When you sit down to a meal at tony Craft restaurant with the man responsible for developing the luxurious W Hotel and Residences at Dallas’ Victory Park, you don’t expect to end up discussing the virtues of growing up on a Kentucky tobacco plantation. But that’s where the conversation headed as soon as I inquired about Marty Collins’ breakfast of choice that morning: biscuits and gravy, a frequent offering at his grandparents’ kitchen table.
“I don’t think there could have been anything more unhealthy than the food we grew up with,” he says. Most kids today don’t get to experience the sort of “Huck Finn” childhood that Collins, age 57, had during his time on his family’s land.
“We had a river, so you were always fishing and hunting and looking at caves, and there were bears,” he says with a glow of nostalgia.
We’ve met at Craft inside the W at 8 on a frigid Monday morning. As we take our seats in the sparsely populated restaurant, Collins remarks that he doesn’t often eat breakfast out. “I’m usually knee-deep in kids this time of morning,” he says. He and wife Josy have five children and live near White Rock Lake in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Dallas.
While he orders the biscuits and gravy with two scrambled eggs and a side of bacon, I opt for French toast and a glass of orange juice. All the dishes arrive in orderly rows on their plates. His eggs are perfectly folded into a neat pile. Rather than drowning in gravy, Craft places just enough to cover the tops of his two biscuits. Anyone raised on a farm knows that’s not nearly enough gravy, so he quickly orders more. Instead, the waitress brings a plate of two more biscuits (at no charge), each with the same proportion of gravy. He proceeds to eat every bite with gusto.
Gatehouse Capital, Collins’ company, specializes in developing high-end “lifestyle” hotels. He’s been responsible for the creation of several under Starwood Hotels’ W brand, including those in Dallas, Silicon Valley, and San Diego. The W approach eschews targeting customers based on a price point—as hotels traditionally have—in favor of attracting a group with similar interests. It’s a psychographic rather than demographic approach.
Along with this kind of customer appeal comes the need to pay much greater attention to often-overlooked details that can affect the quality of a guest’s experience.
“People started thinking about, for the very first time: what is the bed like? It seems like kind of an obvious thing, being a hotel company, to think about the bed,” Collins says. “But in point of fact, nobody ever gave a s*** about the bed.”
His newest product launch came with the opening of the W Hollywood in January. The project was 12 years in the making, taking more than twice as long as the Victory Park location.
“Sites in California, and Los Angeles in particular, are very difficult,” he says. “It’s the classic high-barrier market.”
But the upside of a market like that is that you have the assurance that copycats will have to jump through the same hoops, delaying their ability to compete. Contrast that with Dallas, a much simpler place to do business, according to Collins. As the W arrived, a slew of luxury hotels adding residential condos sprung up—like the Palomar and the Ritz Carlton—with various levels of success. Suddenly there was a glut on the market that didn’t perform well as the nation’s economic downturn began.
It’s much the same reason that Victory Park as a whole has been a disappointment, Collins says: luxury needs to be a scarce commodity. “Because something’s good once doesn’t mean it’s good five times,” he says. “When scarcity disappears, then the aspect of luxury disappears.”
As our meal winds down, Collins orders a decaf cappuccino and reflects on why North Texas—to which he first came to work for the Bass family in Fort Worth in 1985—is a great place to do business.
“People like to work here. It’s a great work environment. It’s a very work-driven place,” he says. “There’s a huge cultural premium placed on risk-taking … Lots of places, that’s not so much.”
Craft Dallas 2440 Victory Park Lane, Suite 100, DallasOrange juice $4.50
French toast with maple syrup and house-made preserves $11.00
Biscuits & gravy with two eggs scrambled $10.00
Applewood smoked bacon $5.00
Decaf cappuccino $5.50
Total (including tax and tip) $ 44.52