Trump Chicago GM On Property’s Award-Winning Triple Play

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Only a select group of properties hold the distinction of having a Five-Star hotel and restaurant on their premises. Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago and its stellar restaurant, Sixteen, fall into that company since both just won Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star awards for 2013. On top of that rare feat, the esteemed Windy City address also has a Four-Star spa. With all of the glowing accolades, you would think Trump Chicago general manager T. Colm O’Callaghan would be somewhere celebrating the award-winning triple play. But there’s no time. As O’Callaghan explains to us, hospitality excellence is a 24-hour job. Besides, he couldn’t rest on any luxury laurels anyway — the 2014 awards announcements are just 12 months out.

How are you celebrating the good news about the Five-Star honors?

We’re all just thrilled and excited about it. This is something that we’ve been striving for since we opened. We’re certainly looking forward to the awards ceremony in Beverly Hills. Thomas Lents, the chef at Sixteen, and I are going to attend. And then when we come back, we’re going to do a celebration with the team. They’re the ones who put so much work into it. And, of course, we’ll celebrate with Mr. Trump the next time he’s in town. This is a great endorsement for him, the great building that he’s built and the great team that he’s built in Chicago.

In both the hotel and restaurant categories, Trump Chicago rose from a Four- to a Five-Star. Tell me about the efforts that went into earning higher scores.

We’re just celebrating our fifth year [of operation]. In those five years, I don’t think we’ve stopped for a moment in the process that we started since we opened, in terms of just continuing to fine-tune what we do. The best way to do that is just by listening to our customers and improving based on their feedback. I think we’ve recruited a team of very talented individuals who share my same passion, drive and enthusiasm. Everybody who works here is very sensitive to the experience of our guests. We look for ways, both small and large, that we can impact that guest experience. I think that’s been a defining trait of the team on this property.

I often encourage people to go on any of the independent websites out there and see the common thread that people mention when they talk about their experience at this property, and that’s just how gracious, hospitable, kind and generous everybody is who works here. That’s something that we’ve carefully nurtured from the beginning. It’s probably led us to this point. We always wanted to lead the luxury curve. We’ve expanded the boardroom in our hotel. We’ve expanded Rebar, our bar in the hotel, by 20 percent. We’ve expanded our terrace that overlooks the city that we open every summer. We changed out all the treadmills in our gym. We added new spinning machines. This is typical of every year here, where we just continue to expand and improve. Of course, we had the Anthony Cristiano Salon, from the celebrity hairstylist, open this year as well. It’s a building that continues to evolve.

Congratulations on Sixteen’s recognition as well. What makes a dining experience there so memorable?

It’s just been a remarkable year for Sixteen. So much of the credit goes to Thomas Lents. He’s a protégé of Joël Robuchon and was the chef de cuisine at Robuchon’s restaurant in Las Vegas. He wanted to come back to the Midwest just at the same time that we needed somebody who could do something remarkable at our restaurant. He’s really led the charge. His food is so incredibly approachable and sophisticated at the same time. He’s woven an art of storytelling in his food — with a sense of humor.  I know that sounds a little bit stretched, but I think you have to come to the restaurant and experience what he does. The stories that he tells with each of the courses is quite remarkable. For example, our current menu takes you through a winter’s day, from sunrise to sunset. Each of the courses represents a different moment in that day. Then, he’s engaged the team in the restaurant to tell its story with the dining experience. It’s something truly unique, unlike anything that’s happening in the city. He’s really made such an impression.

Obviously, the Forbes Travel Guide recognition is icing on the cake for us. Before Forbes Travel Guide, the Chicago Tribune gave it its highest rating. Chicago Magazine gave it its highest rating. Then, when Forbes Travel Guide came out with the Five-Star, that was the cherry on the year. It was really the acknowledgement that Sixteen is taking its place among the finest restaurants not only in the city, but the country.

What makes the spa so special?

It’s such a sanctuary. There’s nothing else like it in Chicago. The great thing about this building is that, wrapped in the confines of it, is this sanctuary that gives a level of peace, quiet and privacy. And then there are the signature treatments, such as the gemstone massages, and Kate Somerville facials continue to be a huge draw. The team here at the spa continues to innovate and introduce, on a monthly and quarterly basis, new services and treatments.

What are some goals for the rest of 2013?

Obviously, this is starting out as a great year for us. We just celebrated our fifth-year anniversary. For us to get the acknowledgement from Forbes Travel Guide for the restaurant and the hotel puts us in great company as one of the few hotels in the country with a Five-Star hotel and a Five-Star restaurant. That certainly puts the wind in our sails and gives us great energy going into the year. Our goals are to continue to evolve; continue to look for new, exciting ways to provide unique experiences for our guests; and for us to take that momentum through the end of the year. We’ll continue to change. We’ll continue to listen to our guests. We’ll continue being resourceful and creative as we try to make that experience wonderful for all our guests.

Check out the rest of our Five-Star, Four-Star and Recommended winners here.

Photos Courtesy of Trump International Hotel & Tower

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