the award-winning home-grown design team of Yabu Pushelberg to craft an oasis of opulence in the tony Yorkville area, in the heart of the city’s shopping district. And finally, as the culinary pièce de résistance, they invited top toque Mark McEwan to the table to create a culinary buzz with his aptly named restaurant — One.

Two years, and a few delays later, the 77-room hotel opened its doors last month, just in time to welcome celebrities and film mavens attending the 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). As the first of five new luxury hotels to dot the downtown landscape, the nine-storey terraced limestone property will enjoy a head start developing its customer base before sharing the limelight — and well-heeled guest pool — with other luxury hotels.

Cohen and Greenberg are confident their labour of love will quickly define a new standard, giving discerning guests great service and extraordinary design and amenities. With room rates ranging from $435 to $5,000 per night, the Hazelton is already creating buzz as the most expensive hotel destination in the city.

“In terms of service, we’re thinking of this as a 100-room hotel,” says Greenberg, of his 77-guest room and 16-private-residence property (18 suites were planned but one of the owners combined two units into one). A lawyer, Greenberg is also president of the Starwood Group, which owns Toronto’s Soho Metropolitan Hotel. Priced between $2.7 and $11 million, the residences are accessed by their own private elevator and offer owners the luxury of a custom-designed home with all the accoutrements of a five-star hotel. The Hazelton boasts 164,000 sq. ft. of space including an event room with pre-function area. And at 620 sq. ft. with nine-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, the average guest room is among the largest of any hotel in the city. There is also a mammoth 6,000-sq.-ft. penthouse residence.

Walking through the property, it’s clear that Cohen and Greenberg spared no expense in this major undertaking. “It’s unlike anything in the city,” boasts Tenter, who relished the opportunity to create something new from the ground up. The cost of the entire project is estimated to be upwards of $100 million.   

From the custom-designed carpets to the expensive granite slabs in the bathroom, George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg’s imprimatur is evident throughout the hotel (residence owners have the freedom to use their own designers). To achieve a warm, residential look, the Ryerson graduates used an elegant palette of earth tones and textures, highlighted with an occasional touch of glitter, such as the beveled floor-to-ceiling mirrors or the swanky bronze check-in desk.

“A hotel needs a point of view,” explains Pushelberg. “Toronto is a very practical, straightforward city and it has yet to have a place that’s glamorous and luxurious with an understated, sophisticated vibe. We wanted to create a special hotel that didn’t follow the traditional Toronto psyche and add some glam — something overt and sophisticated but not trendy.”

Among the design team’s innovations is separating of the lobby and reception areas, which gives the rectangular lobby space more of a club atmosphere. The reception area is set behind the entry hall, providing privacy for guests. Similarly, the designers created private vestibules between the hotel corridors and guest rooms. “All of the rooms and spaces have a common thread, which creates a language throughout the hotel,” says Pushelberg. “As you travel through them there’s a sense of discovery and surprise as the series of spaces evolve.”

To appeal to today’s tech-savvy guests, the hotel is wireless; guest rooms are outfitted with high-end sound systems and flat-screen 42-in. plasma TVs, showcased as part of a contemporary entertainment wall. Each room has an elegant dressing area featuring millwork made of zebrawood with a polished veneer finish, with one wall mirrored from floor to ceiling. And for ultimate convenience, guests can control the lighting and curtains from the bed with a remote, and they can communicate their wishes for a clean room or for privacy, by keying in guest commands directed to the housekeeping department. 

The 100-sq.-ft. bathrooms are larger than those of most hotels. “Bucking the trend of opening up the bathrooms into living areas creates a graceful approach,” says Pushelberg. Slabs of dark green granite with white markings on the floors and walls give the rooms a sense of space and luxury. Granite also encases the oversized, deep-soaker bathtubs. A separate rainfall shower and a 1940s-inspired vanity in polished chrome complete the look. And, for the last word in indulgence, the floors and towel bars are heated.

In addition to a spa and fully equipped fitness centre —including a mosaic-tiled lap pool — the Hazelton is the first hotel in the city with a private screening room. The idea was inspired by one of Greenberg’s friends, and built at a cost of $2 million by Hollywood veteran Christopher Hanson. With plush Italian leather seating for 26 guests, mohair-lined walls and 16-foot ceilings, the Silver Private Screening Room offers 24-hour viewing. TIFF recently booked it as the official site for all of its VIP viewings during this year’s festival. “It seemed a natural fit to be the first hotel to feature a luxurious screening room,” says Tenter. The room can be rented out for $2,400 a day for private functions ranging from presentations to parties.

