From Records to Resorts: How Hotelier Robert LeBlanc Got His Start

Robert LeBlanc, founder and creative director of LeBlanc + Smith, paved a unique path on his way to becoming a hotelier. After founding a record label that later transformed into an event planning and guerrilla marketing firm, he transitioned into the hospitality industry. Ahead, learn more about LeBlanc and how he created a HAP-worthy boutique collection of restaurants, bars, and hotels. 

What Initially Drew You to the Hospitality Industry and Inspired You to Work in Hotels?

LeBlanc + Smith started as a record label, but I worked as a bartender at night to cover my bills while we were getting the label going. I immediately fell in love with being able to connect with guests and foster a sense of community. That record label eventually evolved into live music venues, a few hotel bars, and a collection of restaurants. I always knew I would end up in hotels, though, as I loved the challenge of designing different experiences for every single touch point a guest has during their hotel stay from the moment they arrive to their departure. The layers and complexity afforded by a hotel give us so many more opportunities to create lasting memories for and relationships with guests than we could ever create at one of our bars or restaurants.”

What Is It Like to Be a Hotelier?

“It is incredibly inspiring and fun, though it, of course, comes with a lot of hard work and complexity. A typical day for me might include a team meeting first thing in the morning, followed by a design call to talk through our Jazz Fest marketing campaign, then popping in for lunch to say hello to regular hotel guests, followed by a programming meeting to plan out our summer concert series, and capped off with an evening of drinks and dinner with a fascinating artist or writer who might be in town visiting. That’s all in a day’s ‘work.’” 

What Inspired the Concept Behind The Chloe, and What Sets It Apart From Other Hotels?

The Chloe was inspired by two things. First and foremost, we wanted to highlight the understated cool and cultural significance of our Uptown New Orleans neighborhood. Uptown rarely gets mentioned in the “Best of New Orleans” neighborhoods, but we have so many great cultural institutions here and The Chloe is programmed for guests in New Orleans to experience all that our neighborhood has to offer. Secondly, we wanted to grant guests a sense of what it’s like to live in New Orleans and to actually be a local, not just a visitor staying in a big box hotel amidst a bunch of office buildings. We want guests to get a sense of the terroir of Uptown New Orleans when they stay with us and interact with the locals who frequent our pool, our restaurant, and our bar. I think what truly sets us apart is that The Chloe (and now The Celestine) is designed to feel more like you’re staying at your friend’s home here in New Orleans as opposed to a typical hotel.”

What Are Some Key Features or Amenities Guests Can Expect While Staying at The Chloe or Any of Your Properties?

“The hallmark of all of our hotel experiences is our personalized hospitality, which is warm, engaging, and fun in a very authentic and not-at-all written way, making guests feel instantly at home and at ease at The Chloe and The Celestine. Secondly, while the design of our spaces is beautiful and inspiring, Sara Costello designed all of our spaces to be lived in and enjoyed. The Chloe and The Celestine are not delicate spaces, and no one would feel uncomfortable laughing loudly, doing a shot of whiskey at the bar, or even accidentally dropping a glass of red wine while enjoying The Chloe. Lastly, nearly everything that guests experience at The Chloe and The Celestine – the robes, the bath salts, the ingredients in our dishes and cocktails, and the art on the walls – are expressions of the art and culture being fostered in 21st-century New Orleans. So while our 1891-constructed building’s architecture gives guests a sense of New Orleans’ storied past, all of the things that guests experience viscerally – what they see, what they hear, what they taste, and what they smell – are all expressions of 21st Century New Orleans art and culture.”

Can You Share Any Details About the New Hotel You Opened?

“We just opened The Celestine in the hotel that was formerly known as the Maison Deville, an iconic French Quarter boutique hotel that did not survive COVID. The Celestine was the home of Antoine Amadee Peychaud, the creator of Peychaud’s Bitters, which are the foundation of nearly all of the classic New Orleans cocktails. As such, the programming of the hotel is inspired by cocktails and their cultural significance in New Orleans, experienced most readily at our bar Peychaud’s. The Celestine aims to do the same thing for the residential part of the French Quarter that The Chloe has done for Uptown: highlight the fact that the French Quarter is a neighborhood first and foremost while making guests feel completely at home in the French Quarter. It is nestled on Toulouse Street amidst a cluster of wonderful New Orleans-based businesses like Preservation Hall, Krewe, The Will and The Way, Toulouse Theatre, Brennan’s, and Sylvain. From a design standpoint, The Celestine references the Caribbean influence on New Orleans design and culture as opposed to the oft-referenced French and Spanish influences. The setting is light, airy, and breezy, with tropical plants and touches throughout. The fountain in our courtyard, next to which Tennessee Williams penned much of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ is the ideal place to enjoy a Sazerac or a classic Hurricane with friends old and new.”

What Advice Would You Give Aspiring Hoteliers or Individuals Interested in Pursuing Careers in Hospitality?

“It’s an incredibly inspiring and challenging field, and the most important thing is to just take the first step. If you care about people and treat people well, you can figure the rest out and can be very successful in hotels and hospitality. Just get started. Get a job anyplace, even at an entry level, and you will be able to learn and grow while achieving anything for which you are willing to work.”

– As told to by Lauren Harano

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