Hani Roustom: A Labour Of Love
Throughout his career, Hani Roustom has helped shape some of the world’s most renowned hospitality brands. Today, he’s managing director of The Hazelton hotel, Toronto’s finest five-star luxury establishment.
For Hani Roustom, hospitality isn’t something you learn. Rather, it’s a mindset founded on the idea of taking genuine care of the people you’re serving. “I have always looked at hospitality as an act of love,” says Roustom, whose career in the sector has spanned more than 25 years. “In order for you to be able to be in hospitality, you need to be able to love everyone — without discrimination.”
Roustom was born in Lebanon, but took his first step into the world of hospitality at age 18, when he left for the island of Cyprus to study the subject. Since then, he’s propelled his career forward. Roustom worked on cruise ships for five years, visiting locations from the coasts of Africa to the Mediterranean, falling in love with travel and culture. After, he relocated to the United States, and in 2006 he completed his master’s degree in hospitality management. Since that time, he’s worked with brands such as the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C., comprising part of the team that opened a new flagship hotel in the brand’s hometown. Roustom joined the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto soon after.
“In Order For You To Be Able To Be In Hospitality, You Need To Be Able To Love Everyone — Without Discrimination”
Today, all of those experiences — both professional and personal — combine in his role as managing director at Toronto’s The Hazelton hotel. Situated in the heart of Yorkville, it’s Toronto’s first luxury boutique hotel and offers more than 70 luxurious rooms and suites. When Roustom started work there, the hotel sat at a respectable No. 23 on the list of Tripadvisor’s top hotels in Toronto. Within six months, he and his team elevated it to the No. 1 position, where it has remained for four years.
“A lot of people ask about the secret behind being the No. 1 hotel. It’s the general service we aspire to deliver, day in, day out,” Roustom explains. “Being No. 1 or No. 2 is a reflection of the guest experience. I really give credit to the amazing team we have — passionate, driven hoteliers who give their best every single day.”
Alongside celebrating the four-year Tripadvisor milestone, The Hazelton recently completed a large renovation, bringing a renewed vision to the restaurant, bar, lobby and rooms. To achieve this, staff worked with the hotel’s original designers, Yabu Pushelberg, not just as a nod to the establishment’s history, but also so it was in keeping with the local, Canadian ethos of the brand.
“We started renovations before COVID-19. We’re almost there and super-excited we’re at this stage and launching a new vision,” Roustom says. “There’s been a lot of meticulous views of the renovation details and process, and we can’t wait to share the new look of the property with guests and the city.”
The pandemic has changed the world in which we live, hitting the hospitality industry particularly hard. With The Hazelton shutting its own doors in March 2020, it’s a realization Roustom has had to deal with. But, as someone who believes people in hospitality are “life-loving optimists,” he looked at how he could turn this closure into an opportunity to help the community.
That opportunity was realized as #HazeltonCares, an initiative launched to provide front-line workers and those in need with meals fresh from the hotel’s ONE Restaurant kitchen. Within the first two months of setting up #HazeltonCares, they had provided more than 1,000 meals to local churches, community centres, shelters and hospital health-care workers. “It was born from our team’s want to help and do something that was beneficial in this time of crisis,” Roustom explains. “As soon as the hotel closed its doors, the first question on top of the team’s mind was, ‘How can we help our city?’ It was a consensus to launch #HazeltonCares.”
While Roustom is busy at The Hazelton, he’s also a father of three and finds there are similarities when it comes to managing a team at work and a younger team at home, with his wife. “One aspect I adore about being a managing director is being a mentor,” Roustom shares. “I look at mentorship as a way of giving back and sharing life and work with your team members. As a father of three kids who are trying to be inquisitive, you find yourself putting that mentorship and guidance hat on and trying to help them discover themselves and question themselves as well.”
There’s no denying Roustom is passionate about what he does. Indeed, when we asked what his definition of la dolce vita was, he said it was “being a hotelier and an avid traveller. The good life is the ability to explore and discover the beauty of our universe, a moment of true inspiration. The last time I felt so was when I stood on the point of Utah’s Angels Landing.” It’s also clear that when you talk to Roustom, his passion is born from a place of love, which, as the interview began, is where he chooses to close it. “As long as we continue focusing on [hospitality being an act of love] and do our best to really exceed expectations of our guests and really extend that love and genuine care for them at every stage, then we’ve achieved the goal of our presence and our brand. Success follows excellence — not the other way around.”