Vaughn Davis has achieved international recognition for his unparalleled dedication to the service industry as a modern-day savant with an exceptional vision and infectious focus on attention to detail. He has implemented uniquely curated programs that elevate the guest experience to levels previously unseen within the hospitality industry.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with him to discuss his journey, his passions, and leading up the Dream Hollywood Hotel.
BY: BIANCA CHARDEI
PHOTOGRAPHY: DIANA RAGLAND
SHOT AT THE DREAM HOLLYWOOD
MONARCH: You were born and raised in Guyana. What brought you to the U.S.? By the way, I love, love, love Pine Tarts.
VAUGHN DAVIS: Oh my goodness, look at you doing your research. I love that you know about Pine Tarts. We are officially best friends, and that just happened. I’m actually a real Guyanese. I’m not one of those, as we call them in Guyana, “Saltwater Yankees.” So yes, I was born there, in Georgetown Memorial Hospital, which is in the city. My mom is from a place called Mahaicony, which is considered the country. I guess you could say it’s like Iowa or Nebraska.
MONARCH: So you’re from GT? Did you bang on the table?
VAUGHN DAVIS: I did. I’m trying to keep my Guyanesism inside right now for a little bit, before it comes out naturally and you continue to talk about the country. You haven’t said curry chicken yet, so until we get to that point, I’m going to be a little bit of an American at the moment.
MONARCH: Let me tell you, I dated a guy years ago who was Guyanese, and I was very close to his family. I remember his mother said, “When you make curry, you have to make it right, and it has to be from scratch with the seeds or it’s not real curry.”
VAUGHN DAVIS: Yeah, she’s most likely referring to garam masala, where you have to grind it. I actually know how to make roti and curry chicken.
Growing up in Guyana, one of the things that you learn is how to use your hands. It’s a completely different upbringing than when I moved here to the U.S. My dad is from Essequibo, which is a beach town. He’s from Buffalo, specifically, in Essequibo. So I spent my summers in Mahaicony and Essequibo. And then, throughout the rest of the year, I was in Georgetown. My mom worked for the Guyanese government. She was responsible for any import or export out of Guyana at what we call the wharf, John Fanan’s Wharf. I grew up with the Fanans and the Veras. I went to the only private school in Guyana at the time, which is Mae’s Under 12, and I was exposed to a lot of Western, Americanized culture in Guyana from a very young age. My mom moved to the United States and purchased a home in Queens, New York. She brought me here when I was eight years old and enrolled me in PS 124, which is a public school in South Ozone Park in Queens. I was one of those kids who had an accent and went to school in corduroy pants, a sweater, and a bow tie.
MONARCH: You were raised to present yourself with pride, understanding that a huge part of that is how you dress. That includes church, school, or pretty much any outing because you are representing more than just yourself. I know a little about the culture.
VAUGHN DAVIS: Right, and that was very important in my household. You weren’t allowed to leave the house in Guyana unless you were dressed to a T. So that same practice continued when we moved to the U.S. It was very important that we were an accurate reflection of what my mom was hoping her family would be as well as a representation of her culture.
By the way, thank you for doing your research. It’s unfortunate; not many people know much about Guyana. It’s a small little country, 700,000 people, on the northern tip of South America. Gorgeous, untouched rainforest. I mean, 90% of the population lives on 10% of the land. It borders the Amazon. It has the world’s largest free drop from a waterfall at 744 feet, called Kaieteur Falls.
Guyana is a big deal. It’s now an emerging economy. It used to be a least developed country when I was there, but now, since the discovery of oil off the coast, they have elevated it to an emerging economy and to the likes of India and China. So we’re looking forward to Guyana developing and seeing what it becomes in the future.
MONARCH: It sounds like such a rich experience. What do you miss the most about Guyana?
