Hailing from Appalachian Ohio, David Smith first stumbled into the hospitality industry by accident. Now the Area General Manager at Hotel San Luis Obispo, Smith has never looked back.
With the highly anticipated hotel slated to welcome its first guests in October, we sat down with the man behind the curtain to hear more about his rise in the hotel industry, how he’s enjoying the SLO life, and his vision for Hotel SLO becoming a part of downtown and the local community.
You’ve had a long and widely successful career in hotel management, but you studied biology in college. Tell me about how you found this industry and what has made you stay in it for the long run?
After I graduated from undergrad with my bio degree, I considered doing lab work for a few years, or going to medical school. But I realized I didn’t want to stand in a lab all day with a white coat on, so instead I joined the hospitality industry.
Initially I wasn’t planning on staying, but when I started working at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, things changed. Ritz only had five hotels at the time, so it was very early in their history. My degree in biology taught me to work with a problem-solving thought process, which was really helpful for my work there. We won the Malcolm Baldrige Award for quality during my time as Executive Rooms Manager, and from that point forward I was able to use what we accomplished to foster and further develop my career.
How does preparing to open Hotel SLO compare to other hotels you’ve overseen in the opening process?
If you’re opening a property that belongs to a national franchise — like a Marriott or a Ritz-Carlton — then corporate forces are behind a lot of the staging. When I’ve worked for those properties in the past, my job revolved more around staffing in the opening stages. But when it’s an independent project like Hotel SLO, you have your hands in a little bit of everything, and I get to see every aspect of the hotel. It’s fantastic — there aren’t as many people between a decision and implementation.
Are you an early riser or a night owl?
My day starts at 5:30 a.m., even on the weekend, so I think you could call me an early riser. That’s my me-time before work — it allows me to stay at work as long as I want and know that I’ve accomplished things for myself personally. And it doesn’t get much better than SLO in the morning!
What’s your best daily habit?
I exercise every day in the morning. Whether it’s hiking, running, cycling or walking my dogs, I get up early to get in my daily movement.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Growing up in the Appalachian part of Ohio, this book was very relatable to me and my upbringing. The way Vance persevered was amazing, but I was more interested in the lineage of how families arrive in America and migrate. I can certainly relate to my grandparents differently after reading this book.
How has it been relocating to SLO? Are you enjoying the community here?
I had a project here 10 years ago and thought, “This would be a great place to live”— and that was after having worked in Europe and just about everywhere in the United States. So needless to say, I am enjoying the community and all it has to offer. There are few places like it.
I’ve been watching, learning and meeting new people in the business community. I am looking forward to becoming more involved once the hotel officially opens.
What’s in store for Hotel SLO’s grand opening?
The program for the grand opening is still in the works, but we are looking forward to having an opening event for the community in November.
What impression do you see Hotel SLO making on San Luis Obispo’s residents?
We welcome our local community as our neighbors and guests, and value all suggestions. Hotel San Luis Obispo strives to instill well-being in an environment that is creative, inspirational and satisfies the expressed desires and interests of all that enter. We would love if our one-of-a-kind restaurants become a local’s weekly spot.