The barrista recognizes Christine Magrann as we place our order at Otto’s Coffee and Fine Foods. The president and COO of Dallas-based hotel, restaurant, and retail operator Makeready often visits the café inside The Adolphus Hotel—one of the 12 hotels in Makeready’s portfolio.
Otto’s is named for an Adolphus Busch brewery employee, who later became the hotel’s GM in 1928. The space has an elevated but comfortable feel, showcasing dark leathers and wood alongside marble tables. A window peeks out to Commerce Street servicing pick up orders.
With Magrann’s lavender matcha latte and my latte with cinnamon in our hands, we settled into a back room booth, where Magrann shared insights around her previous work with hospitality leaders Tim Headington, Dean Fearring, Nick Badovinus, and more, as well as what’s next for Makeready.
D CEO: What are some of the key lessons you learned prior to taking the helm of Makeready in 2016?
Magrann: “I started in the hospitality industry in independent restaurants in the Florida market. It is Hillstone today, but it was Houston’s back then. That’s when I went into management and training and really learned the fundamentals of restaurant operations. Probably one of my biggest highlights is [working at luxury resort] The Breakers in Palm Beach. That’s where I really learned about great leadership and culture and the diversity that you can have in this industry. It had everything from a five-star French restaurant, to a casual beach club. You have to hire with the same expectations when [employees] are wearing Converse sneakers and polo shirts as they are when they’re in their tuxedos serving in a fine dining restaurant. That was a really special experience for me, and I probably would have never left there, except I met my husband.
“We moved to Texas, where I worked for The Mansion Turtle Creek. I wanted to stay in the five-star space, and I worked with the Chef Dean Fearing, who had a really strong culinary point of view. Then, I ended up with a couple other places, including Gaylord Hotels. The highlight since I’ve been in Texas has been working for Consiliant Restaurants for about nine-and-a-half years. That’s when I fell in love with independent brands, which is what we do today at Makeready, as we build a collection of brands of all different independent experiences. Today, Makeready has 12 hotels and 32 different restaurant and bar brands.”
D CEO: What have you learned from other North Texas leaders?
Magrann: “I worked with Nick Badovinus. His fanatical discipline to standards was very influential for me. That brought back my Houston’s and Hillstone days. Every plate, every dish, every time was exactly [as specified.] I worked directly for [restaurateur] Tristan Simon for a long time, and his thinking out of the box and ‘anything-is-possible mentality’ was very influential. I always say ‘We can put men on the moon,’ because I think anything is possible, and Tristan definitely influenced that. Tim Headington is a very wildly generous and kind human, and I think leading with a kind heart always has a place. When you have to make the toughest decisions and you have to be bold, being kind is something that I really focus on, and I think it’s very important. I never think you have to be disrespectful or lose your temper. I would say Jim Merkel, who’s the CEO of Rockbridge and the founder of Makeready, is very balanced in the fine creative details and operational excellence. He’s probably the person who I’ve worked for who has both, whereas some of the other leaders have one or two of those unique qualities. He has this uncanny ability to be very balanced, which is pretty fun and inspiring. I love that.”
D CEO: What do you love about building out independent brands?
Magrann: “I love the unique point of view that each one of these brands have. It’s harder to create one-of-a-kind brands, but it’s what the guest is looking for. That curious guest is definitely an interesting demographic. The hiring is also different, as we’re building teams of people. What’s great about independent brands is you really can hire people to let them be true to their own personality, and let them put their stamp or style out there without being so robotic and scripted. I think it’s about what the guest has been interested in for a long time, but it’s also the team member piece of that as well that I’ve always found pretty interesting.
“At Makeready, my job is to help find the leaders who are creative and passionate about hospitality and bring them together to create really great opportunities for them. That’s the biggest difference in the independent space and why I was attracted to it.”
D CEO: What have been some recent growth milestones since COVID?