VAUGHN DAVIS: I guess I can say I do miss Guyana. The last time I visited was in 2015, so another visit is long overdue. I have four children now, so it will take some time because my twin girls are three. Until they get probably around five years old maybe—then I’ll go back and I’ll take my eight-year-old and my ten-year-old as well and my wife. My wife’s mom is actually Guyanese, which made for in interesting introduction. The moment I met her, she’s like, “You’re Guyanese, boy.” So, like okay, done, you’re married. Okay, nice to meet you too. Her dad is Jewish. I think he’s Eastern European Jewish. Her mom is Indian and Chinese and a little bit of African. So it made for a very unique mix. Then, of course, myself. My mom is Portuguese, Italian, and a little bit of African. And my dad is 100% African descent in Guyana.
It’s like a massive melting pot or diverse community that I grew up in. And I ended up marrying a woman who had a very similar diverse ethnic background. And now we have four wonderful, beautiful, Guyanese-looking kids here in America.
MONARCH: Beautiful. You have quite a resume. A world-class athlete, professional model, and college graduate with a political science degree. How did this mix equate to a stellar career in the world of hospitality?
VAUGHN DAVIS: That’s a really good question. The goal was to be a politician. I wanted to make the world a better place, and I felt as though the platform of a politician would be the best to do so and invoke change.
My uncle, Neil Pierre, actually worked for the United Nations, I think, for over 30 years. I can’t remember it well, but he was also the Ambassador to Switzerland for Guyana. He was one of my mentors growing up. My other uncle, Mark Pierre, is the Head of Agriculture for Guyana and the Head of Agriculture for Caricom. So I had those great examples ahead of me to show me that it is possible to invoke change through public office or some political platform. I attended Hofstra University, played sports, and obtained an Associate in Criminal Justice, and then I transitioned over to a political science degree. During this stint at the university, I modeled and acted and actually began making a lot of money. I’ve modeled for major publications and been in a couple of TV shows on HBO: Entourage, etc. So I was making a lot of money, and then it dawned on me that it wasn’t necessarily what I was most passionate about. So when I began exploring other career options, I was led to the hospitality industry and found that I enjoy the thrill of putting a smile on someone’s face and delivering an exceptional guest experience.
MONARCH: You were interested from the beginning. You just knew it?
VAUGHN DAVIS: Yes, and I was eager to learn. I entered the hospitality industry as a Bellman Manager in Training. I would connect with the Director of Finance, Director of Sales & Marketing. I would connect with all of the leaders on the executive committee and ask questions. I am that absolutely annoying kid running around hotels asking a bunch of questions.
At the Gansevoort Park Avenue, I had very influential celebrities stay at the hotel. An A-Lister who is very well respected in the industry said, “This was by far the best guest experience I’ve ever had, and I travel pretty much for a living, all over the world.” That was one of those “aha” moments, when it dawned on me that I was actually good at this.
The next was when I had to organically deliver a site tour to a major company, and there was no one around from our Sales and Marketing team because it was after 5 p.m. I gave the site tour, just naturally trying to help, not knowing that I’m not supposed to do that. And they ended up booking the group and the event. The Director of Sales & Marketing at the time came to me the next day and said, “My goodness, what did you do?”
I thought I was in trouble but quite the opposite. She explained that I delivered such a phenomenal tour, and they loved the experience so much that the group booked with us; there was an enormous amount of revenue generated for the hotel due to that booking. At that moment, the Director of Sales decided to begin developing me so that I could properly execute site tours like they are done within the marketing and sales department.
Then from there, it just took off. I had and still have a lot of tremendous mentors who are responsible for any and everything that I have done and my ability to ascend so quickly in the industry. It’s just a hunger and a drive to want to learn and continue to grow and develop. And they just fed me. They would just keep feeding me, and I loved it. I still get fed to this day, and I’m very thankful for it.
MONARCH: Would you say that’s what keeps you growing, having mentors and remaining a student?
