The Art of Hospitality: An Interview With Entrepreneur and Hotelier Liz Lambert (#320)

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Credits: Pia Riverola

“There’s something so awesome about where elegance meets rock and roll.”
 — Liz Lambert

Liz Lambert (@thelizlambert) first purchased a seedy motel on South Congress Avenue 23 years ago, and transformed it into Hotel San José, which has become known today as the quintessential “Austin” hotel. The success of Hotel San José, which sparked a revitalization in the city’s now thriving South Congress district, led her to launch Bunkhouse Group, a hospitality company founded on the pillars of design, music, and community-driven experiences.

In the course of chronicling her experiences with the residents of Hotel San José on video camera, she ended up making the Last Days of the San Joséa documentary that casts a fascinating light on human relationships in gentrification and urban renewal. You can check out the trailer here, click here to be notified when streaming becomes available, or get a copy of the DVD here.

Enjoy!


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Want to hear another episode with someone who takes design seriously? — Listen to my interview with Debbie Millman in which we discuss catalyzing low points, a ten-year plan for a remarkable life, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Liz Lambert:

Bunkhouse Group | Twitter | Instagram

SHOW NOTES

  • Some background on the documentary that chronicles Liz Lambert’s transformation of a vintage motel from transient crash pad to boutique hotel: Last Days of The San José. [08:24]
  • What prompted this transformation? [13:51]
  • How the documentary came about. [15:39]
  • After a particularly bad week, this documentary reminded me to be grateful for everything I have.  [17:49]
  • Why did Liz go to three schools as an undergrad to pursue humanities? [21:34]
  • What does it mean to be “a Texan, through and through,” and why do Texans tend to specify a region when discussing the state? [23:36]
  • How did Liz make the decision to study law after focusing on poetry? [25:05]
  • Does Liz regret the time she spent as a lawyer? [26:33]
  • How did Liz go from practicing law to owning a seedy motel to scratching her itch to design? [27:42]
  • As a lawyer with liberal politics, what made Liz choose to be a prosecutor rather than a defender? [30:39]
  • On moving back to Texas after becoming the first openly gay person hired at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. [33:48]
  • The death of a friend and a re-evaluation of priorities. [34:58]
  • How did Liz find her footing and approach to doing what she now does? [36:28]
  • Persuading investors to throw money at an expensive hotel overhaul is a skill set well-suited to a lawyer, but having an experienced business partner, taking a few math classes, and spending long hours behind the front desk can help. [40:55]
  • Is there anything about The San José renovation Liz would do differently now as a more experienced hotelier? [47:41]
  • On restoring the hotel’s traditional role as a hub that serves the community. [50:03]
  • Taking inspiration from architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander. [52:53]
  • What is “the quality without a name?” [54:05]
  • At 1171 pages, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction is simultaneously intimidating and fascinating — but highly recommended. [55:26]
  • What’s so special about El Cosmico in Marfa? [56:58]
  • What makes each Bunkhouse property a unique experience? [1:02:54]
  • What is Hotel Saint Cecilia’s story? [1:04:25]
  • “Let people be the color in the room.” [1:07:05]
  • The “Mexico meets Japan” style of The San José explained, the chaos of a soft open during SXSW, and first impressions. [1:09:22]
  • Who is Chip Conley, what has Liz learned from him, and where did Liz and I unknowingly cross paths thanks to him? [1:16:42]
  • How Chip ties into Bunkhouse’s recent international expansion. [1:22:04]
  • The importance of operational rigor to the success of a business. [1:22:38]
  • How does Liz balance the desire to be an artist with the desire to be a business tycoon? [1:24:22]
  • Does Liz have an idea of what she’d like her hotel empire to look like in the next few years? [1:27:36]
  • What famous hotel wrecker Keith Moon and Liz might have agreed upon regarding the homogenization of chain hotels. [1:30:14]
  • Liz’s vision for the future isn’t just about what’s good for her. [1:32:37]
  • On work-life balance, a growing family, and the realization of mortality. [1:34:25]
  • Books gifted and reread most often. [1:37:07]
  • A time when Liz learned more from something going wrong than she would have had it gone right. [1:43:00]
  • What would Liz’s billboard say? [1:48:29]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:50:42]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: June 14, 2018.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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17 comments on “The Art of Hospitality: An Interview With Entrepreneur and Hotelier Liz Lambert (#320)

  1. Some wonderful story telling and insights to just going with what life throws in front of you. And, I one-clicked on a copy of Pattern Language.

    Like

  2. Tim, my GOD, man! I just read your 5-Minute Friday newsletter with your Brave.com browser recommendation. HOLY COW!!!!! Can I thank you enough? I LOVE THAT! And I was skeptical that it actually eliminated all ads, but YES, and it is speedy AF. One of the best things I have discovered all year. Appreciate it so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely fantastic browser recommendation! I agree with Jessica! I have sworn off most non-open source software with a view to a more net-neutral experience. It is truly an elegant design and the token appreciation aspect looks very promising! As for your current podcast with a fellow Texan entrepreneur the story of how this She-Ra of a lady persuaded bankers to fund this hotel overhaul is short of superhero acumen! Bravo to both of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was a striking podcast. Liz is a fascinating and compelling person. I got so much out of the session but the two elements that hit me most strongly were – 1. Tim’s comment after seeing the documentary and feeling that he had no right to complain about the trouble in his life (something I forget too often) and 2. The story of running for Junior Governor of Texas, just a wonderful and thoughtful story. Thank you both

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. What a fantastic interview. And while I do give you credit for your interviewing skills, it sure helps to have someone so wise, well-rounded and grounded to feature. Her story about the Junior Governor race was excellent – multi-layered and deep. Liz is an inspiring businessperson and designer. I love her take on what is valuable in business – the journey, not breaking things, growing fast and selling. Maybe that type of reward culture will change with more women in leadership positions in business. Keep interviewing more women Tim!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tim, great interview !! great stories with lot of dept, feeling and laughs, she is quietly a big thinker and I just wanted more and more. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m an Austinite and business woman and have only visited the lovely Hotel San José once, but have admired it for years. Listening to this podcast solidifies and expands my admiration and respect for Liz Lambert. What a phenomenal human being, and an inspirational business person. Wow! Thank you for sharing and I hope she you have her back so we can hear all the in-betweens of the stories you didn’t have time for.

    Like

  8. Inspiring interview. Yesterday, I saw a place where you could sign up to be notified when the documentary becomes available, but couldn’t find it today. Help?

    Like

  9. Such an interesting, wise, inspiring guest. Didn’t know who she was coming into the interview, but so glad I listened! She is amazing. Thanks for interviewing her. And thanks as always for your very wise, intelligent interview style. Continue to be impressed by what you accomplish with your interviews.

    Like

  10. Hi Tim, Very keen to see the Doco, I’ve listened to this twice. Fantastic episode, and well done to you for the work you produce. *** When you next visit us here in Australia I’d like to propose we do a flying tour in my ex. military Yak Aircraft to meet the real Australians outside the big cities. Would love to hear from you on this, you would love it mate and it would make for some great pod cast content! Thanks again, Andy

    Like

  11. Just listened to podcast #320. Very well played. Having lived in Austin since ’91 (good thing you got here when you did, Tim), this was more intriguing than most. Especially the story behind San Jose & Liz herself. I’m excited for the availability for the documentary. Any idea on how it will be available (not going to tie anyone down to “when”, although the end of the year would be fantastic)

    Like