16 questions with Albert Mertz, General Manager of Hotel Hartness
We sat down with Albert Mertz, General Manager of Hotel Hartness in Greenville, SC, to discuss his 30-year career in opening hotels around the world, what made him choose Greenville to settle down, and his bucket-list hotel stay.
When it comes to the most memorable properties Albert Mertz has opened in his 30-year hospitality career — including properties in North America, Asia, and Europe — he says Hotel Hartness “is the most significant, for many reasons.”
One could say the General Manager saved the best for last, with Hotel Hartness being his final property opening before settling down in the Carolinas, which “was always the goal.”
We asked Albert 16 questions about his career, the opening of Hotel Hartness, Greenville, and his bucket list hotel.
On his career
Q: How did you get started in the hospitality industry?
A: I grew up in Mexico City, and my family traveled a lot. As a kid, I was always in awe of the hotels and the different cultures and food. Being in different countries, different buildings, historic hotels, new hotels — that just really struck a chord. Originally, I was going to study architecture, but I ended up going to hotel school, and here we are 30 years later.
Q: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
A: Wow, that’s a tough one. I’ve been blessed with a lot of firsts, a lot of properties that I’ve opened that were “Best in Market,” or first to achieve five stars, or classified as “Best New Hotel” — I opened a property that was “Best New Hotel in the Caribbean.” I can’t single it out to just one, because I’ve been very fortunate to experience that. And it’s not the awards — the awards are nice, but the important part is the recognition the team gets. Recognizing everyone’s hard work, that’s what really counts.
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?
A: There have been many, as there are in this business, but I will say achieving a work-life balance is one of the hardest ones, and not only for myself, but also with my team. We all love what we do, but as you know, it’s a 24/7 business. Everyone’s very committed, but I have to get my team to breathe every now and then. If you don’t do that, you’re not sharp, you’re not rested.
Q: What’s the most memorable property you’ve opened?
A: There’s many. Even though I’ve opened hotels around the globe, [Hotel Hartness] right now, for me, is the most significant for many reasons — for me joining Hay Creek Hotels but also opening a hotel that has a family legacy tied to it, with the Hartness family. When I look at the meaning of the property and the fact that this is a legacy project, that’s what really makes it, for me, the most special.
On Hotel Hartness
Q: How did you become involved with the Hotel Hartness project?
A: I was really looking for my next and final thing to be something that had meaning to it, and joining Hay Creek Hotels was important because of the portfolio and what the company stands for. We really specialize in boutique hotels, and that’s not so much size, but how we treat guests and the philosophy behind it. The uniqueness of this Hotel Hartness, and the fact that we could create magic without it being cookie cutter — that was really important, because I like to exercise that creative side. When you don’t have the set of rules, then you can really have fun.
Wanting to move to the Carolinas, that was always a goal. Even though I’ve lived in a lot of places, after being here several times visiting, this is where I wanted to live. In my career, through the years, it wasn’t always about where you want to live, it was where you have to go. For the first time, it was for me picking where I want to go and being able to open a property like this.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in opening HH?
A: Assembling the team. We look for a very specific type of person, and I interview every person we hire. Why? Because I want to make sure that I can meet you, look you in the eye, you can ask me questions, and that [I can see] that you really want to be here.
I never hire just to hire. We still have positions open, but I refuse to fill them just to fill them. We need the right person — they cannot have worked in a hotel in their life, and that’s fine, as long as they have that engaging personality. Everything else? We’ll teach you that. We had probably 1,000 applications and 300+ interviews for about 50 people. Fast forward to now, I look around the room with 60 ladies and gentlemen, and they are the best, and it shows. You can feel it in the hotel, because of how they treat our guests.
Q: Why Greenville?
A: It’s just a friendly place. That’s what drew me when I first visited Greenville and Asheville. That was one of the big takeaways. It’s a city, but it is definitely smaller than a lot of the places I’ve lived. It’s very approachable and there’s so much to do here. I mean, you can get in a car, drive an hour or two and be in the mountains or be on the beach. The climate is awesome, and there’s a lot of natural beauty here. It’s just a nice place.
Q: What has surprised you most about Greenville?
A: The culinary scene — it’s pretty extensive. I didn’t expect it to be as broad as it is. Also, just how close things are. It’s really accessible to just go everywhere.
Q: What’s your local go-to restaurant and order?
A: I mean, Tanner (as in Tanner Marino, Executive Chef of Patterson Kitchen and Bar at Hotel Hartness) is my A-No. 1, but of course, I’m biased. I will say, I went to visit Scoundrel and I had a phenomenal dinner there. I think what [Chef Joe Cash] is doing is very unusual for the market, but spot on. I’ve also found a couple offbeat Mexican taqueria joints. I eat everything.
Q: If you could describe Hotel in Hartness in one word, what would it be?
Q: Mint or chocolate on your pillow?
Q: Favorite room at Hotel Hartness?
A: Third floor suite facing the pond
Q: Favorite hotel you’ve stayed in?
A: I stayed in The Ritz-Carlton Cancun after 29 years of opening it.
(Note: The Ritz Carlton Cancun is now Kempinski Hotel Cancun)
Q: Bucket list hotel?
A: Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris
Q: What are you ordering at The Captain?
A: The Tuna Poke is phenomenal.
Q: And at Patterson Kitchen + Bar?
A: The Crab Stuffed Ahi Tuna is to die for.