VAUGHN DAVIS: Yes, I’m a big subscriber to the notion that we as humans can never learn everything in the universe within our lifespan. It’s just an endless effort at getting better. No matter how much knowledge you acquire, you’ll never acquire all of it. So until the day that I’m no longer here, I will continue to learn. There are days where I don’t learn as I would’ve learned the day before, and it makes me a bit upset. I don’t like that. I have to learn more than I learned the day before every single day, and that’s the same approach that I have with my children, with my life, and my mentees. It’s just letting them understand that every single day, you have 24 hours in a day—how are you going to use that time? Are you going to use four hours out of the day to do something mindless on social media or YouTube? Or maybe you want to put that into some intellectual equity and consume some knowledge. There is a vast amount of information available on the Internet. We’re heading into another pendulum now, which is the Web 3.0 Metaverse. We’re headed there.
So if you didn’t acquire the knowledge from Web 1.0 and 2.0 and now you’re heading into 3.0, you’re pretty much behind the eight ball. There’s a lot of catching up to do. With this increase in information flow that’s happening right now in our civilization, you have to really have an aggressive approach to acquiring knowledge on a daily basis. You can turn around tomorrow and be 10 years behind everyone else in one day’s worth of information. That’s how quickly we’re moving.
MONARCH: Moving from New York to become the GM at Dream Hollywood was this move always in your plans?
VAUGHN DAVIS: Yes, I was actually recruited by USC to play football there in California. I verbally committed and then declined. My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, had a very big role in convincing me to come back to New York, but I was planning on living in California and playing college football at USC and going to the NFL from there—hopefully play for an LA-based team and stay on the West Coast.
I’m an empath, so my environment really has an effect on me. So being in New York with the cold weather and the gloomy days and eight months of stay in your house and “get under the covers and watch a movie” weather, that’s not for me. I wanted to be in an environment that would encourage me to be in a constant flow state, similar to what happened when I was in Guyana. That was part of the reason why I wanted to move to California. The Dream Hollywood property itself…when it was announced, I was in the room. I actually gave the site tour to the ownership group that I now work for in New York, and I was part of that final deciding factor for them moving forward with this project with Dream Hollywood and the Dream Hotel Group. So I guess it was kind of always in the works.
MONARCH: How will Dream Hollywood be different from the other properties within the Dream Hotel Group portfolio?
VAUGHN DAVIS: We’re here, obviously, as the brand’s West Coast flagship. It’s more of a modern, art deco Hollywood Hills-inspired design by Rockwell Group, and update “We have the most robust food and beverage offerings— on our rooftop with The Highlight Room, and on the street level with TAO Asian Bistro and Beauty & Essex. There’s also a tremendous amount of technology that’s integrated into our guest journey at Dream. We have two robots. Alfred and Geoffrey. They deliver items.
We have a kiosk for self-check-in. We have mobile keys. The guest has the ability to pretty much control their stay directly from their mobile device. They can check in to the hotel without even touching the front desk and go right up to their room. We extend the guest experience throughout all of Los Angeles. We have a partnership with Lincoln, which is our house car provider to our guests. It takes them anywhere within a three-mile radius. We’ve built these curated tours throughout LA that can take our guests around so they don’t just get the hotel: You’re going to Beauty & Essex, you’re going to your room. No, all of LA is available to them. I think that’s what separates us.
We always open properties in emerging urban environments that are on the cusp of becoming one of the coolest locations, wherever it is. So when we launched in the meatpacking district, it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Peter Thiel. He’s, as they call him, PayPal Mafia, Facebook. One of the things he did with PayPal and all the other companies that the PayPal Mafia launched—then Facebook, Tesla, etc.—is they didn’t go for those large mass markets.
So just like them, we look for niche markets and launch hotels there. We deliver our version of excellent service and excellent guest experiences, and they come. We build it, and they come.
Everyone develops the neighborhoods around where we develop because it’s just a natural evolution of the environment to include whatever our demo is inclined to purchase. So high-end retail, luxury food and beverages experiences, etc.
