Kokua Hospitality explores new road in New Year


NEW YORK—The New Year finds Kokua Hospitality LLC on a new road in how it’s growing its business. The San Francisco-based hotel management company has taken on the role of collaborative brand developer and operator for The Assemblage, a membership-based, co-sharing effort that combines life/work/social attributes within communal settings, the first of which are here in Manhattan.

Currently open is The Assemblage NoMad at 114 East 25th St., with two more locations—dubbed Houses by the organization—at 17 John St. (with 79 extended-stay suites) in the Financial District and 329–331 Park Ave. South.

The clubs are the result of crowdfunding across the Prodigy Network, which is led by CEO Rodrigo Niño. The platform provides access to investment opportunities in commercial real estate for individuals. Individuals from 27 countries provided over $150 million for the initial three buildings in New York City, according to the company.

Phil Tufano, COO/partner at Kokua Hospitality, said the NoMad property soft-opened in early autumn and officially debuted in November; however, the journey to now has been several years in the making.

“About two-and-a-half, maybe even three years ago, we heard that Prodigy Network and Sherwood Capital [Corp.] were looking for a management company to manage an extended-stay hotel that was going to have a large collaborative workspace component to it,” said Tufano. “They wanted to talk to hospitality companies, but they didn’t want cookie-cutter companies. They wanted companies that were familiar with boutique or familiar with New York, so I went and presented to them at that time.” After eight months and vetting other companies, Prodigy tapped Kokua, which manages for franchisors such as Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott as well as boutique/independent hotels.

As time progressed, Prodigy Network crowdfunded other locations—it reportedly wants to go global with The Assemblage concept—that did not include a hotel component.

“Originally, they said we’re going to manage the collaborative workspace, we’ll have you guys just do 17 John [St.] with the hotel,” said the COO. “As I started working with them, helping them with technical services, giving them all of our input, how to design and all those things, they came back to me and said, ‘We’re really not operators. We’d really like Kokua to come in and do this.’”

“This” includes hiring for The Assemblage culture, training, coordination of staffing guides, organizational charts and job-description development.

Kokua also is a consultant on functionality and operational design for each property, giving insight on design impact and space planning.

According to Tufano, Prodigy also pulled back on its plan to outsource food and beverage operations. “They decided to run it internally and said, ‘You have F&B experience,’” he said.

As The Assemblage’s operating arm, Kokua Hospitality reviews product specifications and layout for guest-servicing areas, including F&B outlets, bars, reception areas, kitchens and back of house. It also does contract review, agreement development and consultation on the selection of third-party vendors and partner businesses.

The Assemblage’s website notes its food and beverage offerings “are aligned with the community’s values of sustainability, collaboration and regenerative agriculture. With a sophisticated and nuanced knowledge of health and wellness, all locations feature Ayurvedic dining and plant-based juice and elixir bars.”

Kokua is addressing all five tiers of the membership levels offered by The Assemblage. This includes space for members who come post-work (after 5 p.m. on weeknights and all day/night on weekends); those who need temporary workspace (flexible desk); and those who need more permanent spots (resident desk, resident office and resident lounge).

Membership includes complimentary food and beverage, daily programming and evening events that feature workshops and speaker presentations, bookable meeting spaces and nature retreats. (The Assemblage also has what it calls “sanctuary” space in Bethel, NY, the location of the 1969 Woodstock Festival.)

Additional amenities depend on what tier a member purchases. For example, those signing up for a quarterly membership in a resident office at $6,500 per month get access to a private office, all-day access to The Assemblage, including its community and events spaces, fully equipped meeting rooms, curated programming and private phone booths, plus the complimentary Ayurvedic breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday.

At the 12-story NoMad building there are eclectic penthouse spaces, meditation and meeting rooms, private and communal spaces and a variety of lounges, all of which Kokua is helping wrangle. Its responsibilities will largely be the same for the Park Ave. South (opening year’s end 2018) and John St. facilities, with the latter—opening in March—including the familiar turf of managing an extended-stay hotel.

Tufano noted Kokua is using the same principles for accounting as with hotels for The Assemblage. “We had to change the chart of accounts, obviously, for this because of the different revenue and expense streams, but we’re still using the same P&L format—but with additional accounts we’ve created to use for this,” he said.

Similarly, there’s a controller, general managers, assistant general managers, F&B managers, chefs, etc., for the properties. “The member-services desk at NoMad is similar to a front desk at a hotel. They’re servicing the customers, checking them in, answering their questions, giving tours to people. It’s not that far off. All the food and beverage and programming is not unlike servicing catering and banquet functions,” said Tufano. That said, he felt existing Kokua employees looking to make a move from hotels to the co-sharing model would need to be trained in the specifics of the culture and product.

“If we moved someone from the Hyatt Centric in Hawaii to the Axiom in San Francisco, it’s just as much of a change,” said Tufano, citing a shift in location, brand to independent, different operating systems and different guest mix.

The executive stressed management is seamless to The Assemblage model. “You don’t see someone with a Kokua nametag on. The workers there view themselves as Assemblage associates, although they are Kokua employees. Their checks come from us, their benefits come from us, the training; everything comes from Kokua,” he said.

Kokua also has been able to utilize its existing vendors/suppliers for many of the basics, although Tufano said due to the ethos of The Assemblage, a good deal of locally sourced and more “on-trend” items are used to meet members’ expectations.

The COO was enthused about Kokua taking on The Assemblage projects. “They want to grow. We want to be their partner, their management team. So, the goal is to make this very successful, do a great job and enable The Assemblage to continue to grow… It’s been great. We’ve all enjoyed it because it’s different. When you get to our stage of doing this for so long, it’s fun to do a project like this. It kind of gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you think outside the box… It’s really the new way people are going to be working and living and staying.” HB