As chief executive officer of Dream Hotel Group, Jay Stein is known as a leader within the hospitality industry. But don’t offer him a cup coffee. He won’t drink it; nor a glass a tea. He will say, “yes” to a full body red or an occasional shot of tequila, although the self-proclaimed night owl jokes it’s his morning shower that actually wakes him up.
With more than three decades in the hospitality business, Stein has shepherded luxury boutique properties around the world including Dream Hotels, Time Hotels, The Chatwal and Unscripted Hotels. Here’s his take on industry and what got him here.
How did you get into the hospitality business?
As a young kid, I started going camping with Boy Scouts. I really enjoyed being able to sleep out under the stars, in the dead of winter in tents with my friends. You’d pack everything in, hike for miles and then make a great dinner in the middle of the woods. That’s when I started cooking.
I started dabbling at home. After I got my bachelor’s degree in political science and lost interest in going to law school, I took a job as a cook in a restaurant in Queens making nice money and going to nightclubs. Everything was great, except for my parents, who were devastated that their son was now a short-order cook in a pub in Bayside Queens. To get them off my back, I went back to school and got a second degree in hospitality management.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up as lower-middle class kid in Queens. I ate pizza and hamburgers. Never ate vegetables, never drank wine. Once I got into the industry I had a lot of catching up to do. I was going against some of the kids coming out Switzerland who grew up in the great hotel families. I didn’t. My dad was a cab driver and my mom was a school teacher.
What’s your go-to restaurant and why?
Raymond’s in Montclair, New Jersey. It’s an upscale diner. It’s packed all the time. They do two specials at night and they are Manhattan-top-restaurant quality.
Geoff [Zakarian], who is a great celebrity chef at The Lambs Club at The Chatwal Hotel, invited me to meet him there one night. I showed up. He’s already in the restaurant sitting with five other people and then I realize two of the other ones are famous chefs [Marcela Valladolid and Jeff Mauro] also on the Food Network and then to have their PR people. They brought a case of wine in and started ordering every item on the menu. All the waiters know me because I’ve eaten there two to three times per week for 10 years. They ask if I’m famous and I say, “No, they’re famous. I’m not.”
Do you like being a ringmaster?
I do. I was born as a natural leader and I can usually get people to at least work together. I often hire people that are opinionated that don’t always all get along. I try to be the glue that holds it together and it doesn’t always work. I’m not looking to surround myself with people that will be very passive and just do their job. We tend to have heated discussions, but we come up with really cool, inventive and passionate ideas. I think that’s the only way to be great at what you do.