Another example of that is the Dream Las Vegas property that will be opening in 2024. And there are some other really cool ones in the works that I can’t speak to yet, but just know there will be a massive footprint here on the West Coast.
MONARCH: What are some things that you look to accomplish when you create experiences for the hotel? What is your objective?
VAUGHN DAVIS: We subscribe to Peak End Rule. We take a human psychology approach to the guest experience. It’s not as simple as “make someone smile.” There is a lot of work that’s done on the backend by our amazing team here to ensure that we are being proactive in providing that unique guest experience. Because any hotel can check a guest in, talk to a guest, make them smile, and put them in a room that’s clean. What can you do that differentiates you from any other hotel?
So our approach has some data and understanding in analytics embedded into it. We know our guests before they arrive. We curate that user experience to the information that we acquired and analyzed to build that unique guest experience or service culture for that person. I don’t want to get into our trade secrets.
I’ll give you an example. If you are staying at our hotel, you should know that our team most likely knows you almost as well as your relatives do. Let’s just put it that way. You’re going to get recommendations based on things that you would naturally, organically like to do. I can’t tell you how we do that, but we do that.
MONARCH: I get it. As a GM, you are in a coveted position, and as a black GM, you are in a rare position. Do you feel any responsibility to increase the number of leadership roles for people of color in the field of hospitality?
VAUGHN DAVIS: Absolutely. Great question and a very relevant question too. I recently spoke at the International Luxury Hotel Association’s INSPIRE conference about understanding diversity, equity and inclusion in luxury hospitality. I think it is a very serious topic that everyone should be focused on. Not just now—it’s something that should have been our primary focus since the dawn of time. I also serve on the board for the LA Tourism Board, Diversity and Inclusion. So anything pertaining to African-American culture that the Los Angeles Tourism Board does, from marketing to any of the initiatives, I have the humble responsibility to approve and have the final say. Yes, in short, I do. I do believe that it is important for us to open the doors for all ethnicities.
I’m a big believer in equity. I think we’re all created equally, and we all should have the platform and the abilities to provide equally in society. If you look at it, it’s actually pretty sad that maybe, what was it, 30 to 40 years ago, I would not have been able to sit in this chair and operate a hotel of this magnitude and employ the diverse workforce. Not just with ethnicities but also gender diversity and equity, and it’s disappointing. It’s very disappointing, and there’s a direct correlation to some of the challenges we have here in our country and the lack of equity across the board in our workforce.
I’m a strong believer that individuals that have the blessings that I have should use this platform to encourage and motivate all groups to realize that there are countless opportunities within this industry for them. So I’ll be speaking at high schools and elementary schools throughout Los Angeles in some of the underserved communities. I held a tour at the property here for a group of 20 children—a very diverse group of children from all different backgrounds— just opening their eyes to the possibilities of working within hospitality. I don’t subscribe to the current trends in the industry that minorities and people of BIPOC backgrounds should be more so on the front lines.
I constantly develop and mentor all walks of life because, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings, and we’re all equal. So I never look at it from that lens where it’s “Oh, I have to hire this. Oh, I have to hire that.” I never grew up like that. I grew up in a very diverse family—Portuguese, Italian.
You look at our 23 and Me, and it’s like the United Nations up in there. It’s crazy. So I never had that lens of “Oh, this ethnic group does this.” We don’t do that in my family. I never grew up like that, so I could never understand it. It does exist. For me, I’m never going to be one of those individuals that’s going to promote that kind of approach toward hiring and developing. I think everyone should be equally given the opportunity to succeed in life, and I will be one of those people standing on a soapbox ensuring that that happens.
MONARCH: What motivates you to carve out more time in your schedule to dedicate yourself to becoming a mentor?