“We want to be at a level that goes well beyond the expected,” says Greenberg. That’s why he hired Tenter as COO and president. Having worked at Four Seasons for most of his life, he’s mastered great service and always pays attention to the smallest details. “I can’t train an attitude, but I can recognize people who want to help and anticipate the customer’s needs,” says the charming 63-year-old, German-born hotelier.

To inculcate this service philosophy and handle the day-to-day operations, Tenter in turn hired Scott de Savoye as GM. The 41-year-old Toronto native, formerly with Fairmont Raffles, was recently manager of the Delta Grandview Resort in Muskoka. After a 16-year absence from Toronto, he’s thrilled to be back. “It’s not often you’re presented with the opportunity to be the opening manager of a luxury property like this,” he says. But he’s confident his young team of 65 full-time and 10 part-time employees is up the challenge. “Thirty per cent of our employees have never worked in a hotel, but we wanted to hire for attitude because we can [teach] everything else.” 

Management hopes to build a guest history database second to none, which will help chart guest preferences. “We want to know the birthday and anniversary of each guest so we can send them an amenity on those days,” says Tenter. The Hazelton is also eliminating the more mundane aspects of checking in. Since the vast majority of guests have reservations, the process will be seamless. “Staff will greet guests with their room keys and lead them discreetly to their rooms,” says de Savoye. “They don’t have to sign a thing. We’ll worry about the credit card information later.” 

The hotel’s core customers will be “leaders of their industry — people looking for a discreet location,” says de Savoye. He anticipates the hotel will be busy on weekends, contrary to most hotels, with the bulk of business coming from international markets. As an independent hotel, the Hazelton is counting on its affiliation with Leading Hotels of the World to attract significant business from around the globe.

With the Four Seasons across the street (its new flagship property is set to open in two years), and with the Park Hyatt a stone’s throw away, de Savoye says, “Our immediate competition is geographic, but we’re not comparing apples to apples.” He’s confident marketing alliances like the recently announced partnership with Skyservice Business Aviation will help differentiate the hotel — guests wishing to book private jet service in and out of the city can do it seamlessly through a dedicated private jet concierge in the hotel. “We’re a small luxury hotel catering to an exclusive market,” says Tenter. “Many of our guests have private jets, or will be using corporate jets to come in and out of Toronto. This new partnership will enable us to cater to their needs.” 

While hotels and restaurants can sometimes make strange bedfellows, the partnership with Mark McEwan, chef/owner of two of Toronto’s most esteemed restaurants — North 44 and Bymark — and star of the Food Network’s The Heat, has quickly become the talk of the town. “This is a dream location for Mark,” says de Savoye. “His name alone will generate interest.” Industry consultant Joel Rosen of Horwath International in Toronto couldn’t agree more. “Mark’s a leading restaurateur in Toronto and Canada. He complements the hotel well, and guarantees a level of service. It’s a real coup for the hotel.” 

The restaurant’s menu is inspired by the best local and international ingredients, with a focus on what McEwan calls “contemporary classic cuisine.” It’s highlighted by a “deconstructed” menu where components of the meal are brought to the table and served family style. “It’s how I like to eat,” says McEwan. The stunning restaurant boasts 250 seats, including 60 in the swanky bar, which promises to become a hot destination. Outside, an expansive 70-seat patio that runs along both Yorkville and Hazelton Avenues will quickly become the place to be seen during the summer months. McEwan hopes One will also become popular for breakfast, a daypart he hasn’t been involved with since his early days at the Sutton Place Hotel. “We’ll keep it simple, but perfect,” he says, “with great yogurt, the best preserves and eggs. And I have a recipe for French waffles that we think will become a signature [dish].”  

In addition to running the eatery, McEwan will direct the Hazelton’s F&B, including 24-hour room service and private catering. Residents can order dinner and have it served in their own dining room, and guests can take advantage of special catering services within the private screening rooms or have their meal served in their suite. “We want guests to have access to the finest in-room dining during nights when they don’t want to go the restaurant,” says Tenter.

With construction delays, labour stoppages and a host of other issues now behind them, the executive team can focus its energy on building the brand. Given the declining number of American visitors to Canada and the flotilla of luxury properties sailing into town over the next three years, many industry pundits are wondering whether Toronto can sustain the business. But according to Rosen, “When you compare the segment to other cities like Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, Toronto’s been underserved in the luxury market. The important thing is we now have product that will position the city and attract groups that would not have otherwise come,” he says.  When they do come, the Hazelton team will be ready at the helm, delivering the kind of luxury experience and service most people can only dream about.                                                                  


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