Recently, Magic of Miles had the opportunity to sit down with the General Manager of the new Le Méridien Oakbrook Center hotel, Simon Fricker.
Born and raised in Switzerland, Simon moved to the US after graduating from the prestigious Swiss Hotel Management School. He worked at The Gramercy Park, The Peninsula, and the St. Regis.
Simon was part of the opening team for the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas in 2009, and it was a winning move. Triple 5 Star awards were bestowed upon them by FORBES for the hotel, restaurant and spa. Simon then moved to Miami and again earned the honors with the Mandarin Oriental Miami.
Magic: Thank you for meeting today. What is your typical day like?
Simon: There really isn’t one right now because there’s always something new, something different. One thing I always make sure to do is meet with my team to talk about where we are at and what things need to be addressed or resolved.
Magic: July 31 was your official opening, but I notice that there is still quite a lot of construction going on with your suites and also some of the common areas. What can you say about that.
Simon: We were waiting on materials for some areas, and wanted to take our time to get things right rather than rush them. The property will have a timeless and sophisticated look. We are open but you can consider it a soft opening. Right now it works well that most guests are gone during the day so our construction can be done without a problem, and then in the evenings when the guests come back everything is cleaned up. We expect all work to be completed including the suites by mid-September.
Magic: Tell me a bit about your employees.
Simon: We have a dynamic team that are very diverse in their skills. Some have transferred from other locations within the Starwood network, others are coming to us from other chains, and still others have decided to make career changes. All the employees have been trained onsite, and that helped build camaraderie.
Magic: What is unique about your hotel that will set it apart from others in the area?
Simon: Quality, attention to detail and high-end service.
Magic: How do you plan to deal with parking issues at peak times?
Simon: We do have a row of designated parking spots for the hotel. We are also happy to provide valet service.
Magic: What do you think makes a good hotel manager?
Simon: I’m a perfectionist with a passion for hospitality and I think those qualities are good. I also enjoy food and beverage, and we plan to offer great cuisine.
Magic: Tell me more about that.
Simon: We have big plans for our Spanish tapas restaurant, El Tapeo. There is nothing like it in the surrounding area, and our hope is that it will become a go-to restaurant. The hotel has a big city feel, and the restaurant quality is what you would find in a big city as well.
Magic: You have a gorgeous property. There were a few kinks in my stay, but my only real complaint is that the walls seem very thin.
Simon: I take that feedback as a challenge, and we will work hard to improve where we can. Thin walls are the unfortunate part about taking on a building that is already existing. There isn’t much we can do about that except try to make up for it with excellent service. One of the cornerstones of this property will be personalized guest service.
This is an iconic building for locals, and once we were open for bookings we started getting calls from people who were married at this hotel, or used to stay here regularly. There’s a sense of nostalgia that prompted us to try and preserve some of the original touches like the original pillars in El Tapeo, while bringing a very modern downtown Chicago feel to the hotel. There are also plans for a Phase II, which include some very unique offerings that no other hotels in the area have. Stay tuned for those.
Magic: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Simon: As a chef, I enjoy cooking for family and friends. I also enjoy flying single engine airplanes and traveling.
Magic: It sounds like you have some exciting plans for this property and a great start already. Congratulations and we wish you the best of luck!
Simon: Thank you.