Magrann: “We’ve grown pretty slowly and thoughtfully, making sure that we’re working with the right buyers along the way. Since COVID, we have a new owner, Host Hotels & Resorts, which is a big deal for us and exciting. We’ve also taken one of our properties completely independent. We took the Marriott flag off of Noelle Hotel in Nashville, which is a big deal for the industry. Those are big moves. It’s an opportunity for us to show that we’re a company that can take a hotel from branded to independent and add a lot more value for an owner in the asset. Also, we’re growing our independent restaurant platform. We’re opening two restaurants in Columbus, Ohio—completely freestanding, independent restaurants. They’ll be the third in our portfolio. We will continue acquiring management contracts for hotels, but I think the big moves are making sure that we’re good at taking hotels independent if they do have a brand and also growing our restaurant platform.”
D CEO: How does Dallas continue to play a big role in Makeready’s portfolio?
Magrann: “For training and employment, we’ve got great tenure for team members here at The Adolphus. It’s our training ground for the rest of our portfolio. We’re fortunate that The Adolphus is here. I think Dallas loves The Adolphus, and loves the French Room, and loves tea at The Adolphus, and so there’s this affection when people find out that Makeready operates The Adolphus, which is really beneficial to us. It helps us attract people to move into our portfolio across our different markets.
“Makeready’s style is very behind the scenes. That’s very different than a lot of hotel management companies. People don’t really know who runs The Adolphus until they start to dig into it. We don’t put our name on collateral. We don’t put our name on the websites. We really push the brand at the forefront. I think that Dallas appreciates that because it’s really leaning into that independent mindset versus a big corporate entity coming in and stamping their name [on The Adolphus].
“For our retail shop in The Adolphus, probably 70 percent of our business comes from the local community, so Dallas is important to us because I think they have a mindset for independent, unique experiences. There’s a lot of thriving restaurateurs here that we just love being associated with and being in that group. I think that it helps us to build our brand nationally, as we’re operating in 12 different locations.
“Eighty-seven percent of guests at The Adolphus are from the local community, which is huge and pretty unbelievable to me. In comparison, our highest restaurant to that is Frannie & the Fox in Charleston, and that’s at 60 percent. So, 87 percent is a high number, and one that we’re very proud of. We open reservations for Tea at The Adolphus on October 1 every year, and this year, we booked 4,000 in one day.”
D CEO: Do you foresee future acquisitions in Dallas?
Magrann: “We’d love to acquire more properties in Texas and in Dallas. We don’t have specific plans today, but we’re talking to a few different people. I’d love for us to get something else in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. I think it’d be great.”
D CEO: What are some trends you are watching in the hospitality industry?
Magrann: “The guest has always had a voice. There was a time in independent restaurants, where if the guest was giving you feedback, sometimes you would take it, and sometimes you wouldn’t. Now, what we’re doing as a trend more and more is we’re wanting them to have a big voice. It’s harder, but I think it’s actually a lot more fun, and it creates a lot more engagement. When they’re tagging us, when they’re in our hotel, we have people behind the scenes who are responding to them, so that they can have a bigger voice. Now, we have to be good at our job, and we have to be willing to hear that feedback. I think that’s something that’s pretty exciting.
“I think lighting and music in restaurants is probably a big trend that’s coming back around. I don’t know that it really ever went away, but there’s a lot more focus on it, because people want the feel as much as they want the great food. They want to have a great vibe and a great experience. So, we’re spending a lot of time there. I think that we’re also really leaning into the question of ‘how do we create these diverse spaces so that people can work remotely?’ I think that’s something that’s still very much coming is, ‘How do we create these little pockets?’ and how do we really allow people to come in even if they’re not staying in our hotel?”
D CEO: What are some of your goals for Makeready?
Magrann: “Short term and always, the reputation from our different audiences like TripAdvisor is really important to us. So, making sure that we’re building a really thoughtful reputation. We measure the percentage of local community guests a lot within the markets that we’re in, so as we’re driving that reputation, we want the traveler, but we want to create something that’s very valuable generationally to the markets that we’re in. The Adolphus obviously has that generational history. In Nashville, that hotel was opened by a family that lived there back in the 1930s, and we’re still very close with them today. Creating a really strong community relationship is important to us and having the best team member reputation that we can so we continue to attract new employees into our market who are proud of where they work, and that have long tenure with us.”