License to Mill

Housemade bread and a spirit-fueled setting are drivers for new Williamsburg Hotel.

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Adam Leonti mills his own flour and holds sold-out classes at the Bread Lab.

Will F&B be the magnet for a new hotel in Brooklyn? When managing directors Evan Altman and James Stuart imagined the Williamsburg Hotel, opening in October on North 10th Street between Wythe and Kent Avenues, they envisioned a bold F&B program leading the way. But even they are a bit incredulous at the buzz the bread alone is creating.

“F&B has never been as profitable as rooms, but F&B drives to you,” Altman explains. “Guests want to experience the neighborhood. They don’t want to go to a hotel with a bunch of tourists.”

Altman and Stuart were comfortable going against the grain because they had confidence that bars and a good restaurant would anchor the hotel in the neighborhood. But at the time, even they had no idea that grain (literally) would be the next frontier. “Little did we know the phone would be ringing off the hook about buying flour,” Altman says.

Credit this stroke of luck to bringing Chef Adam Leonti, formerly of Vetri in Philadelphia on board. Leonti, who had been milling his own flour and baking bread for some time at Vetri, had spent some time studying with Stephen Jones at the Bread Lab at the Washington State University campus in Mount Vernon, Washington. While the hotel was under construction, he set up the Brooklyn Bread Lab in a warehouse space in nearby Bushwick last winter, installed a stone mill weighing three and a half tons, and started milling and baking.

Brooklyn Bread Lab loaves will be a calling card for the new property.
Brooklyn Bread Lab loaves will be a calling card for the new property.

“We were able to use the time created by construction delays on the hotel because we introduced Adam Leonti to New York City, and he became the poster child for the grain movement,” Stuart says. Leonti holds soldout classes at the Bread Lab for both professionals and baking enthusiasts and sells a limited number of loaves retail. Professionals come from all over the country to take his classes.

At first glance, it might appear counter-intuitive that bread would gain such popularity in these days of gluten-free obsession. On the contrary, Leonti is one of a growing  number of chefs who espouse freshly milling their own flour to produce crusty, artisanal loaves that are not only delicious but nutritious, as they incorporate the vitamin-rich germ destroyed in commercial processing.  They believe the practice of freshly milling flour  will become as common as freshly grinding coffee beans. This endeavor puts the hotel ahead of the curve nationally and burnishes the Brooklyn brand once again.

At Harvey, Leonti focuses on freshly milled grains for bread, pasta, and pastries. “The restaurant features grains and vegetables but also happens to have some proteins,” Stuart says, adding that they will also provide a casual 24-hour room service. “If I’m just off a plane and hungry, I want a burger and a salad from the restaurant, not typical in-room dining,” adds Altman.

The intention is for the eight-story, 150-room hotel to be a hub for the neighborhood with its restaurants and bars as well as a preferred hotel for a creative class of domestic and international travelers. “People are choosing to work here, to live here, to travel here over  Manhattan,” says Altman. “It’s like what happened to downtown New York,” adds Stuart, referring to some neighbors such as Vice Media, the Amazon Photo Studio, studios for shooting commercials.

Spirited Tower

None of these visitors will go thirsty.

The hotel will house three bars, including a private one for hotel guests and a subterranean lounge. But the bar getting all the attention is a faux water tower on the roof that seats 30.

“The designers from London, Michaelis Boyd Studio, loved this landscape with all these water towers,” Altman notes. “The largest manufacturer of water towers was right across the street.” The faux tower pays  homage to this iconic image. The hotel also boasts the  neighborhood’s first grand ballroom with soaring 30-foot ceilings. It accommodates up to 400 guests.

The hotel’s industrial façade of brick, glass, and Corten steel is also meant to blend in with the neighborhood.  Interior design schemes range from whitewashed timber walls to deep grey distressed finishes. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the guest rooms look out on views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the East River.

As veterans of the boutique hotel scene, Altman and Stuart are well versed in what makes a hotel resonate with a certain demographic. They met 10 years ago, opening Gramercy Park Hotel for Ian Schrager. “I was hired to open a restaurant that never opened,” Stuart recalls, “so I got thrown into the hotel end. Then I opened up the Bowery Hotel as F&B director.” Altman went on to manage the Standard Hotel. “Our pipe dream was to open our own hotel,” Altman says. And now, that is what they are doing. They were engaged by Toby Moskovits and Michael Lichtenstein of Heritage Equity Partners. This is the first hospitality venture of the Brooklyn-based real estate developers.

“So we’re doing everything,” Altman says, “hiring chefs, selecting bath products and candles—soup to nuts.” The day we met in their temporary office they were setting a table with possible glassware and china patterns. The hotel will use no tablecloths, but the tables are not reclaimed wood; they’re white marble.

A hotel cannot live on bread alone.

Beverly Stephen is former editor in chief of Food Arts magazine.