Guy Crush // Motel Hamilton
Looking for a respite from the cold weather? One step into Hamilton’s newest brunch spot, Motel, will have you feeling like you just entered sunny Palm Springs.
A retro motel feeling with that coveted palm beach polish, this new spot is one of the trendy up and coming places to grab a bite in Hamilton. Following their gut instinct, Chris and Michael took the leap to open this new restaurant — and it only took them three months! After indulging in some champagne pancakes and sunny mimosas, we caught up with Motel’s owner Chris and their designer Michael to learn a little bit more about the inner workings and overall inspiration behind this new No-Tell-Motel.
Chris, this isn’t your first foray into the world of food and beverage. How did you realize that the restaurant biz was your calling, and what was your journey to get here?
I have been in restaurants since I was 14. My mom pointed out that when I was a kid I used to pretend that I had my own restaurant, but it wasn't until I left the industry for a short while to go into the hair and spa industry. As my friends slowly moved on from the restaurant industry, I followed. I thought it was the natural progression of working in the industry that you would eventually leave to go into your adult career. It was soon after that I realized that I missed restaurants and that I felt like I belonged in them.
Had you been considering opening a new restaurant, or was Motel more of a spontaneous decision?
It was always a plan to either open restaurants with a group I was working with or on my own, however Motel itself was very spontaneous.
From that very first thought about opening to the day you opened the doors— how long did that whole process take?
I think it was 3 months total.
What was the most unexpected challenge you came across while opening (or operating) Motel?
I am very new to Hamilton, originally from BC. I think anytime you are in a new city there is a bit of a change in dynamic or a fish out of water feeling. I am used to knowing all of our contacts for suppliers and contractors. I have had to create a whole new network of people. Thankfully Hamilton has shown itself to be a helpful and friendly city, so it hasn't been too stressful.
As the owner of the restaurant, you also work in the building. What is a typical day like for you?
I cook, I clean, I serve tables, I manage. I write cheques and do maintenance. I usually have a couple meetings with suppliers or interviews during the week. I spend a good amount of time over analyzing the service, food and overall experience. I can't shut that off. Someone always needs me for something, which can be good and sometimes less good, haha.
From the throwback Palm Springs-esque decor to the champagne pancakes, Motel has a very distinct vibe. Can you us about the inspiration behind the branding and the overall feeling of the restaurant?
I travelled a lot as a kid with my parents. I actually still travel a lot and I still try to have a trip with them yearly. I love a good hotel, I could live in one for sure. We used to drive everywhere. We would drive to California, Oregon, Nevada, through Florida. I loved getting to where we were going and the hotel at the end, but just as much I loved the trip there. The spontaneous stops, the cool roadside motels, hotels and inns and even the not so great ones. I wanted that Nevada/Florida motel feeling, with the palm beach polish. I hope we were successful in creating that.
Where do you find your inspiration?
If you could dream big, what would your ideal collaboration or partnership be for Motel?
I would love Motel to be integrated into a larger brand, maybe a multi concept.
A lot of the decor at Motel is second hand scores (like ALL of the restaurant chairs that Michael scored for $40!). Michael, can you tell us about designing the space? How long did it take you to source all of your decor and bring your original vision to life? Did you have a clear vision when you originally set out?
We are very much inspired by vintage motels in Miami and Palm Springs, with a dreamy retro glam vibe. After making our first stop on the internet we started with the colour scheme of pinks (PINK EVERYTHING!) and teals. After sourcing a load of online inspiration of both Motel/Hotel and restaurant spaces I took to online classifieds like Kijiji and LetGo to keep our budget low. The chairs were a huge score, 80s restaurant chairs we recovered (with the help of my parents...all hands on deck!) in the teal vinyl. The only new purchases in the restaurant are the wood table tops & gold wire chairs. We stuck pretty close to the original direction, I try as often as possible to revisit our inspiration, or mood board...to make sure we're not straying off track with anything... this also kept us from over buying.
We are big fans of Bephi Home as well, having made a few purchases in the form of great lamps, velvet dining chairs and a beautiful brass bar cart that we love. For all those vintage shoppers out there, what is your best tip for finding the good stuff?
My best tip is that you need to be looking constantly! If you're in the market for say, dining chairs, you need to be looking multiple times a day and everyday! I use online classifieds, Instagram and every thrift shop I can find.
After visiting Motel twice now and it seems like it’s a two-man show. Is there anyone else hiding back there working alongside you and Michael?
Yes we currently have 4 employees that work with us. Everyone is super important to our team and we couldn't do it without them.
One of the biggest aspects of launching a restaurant is of course the menu. Tell us about your signature dishes and drinks, and a little bit about what makes them unique?
I would say many of our dishes are pretty unique to us. Champagne pancakes are what I would consider our signature dish. Slow cooked house made cakes, whipped devonshire cream, champagne and raspberry coulis, vanilla honey butter & of course real gold on top.
Motel is a bit of an Instagram sensation, which is where we originally found out about it, much like many others. Would you say that Instagram is a major marketing channel for Motel? Was it’s Insta-appeal something that you paid attention to when designing the space and deciding on the details?
Instagram is 100% a key driver behind Motel's success, everything we did in the space design wise had to answer this question: Will people want to take photos and post it on Instagram? It's 2017, our target market finds out about new spots through social media, so that's where we need to have a big impact.
We’ve gotta ask — as someone who loves restaurants (and especially beautifully designed ones!), what are a few other local gems in Hamilton or Toronto?
In Hamilton, For Tacos, I love The Mule, Wine, Toast wine bar. Michael loves Redchurch Cafe's vibe and enjoys CIMA Enoteca. In Toronto, I love Dandylion. They know what they are doing for sure.
Chris — What is….
Your all time favourite food? Burger, for sure.
Your favourite business resource? I guess now it would be the internet. There seems to be no better resourse. Even doctors google now haha.
If you could dine at any restaurant, anywhere in the world, where would you eat? A specific restaurant, that’s tough, My favourite dining experiences have been in Italy and New York. I am a sucker for restaurants on a winery or a super classic steakhouse. I am pretty classic with my dining tastes. If I had to choose, it would likely be in Italy.
Michael — What is….
Your favourite home decor shop? My favourite vintage shop, which I haven't had the pleasure of going to yet, would be Home Union (@homeunion). They're based in Brooklyn and their collection & Instagram are amazing!
Your best vintage score? My Mid-Century Dresser/Credenza by Gibbard for $20!
Your favourite place to travel? I'm going to Palm Springs for the first time next week.... I am hoping that becomes my favourite, but otherwise NYC.