• Hospitality Daily
  • Posts
  • How Acme Hospitality Created An Award-Winning Collection of Restaurants and Hotels from Scratch

How Acme Hospitality Created An Award-Winning Collection of Restaurants and Hotels from Scratch

with Sherry Villanueva, Founder and Managing Partner, Acme Hospitality

This past weekend I was in “the American Riveria,” Santa Barbara, California - home to Oprah and a certain member of the British royal family. My great-grandparents moved there in the 1920s. I got married there a few years ago, and there’s one hospitality group that has served as the backdrop for so many memories I have in that beautiful town: Acme Hospitality. Today, we get to learn from its founder, Sherry Villanueva, who went from being someone who had the dream of getting into hospitality by opening her own restaurant and now oversees an award-winning, eclectic collection of restaurants and hotels.

👋 First time reading? Subscribe here

How Acme Hospitality Created An Award-Winning Collection of Restaurants and Hotels from Scratch

with Sherry Villanueva, Founder and Managing Partner, Acme Hospitality

Sherry Villanueva | Credit: Josiah Mackenzie / Hospitality Daily

Though she began her career as a marketing and research executive, in many ways, Sherry was destined for a career in hospitality.

I always loved the connection that people make around a table, over a shared meal - family, friends, colleagues coming together to talk about whatever is happening in their lives. For me, that's always been one of the richest experiences that I have with my family, with my friends, with other people in my community. So that idea has always been a central driver in who I am as a person.

It’s something that led her to dream about having her own hospitality business one day.

It had been a long-term dream that I had shared with my two children. I have two daughters, and we fantasized since they were very, very young about this restaurant we were going to open one day. We called it the Spotted Dog, and we would find ideas all over that we wanted to try.

Credit: Josiah Mackenzie / Hospitality Daily

In my imagination, we had this little cafe. It was so fun and had beautiful flowers on the counter and beautiful food, handmade and from the heart. That had been brewing for many, many years.

Through time, she got to know real estate developer Brian Kelly, who had acquired a number of properties in Santa Barbara’s “Funk Zone.”

Credit: Josiah Mackenzie / Hospitality Daily

This neighborhood was really ripe for reinvention. It had roots in commercial fishing and boat repair. Over time, these buildings rooted in the history of what Santa Barbara was all about had been infiltrated with artists and with surfboard shapers and designers and incredible talented people who were doing really innovative things all over the neighborhood. But the neighborhood as a whole had really become derelict.

Sherry’s career up until that point had given her a unique skill set that created an opportunity.

Brian came to me and said, ‘You understand the people side of this. I understand the real estate side of this. I know this could be an amazing place. Will you come work with me?’ I said, ‘Sure!’

Sherry was excited, but it wasn’t easy.

When I actually made the leap, it was frightening with a capital F. I had no experience in the restaurant industry.

Sherry Villanueva

The first thing she did was assemble a team of experts around her and began writing a business plan - a process that ended up taking a year. I found it fascinating why she invested so much into this process.

The first people it benefited was our team. We needed a guidebook. We needed a plan. We needed to say, "Here's what we're going to do, and here's why it's going to work." Because at the end of the day, we're in the business of running a restaurant. And if you're not in the business of running a restaurant, then you're in the hobby of running a restaurant. There's room for that, but it just financially wasn't a place where I could be.

Credit: Josiah Mackenzie / Hospitality Daily

It’s a lesson for anyone wanting to get into hospitality - is this a hobby or is it a business?

If I was going to go all in with my heart, soul, time, energy, put my career on the line, and invest a large portion of my personal savings, I needed to be able to run a business. And that's a really important distinction.

Sherry Villanueva

Credit: Josiah Mackenzie / Hospitality Daily

Sherry saw the impact of what she would build was much bigger than just her.

Acme Hospitality still has all the passion, and all the love, and all the energy, but we just celebrated our 10th anniversary and we employ 500 people currently in our company. It’s really important to me that we provide a financially stable, great career opportunity for all of the people on our team. And in order to do that, we have to be smart. We have to run a profitable, successful business.

Credit: Josiah Mackenzie / Hospitality Daily

Shelly credits her success to the concept of “working on the business, not just in the business.”

That responsibility to my team is what drives me to work on the business because it's not as much fun, at least not for a marketing gal like me. It's much more fun to be on the creative side and the passion side, but having the discipline to stay working on the business side is critical.

We spent the rest of our conversation diving into more details of how she did this and how she continues to do this each day, but I want to leave you with why she told me she works in hospitality.

Some of the most important life moments happen in restaurants and hotels. When that much love and energy and passion comes together hundreds of times a night, and our guests are using this place in this center of the neighborhood to celebrate the layers of life that are so critical, that's the richness of life. That's why I'm in the restaurant business. That's why I'm in the hotel business. It's the honor and the privilege of helping to execute an incredible experience so that our guests can share these life moments with one another.

Credit: Josiah Mackenzie / Hospitality Daily

Who do you know that would appreciate this today? Click here to forward this email.

What did you think of today's email?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.