Today we’re buzzing with Steve Gupta, the President and CEO of Easton’s Group.
In the Canadian hospitality industry, Steve can only be described as a visionary. His business started over thirty years ago when he purchased a truck stop in Port Hope, Ontario. It didn’t take him long to add a hotel and various restaurants to the property, making it a destination rather than a simple stop-over. His portfolio now includes twelve hotels and the King Blue Condos, currently in pre-construction on King West.
We buzz with Steve about the Toronto hospitality industry, what he has in store for King Blue residents and his company’s vision for a “mini-Yorkville” in King West.
BuzzBuzzHome: Your success story in pretty inspirational. When you began your business 30 years ago, did you ever envision yourself in the position you’re in now?
Steve Gupta: That’s a pretty loaded question! No, I didn’t and nobody does, I think. You need the conviction and the passion and then you know someday you’ll get there.
BBH: One of your claims to fame is opening three hotels during a recession. What motivated you to take this risk?
SG: I don’t follow the crowd. I want to make my own path. At that time you have an option to stall the project and start it again when you think the market is right. You miss the boat if you do that. It takes two to three years to have the project open and ready for business. No recession has lasted more than a few years, unless we’re talking about the Great Depression. Whether it would last six months or twelve months, I didn’t know. However, I thought I could get it up and running then when it did end [the recession] all the people who stalled their projects would be three years behind me.
Another reason was the construction costs during the recession were lower and I could negotiate lower prices. We also knew we had a unique product that the market did not have at the time. A combination of these reasons made us continue.
BBH: How do you find enough time in the day to do everything you need to do? What’s your secret?
SG: I wish I had 48 hours in a day. I don’t postpone anything. Whatever you can do now, do it now, not tomorrow. I wish I could do a lot more, but I achieve what I want to achieve everyday of my life. Money doesn’t motivate me; creativity and achievement motivate me.
BBH: What motivated you to enter the condominium business?
SG: In the 80s, I was into residential apartment buildings in a big way. I owned over 50 of them at one time — some partnerships and some 100 per cent. Both the hotel and apartment business taught me that service, customer care and the building quality are the most important. For me, building a rental didn’t make any sense because of the rent controls so I felt a condominium was the right way to go. We’ve been looking at many different locations to get a project that I’d like to do. I was waiting for the triple-A location and we got it downtown. We want to start off with a bang and hopefully King Blue will be that bang.
BBH: Tell us more about King Blue. What do you think will attract buyers to the project?
SG: This project is like a resort condo in the heart of the city. We have two high-rise buildings — 48 storeys and 44 storeys — with a courtyard in the middle. One acre of land in the middle of the Entertainment District is very hard to find. We’re also right on King West and having all the theatres and the world class restaurants close by is incredible. All these things make it a centralized location. If you’re looking to buy a condo downtown, then this is the place. You can’t ask for anything more.
We have a rooftop garden that’s over 5000 square feet and you can accommodate 300 to 400 people. Finding this in the middle of the city is difficult. We have 578 parking space with Zip car and bike parking as well. We have 13,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. We may be able to get more retail on the second floor as well. It was my daughter Reetu’s idea to bring a mini-Yorkville to King West. The stores will not be as high end but it will give that destination to people — they don’t have to go all the way to Yorkville.
We also have the Theatre Museum on the second floor. They will have exhibits there. David Mirvish has agreed to lend them paintings he’s collected over the years. This will be a place that people coming to the city will want to see.
BBH: Where do you see the hospitality industry in Toronto moving in the next decade? What could hotels be doing better here?
SG: I think we’re on the platform, ready to take off. Toronto is a gateway to Canada. Somehow our room rates lag compared to other gateway cities in other countries. For this reason owners could not afford to upgrade their hotels. Over the last few years, several four or five star hotels have opened in the city and these will raise the bar.
They say “the new mattress sells” in the hotel business. That’s why my new hotels are doing better than everyone else’s. I provide much better service, better suites, free internet and much cozier atmospheres. I believe that the hotel industry will get better. I don’t have a crystal ball but I feel from my experience that the other hotels out there will start upgrading as well and that will raise the bar.
BBH: When you’re traveling and you stay in a hotel in another city, do you ever see something they’re doing differently and get inspired by that?
SG: Absolutely! When you’re traveling, your eyes and ears are open. Over the years, I’ve learned from other hotel’s mistakes and if they’ve done something great, we try to follow it.
BBH: For anybody starting out in the hospitality or development industry, do you have any advice to live by?
SG: What I always say is “Follow excellence and success will follow you.” Be honest, believe in what you’re doing and work harder than everybody else. When I build my hotels or any business, I always build them better than anyone else, not to the minimum standard.
Thanks for buzzing with us Steve!