Weber's Inn Restaurant Drives Rooms
Boutique Undergoes $2.5 Million Renovation
Weber’s Inn in Ann Arbor, MI, is backwards. Its 500-seat restaurant does nearly twice the business of its 158-room hotel. The restaurant practically drives the business. And, the hotel, with an ADR of $100, has a 75% to 77% occupancy rate. Not too shabby.
The restaurant-first business has been that way since the beginning, before celebrity chefs started to draw attention to hotel food and beverage operations.
Recently, the family-owned and –operated hotel, just minutes from the University of Michigan football stadium, underwent a six-month $2.5 million renovation. That brings recent work on the hotel to $4 million in the past three-plus years.
“We replaced skin and exterior of the building and updated it to a more modern California look,” says second-generation hotelier and owner Ken Weber. “We’ve always remodeled, but we accelerated it. Times change. Instead of trying to wait a long time, we’re always putting money in every year. Things wear out, design concepts change, new things come into play.”
With this remodel, the hotel got a total overhaul. “It looked OK, but looked like it would in the 1990s. Now, it’s more contemporary. We wanted it to have a boutique hotel look, modern, but not garish, not too trendy,” explains Weber. “It isn’t so flashy that it will be dated in two to three years.”
The Weber family’s roots in the hospitality business go back to the 1920s when Herman Weber sold chickens to a German restaurant. That led to a dishwashing job and other kitchen posts. When a bankrupt gasoline filling station in Ann Arbor came up for lease in 1937, he took over and sold gas, beer and hamburgers.
In an early marketing move, Ken Weber says his dad sold Lowenbrau draft beer to get a classier customer. He quickly became a top seller of the brew.
“When the freeway came through Ann Arbor, we opened a hotel in 1969. It had 126 rooms. In 1985, with an addition, we grew to 158 rooms,” says Weber. Still, the restaurant continued to dominate the successful hotel. “It turned out to be to our advantage. In a time when most people wouldn’t go to a hotel restaurant, Weber’s was booming.”
“Today, ironically, national chefs are leasing space in hotels,” he says. “And, restaurants aren’t designed as only part of hotel. Nearly 50 years later it’s becoming the trend where you don’t walk through the lobby to get to the restaurant.”
The hotel and restaurant have been and will continue to be independents. “We are old school. We have one business, one location, one city,” says Weber, admitting that works, in part, because of the Ann Arbor location.
He explains his resistance to franchises. “Once you buy a name you’re paying 7% for the name and money for each reservation. And you have to expect them to promote their reputation and not just you.”
“We have a fiercely competitive independent attitude,” he says. “If we do our job and build our relationships with the community and the businesses in the community, and have a good reputation and a good price, there’s no reason we can’t fill 158 rooms on our own.”
Weekday business is mostly corporate accounts in the area, including small meetings and training business. Weekends are dominated by weddings and leisure business, with Saturdays being the property’s busiest night.
“Sure there are a lot of people who want to go to the chain because they know it and can rely on it,” says Weber. “They may come to Ann Arbor and say, ‘What is this Weber Inn?’ They wind up going to a chain. Maybe the people they meet will bring them out to our place for dinner. It’s our job to get out there so maybe on their second trip they’ll come.”
It’s not just the renovated building that attracts and keeps guests. The 200 employees of the hotel and restaurant help. “So many of them are career-minded and have decided to make their career here,” says Weber. “We have the culture that people want to stay and you have the stability that goes with that. Part of the reason is that we have a 401(k) and profit-sharing plan. Every year we share a portion of the profits with everyone who works here.”
The oldest employee started at the company in the early 1960s. After retiring, he came back to work. A cook worked until he was 75 because he didn’t want to quit. The head housekeeper started in the 1970s as a maid. And the general manager started in banquet setup in 1973, while he was going to college at the University of Michigan.
Like Weber, his son Michael went to hotel school. Michael, the third-generation in the business, joined the company in September as vice president of food and beverage.
“I think the stability is important because the respect factor is higher. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody gets respect,” says Weber. “We’re not as bottom-line oriented as much as you might see in companies where there’s tremendous pressure.”
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