VAUGHN DAVIS: It’s back to that you only have 40 to 50 years to make an impact on civilization. That can be something that’s measured and quantifiable. Otherwise, what have you done? Think about it. You have roughly 74, 73 years to make an impact. You pass away. What’s your story? What’s your legacy? What have you done? That haunts me every single day I wake up. That’s the number one thing that’s on my mind. What have you done to make the world a better place? What has your role been in improving society, improving someone’s work/life balance? Down to the most granular point, what have you done? And if it’s nothing, I can’t live with myself.
So that’s one of the things that drives me. I will always make time. And if guys like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos can do what they’re doing, why can’t I on a different level? It doesn’t necessarily have to be that I have to run a Space X, a Tesla, a Hyperloop, a Starlink. It doesn’t have to be that. It can be that I’m mentoring individuals. I’m coaching a tackle football team because I’m developing the youth of the future…coaching a softball team and developing young female leaders for the future.
I have young girls that are on my flag football teams, and I treat them exactly the same. There’s no difference. I might even give them the football more than the guys, just because. I grew up in a single mother household, and I saw my mom raise two children, dominate where she was in her environment in Guyana by herself, then move to America and do the same thing: go to school, become a nurse, while working four jobs and raising two kids and my high-energy self.
What would ever make me feel like a woman can’t do the same as a man or better? Nothing, because I saw it firsthand. I saw my mom do it, and she killed it. I’m so proud of her. Now she runs two clinics. She’s the head of two clinics in New York for MTA.
MONARCH: What’s next for you at Dream Hollywood?
VAUGHN DAVIS: We are actually taking a very futuristic approach to the guest experience. We’re looking at it 20 to 40 years down the pipeline. We have 23 hotels that are slated to open within the next 4 to 5 years. We Thanks, Zuck. You got me back. I got my VR goggles, so I’m fully immersed in Meta. You can find me on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @lordvaughndavis, and that’s only because I own land in Scotland. That is not for any other reason. I have the designation. It’s official. You don’t have to call me that—that’s pretty weird—but that’s what I have as the Twitter handle. My Instagram handle is vaughndavisii. That’s Vaughn Davis II because my dad is Senior. I’m the second; my son is the third. That’s where you’ll see me. I’m also on Clubhouse too. I speak often on Clubhouse. don’t want to offer the same mundane user experience. The first documented hotel was Bethlehem with Mary. Think about it.
So, then, how much has that experience changed over time? You’re still checking in the same way. You’re still being brought to a room, and there really hasn’t been that much innovation to the guest journey. For us, we want to take it to the next level. That’s why we an NFT art gallery in the lobby. That’s why we’re looking at the Metaverse. This is why we have the robot that delivers.
It’s just about reinventing and helping to move the industry forward to the next iteration of hospitality. Anytime you look at it, whenever there is a change in the overall civilization as aggressive as the pandemic was, there is a shift, and you can see it in our supply chain. You can see it in the number of people not going back to work. You can see it in all the industries that are now dying and the shift that is happening in the workforce. You can see it across the board.
For us, it’s about being prepared for that next step in hospitality. I can say it here: If we were to receive a phone call from NASA and the Artemis Program and Project Gateway, we would be more than happy to manage Project Gateway as the first hospitality management company in lower Earth orbit. That’s our vision. That’s how we approach it. We don’t look at it as just something that’s happening here.
You have guys working on going to Mars. So who’s going to run the hotels in Mars? Who is going to handle the hospitality for that three- to six-month trip from Earth to Mars? Who is going to handle the moon base? I mean, we’re up for the challenge. And having the expertise of a truly specialized operator, especially in that environment, is going to be pivotal to the success of those missions.
MONARCH: How do we stay in the loop of all things Mr. Vaughn Davis? Where can we find you on social media? Where can we follow the Dream Hollywood on social media as well?
VAUGHN DAVIS: You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @Dream-Hollywood. I just launched my Instagram and my Facebook because of the Metaverse.
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