Standard Hotels buying into Bunkhouse Group seemed like a perfect match, one boutique hotel innovator investing in another. The goodwill seems to have soured since then, and it's difficult to know exactly what happens to the Bunkhouse brand without its founder.
Liz Lambert, the iconic boutique hotelier and brains behind Austin-based Bunkhouse Group, will leave the company now majority-owned by Standard Hotels later this month, according to sources familiar with the matter.
While the news has yet to be announced publicly, Bunkhouse Group staff have been informed of the leadership change. Lambert declined to comment on whether she has been fired from Bunkhouse Group.
“Liz Lambert will no longer hold her role as the chief creative officer at Bunkhouse,” Bunkhouse said in a statement. “She remains a part of Bunkhouse as the founder and an owner. Despite her departure from the day-to-day, Liz will continue to be a part of the magic in design of Bunkhouse’s forthcoming hotel in New Orleans, opening in fall 2020, with design by Lambert McGuire Design, a new venture she’s created with restaurateur Larry McGuire.”
Standard International did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Lambert, who began her career in hospitality by reviving the Hotel San José in Austin, Texas, during the mid-1990s, formed Bunkhouse Group in 2006. Leaving her business partners to run the company in CEO and chief financial officer roles, she took a hands-on creative role in the company’s properties as chief operating officer, revitalizing quirky and unique motels while retaining their innate character.
Guests, for instance, stay in bungalows and trailers at some properties; the low-key vibe is an artistic vision of hospitality beyond big boxes and boutique concepts that can fit in any global destination.
Bunkhouse Group currently operates seven hotels along with a series of coffee shops and an event space in Austin.
Standard International bought a stake in the company before ultimately purchasing a 51 percent share in 2015. Lambert had continued to oversee the growth of the Bunkhouse brand to properties in Mexico and San Francisco in the years since Standard bought in.
Today, though, Standard International likely has different priorities than helping to grow a small and bespoke hotel brand. It received a $58 million investment from Thailand’s Sansiri Public Company in late 2017, giving it a 35 percent stake in Standard International, and has recently brought the Standard brand to London and luxury destinations in Asia like the Maldives.
Before the Sansiri deal, Standard Hotels founder André Balazs sold off his share in the company for an undisclosed amount.
Standard International seems to have pivoted to a business strategy based on leveraging its brand name through licensing agreements rather than opening and operating hotels with unique city-specific concepts. The company also operates One:Night, a last-minute booking app for boutique hotel stays.
You can watch Lambert and Lalvani onstage at Skift Global Forum 2016 below.
UPDATED: This story was updated to include a statement from Bunkhouse.
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Photo credit: Bunkhouse Group founder Liz Lamber will leave the company later this month. Matthew Johnson / Bunkhouse Group