The Drake Hotel in Toronto has undergone several changes over the years, and the evolution isn’t done yet. Current owner Jeff Stober has plans to expand while still keeping an intimately curated experience.
TORONTO—The Drake Hotel is growing up.
Coming up on its 16th year in its latest reincarnation and under new ownership since 2001, the hotel has seen and undergone several changes, and it’s not done yet.
One area that has always remained a priority is the hotel’s attention to community collaborations, said Ana Yuristy, who was the hotel’s manager since 2007 and now the executive director of corporate services.
“Through all the changes, one of the things that’s kind of kept us grounded and kept us interesting is all of the great collaborations we’ve been involved with,” she said.
All of these community collaborations and different touch points have led the Drake to becoming an entrance point and hub for the Queen West neighborhood, she said.
Another constant has been keeping nods to its history, which can been seen today in Drake’s guestrooms.
Despite the small, intimate space it’s been known for, the overarching goal of Jeff Stober, owner since 2001, has always been to expand the number of guestrooms. And now that plan is coming to fruition, Yuristy said. In 2020, the Drake Hotel will grow from 19 guestrooms to 51.
Making a splash early on
When the Drake first opened after an extensive renovation in February 2004, Yuristy said there wasn’t anything like it in Toronto, and that’s why it “created such a splash” in the city, she said.
Since the early years, the 19-key hotel attracted—and still does attract—a lot people who had an interest in music, design and culture. Several emerging designers from Montreal or New York would stay with them “and their brands have grown up alongside us,” she said.
“This was where they were choosing to spend their time, and where they were choosing to stay and dine when they came to the city, because the Drake really was (the) heart of such an exciting moment in the boutique hotel culture of the city,” she added.
About 10 years ago, Yuristy said there weren’t many boutique hotels in Toronto, and the hotel market was even a bit underserved.
Now she’s seeing more mid-sized to large hotel chains occupying some of the boutique hotel space. There are plenty of parallels in the way the chains are designing its interior spaces and its offerings compared to independent hotels, she said.
Even with the proliferation of other brands and expansion of the Drake collection, Yuristy said her team is confident that they will still deliver a uniquely curated service and experience that won’t be overshadowed.
The collection’s hotel portfolio currently consists of The Drake Hotel, Drake Devonshire and the recently opened Drake Motor Inn, all in Canada. Other venues in the overall collection include food-and-beverage spaces and a general store.
She admits then when her team would look at opportunities for hotel spaces in North American cities, there would often be debate of at which point do you start to lose authenticity and how many rooms do you have to get to.
“I still don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t think you would get a consensus around our table here, but I feel confident that we’re not going to lose that when we grow to 51 rooms,” she said. “I think we’ll still easily be able to deliver that same service and experience to our guests so I’m not too concerned.”
Benefits of expansion
When Stober purchased Drake, he also purchased adjacent buildings as he knew he wanted to someday expand the hotel, Yuristy said. Part of the adjacent buildings include some apartments that will be rebuilt for touring musicians or artists in residency to stay in.
With three different F&B zones in the hotel, she said it far outpaced the occupancy of the hotel side, and many people coming to eat or for entertainment would ask “Are you really a hotel?” But as the Drake name has grown, she said they don’t get that question quite as much anymore.
Now that building permits have been finalized, she said hotel expansion is the focus.
This expansion comes particularly at a good time, she said, as she’s seen a ramp-up in bleisure travel and a focus on corporate meetings and groups.
Although the hotel would host special events, such as the Toronto National Film Festival, historically it’s been difficult to host big groups because of the limited 19-room capacity. Now with the expansion, they will be looking at group and meeting business more seriously, she said, and it’s part of their growing business strategy.
“There’s already opportunities that (are) coming our way,” she said.
Yuristy describes the Drake Hotel as a bit of an urban resort, where guests really don’t need to leave the property. But if they do, the neighborhood has much to offer.
Inside, guests can find an underground live music venue; a café and lounge on the main floor; and an all-season rooftop patio, she said, which allows guests to choose a place that fits them best.
As the Drake continues to grow and evolve, Yuristy emphasized the importance of creating a consistent message on its online platforms.
About two years ago, the team redesigned its website, and one of the top goals was to weave together its now six individual properties on one landing page, thedrake.ca, and then branching off to each property’s own websites. The intent was to help people understand that Drake had a collection of similar properties under the same ownership, but each with its own unique flare.
There was concern that some people weren’t aware that the Drake One Fifty was affiliated with the Drake Hotel, for example.
Another big piece of the website redesign was the social piece, she said. Prior to the transformation, they relied a lot on their own content and treated Instagram and the website as two different platforms. Now the website integrates an Instagram feed showing user-generated content and their own marketing content.
Yuristy said having an all in-house marketing, PR, graphics and culture team has helped lead to the success of keeping their consistent messaging.
She said there’s not a need for it to “go corporate” because everything is happening within their walls. Stober has remained close to this vision, she added, and hasn’t once waivered from the fundamentals that are important to the collection.
“That’s always helped propel us forward over the years,” she said.