NEW YORK BRAND ENTERS THE FRAY

Guest appreciation, a belief in distinctions and an abundant kitty have convinced the owners of Manhattan-based Denihan Hospitality Group to take their Affinia and Benjamin brands nationwide.

“We're recapitalized, my sister and I have been in the business for 30 years, and we decided not to cash out,” says Patrick Denihan, co-CEO of the privately owned company with his sister, Brooke Barrett. “We're building a brand where our guests say to us, ‘we love it, we want you in other markets.’”

Extensive customer research convinced the two that Affinia's name recognition increased 250 percent from 2005 to 2006 and that surveyed travelers highly valued Affinia attributes like a comfortable bed, high-speed Internet access and good service.

Denihan Hotel Group launched its Affinia brand with the Affinia Dumont in Manhattan in 2003. This year, it expanded to Chicago with its acquisition of the former Fitzpatrick Chicago, which is being rebranded as the Affinia Chicago.

This activity became possible early this year when Patrick and Brooke raised $500 million with the help of Sonnenblick Goldman's Mark Gordon and Credit Suisse. Brother and sister bought out two brothers, a brother-in-law and a cousin and decided to spread the Affinia brand and its higher-end sibling, the Benjamin, to top U.S. markets.

“We're looking still in Chicago and New York City, and in San Francisco, Washington, DC, Boston and Los Angeles,” Denihan says. “Those are our key markets. We're looking at 15 cities altogether.”

They aim to acquire, convert and reposition; leave new-build to the major brands. “The big-box brands aren't looking at what we're looking at,” he says. “We're able to take that different product — if there's something quirky in a product, we're going to keep it — and invest in that piece and make sure it works directly with the potential customer base.”

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