Hospitality is the number one priority. Creating an environment where guests feel cared for by the staff and nourished by the quality of the food is essential.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Coldren, COO of Time Out Market, Americas.
Jay Coldren joined Time Out Market as Chief Operating Officer of the Americas in September 2021. Jay brings more than 30 years of hospitality experience spanning the restaurant, boutique hotel, and gourmet retail segments. Most recently, Coldren served as the Executive Director of Hospitality for Streetsense, a creative consultancy in Washington, DC, where he developed a global hospitality practice advising clients such as KSL Hotels, Marriott International, and Live Nation. Prior to this, he served as the Global Brand Leader for EDITION Hotels, overseeing development and expansion; Managing Director for North American operations of the iconic gourmet retailer Dean & Deluca; and leadership roles at extraordinary properties such as the Michelin Three-Star Inn at Little Washington, The Inn at Loretto, The Claremont Resort and Spa and more. Jay has also worked as an independent restaurateur, co-owning and operating restaurants in Santa Fe, NM, Baltimore, MD, and Washington, DC.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Having grown up in and around the restaurant industry, I started out doing everything I could think of to avoid going into a career in hospitality. I tried publishing, graphic design, directing, even telemarketing before I realized that the excitement and human drama on display on a Saturday night in a restaurant was infinitely more interesting than anything you will see in any other line of work. In most cities, where we eat and gather becomes the stage on which most of life’s most important events are played. No other career can offer a front row view of all of that!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One memory that jumps out is from a particularly harrowing night in a restaurant that I was managing far out in the countryside. On this particular night, a couple of A-List celebrities randomly walked in, followed, oddly-enough, by a very well-known televangelist, and not one but TWO food critics from different major publications. All within 15 minutes of one another, all unannounced.
While I was in a mild state of panic trying to process what to do first and how to handle these unexpected arrivals, the host tapped me on the shoulder and told me that she had an emergency and she needed me immediately. I explained to her who had just shown up and told her that she needed to handle whatever the crisis was on her own. But she just shook her head and insisted that I follow her. She escorted me to the ladies room where she explained that somehow a six foot king snake had found its way inside and was now hiding behind one of the toilets!
So that was pretty memorable. Somehow we all survived the evening and the snake was released far from the restaurant to prevent a repeat visit.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what you learned from that.
When I was first starting out, I had the opportunity to wait on a small, seemingly ordinary group of people in a very posh restaurant. After dinner, an elderly gentleman at the table came over to me, shook my hand and thanked me for keeping other guests away from his table during his meal. He explained that it was so rare for him to be able to eat in peace in public and really enjoy his meal. He seemed so happy!
When I, clearly confused, asked the guest why dining out was such a challenge for him, he looked at me like I was a complete buffoon and said, “Because I was the first man to walk on the moon!”
Needless to say, my jaw hit the floor and I learned that, in the hospitality industry, you never know who you will meet and what their story will be.
Can you share with readers about the innovations that Time Out Market is bringing to the travel and hospitality industry?
The thing that makes Time Out Market unique in the industry is that we are the first dining and cultural experience created by an internationally known arbiter of taste and culture: Time Out. Our embedded editorial curation in each city allows us to marry celebrated restaurateurs and emerging culinary talent with of-the-moment cultural activations to deliver a community gathering place that is always vibrant and alive with new experiences.
For travelers, we offer up an insider’s introduction to the best each city has to offer, creating an ideal launching pad for further exploration. Our chefs represent the who’s who of the local culinary scene and our cultural programming gives our visitors highlights from the local art and entertainment scene — all curated by the editors of Time Out. During Miami Art week, for instance, we partnered with a leading NFT gallerist to introduce our guests to some of the hottest artists in this emerging digital medium. In Chicago, we installed a large-scale mural celebrating an iconic local fashion designer, and in Montreal, our holiday decorations were reimagined by one of the leading mixed media artists in Quebec. On the entertainment front, we feature some of the hottest local DJ’s, emerging bands and a whole host of live performances that inspire, inform and entertain. For those exploring a new city, a visit to a Time Out Market is an essential first step.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing travel & hospitality innovations and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
I think a real pain point for today’s travelers is not knowing where to go or what to do when they visit a new city. We feel that our Markets are an incredible antidote to this issue. To start, our Markets are each located in iconic destinations (the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the heart of South Beach, at Fulton Market in Chicago, at the base of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, etc…) so you know that whenever you visit a Time Out Market, you will be in the heart of an important cultural center. Second, the Markets are an experience in themselves — the dramatic design, incredible quality and variety of culinary offerings, and cultural activations make our spaces part dining destination and part must-see attraction for out of towners. (in fact, our Market in Lisbon is the #1 tourist attraction in Portugal!) Finally, our curated events link our guests with performers, outside venues and artistic attractions throughout the city that have been vetted by the Time Out editorial team. In addition to being a fantastic dining destination, it is also an excellent ‘cheat sheet’ for learning what’s hot in a new city.
It would be silly not to mention the other pain point that anyone dining out faces: agreeing on what to eat. At Time Out Market, this is NEVER a concern. With dozens of vendors and hundreds of food offerings for all diets and palettes, there’s always something for everyone.
As you know, COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share an example of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new way that consumers will prefer to travel?
When we think about a post-pandemic world, we are less focused on the fear and emotional toll of the past two years and are more concerned with the essential human interactions and rituals that we, as a society, have been missing. Rather than find ways to keep people apart, we are looking for events and activities to safely and gently bring people back together. Whether it is an interactive figure drawing class in Miami, a vintage video arcade in Montreal, hosting a winter Bocce league in Chicago, or launching a comedy night in New York, we believe that it is time to once again break bread together, laugh, play and enjoy the communal environment that only a place like Time Out Market can deliver. While we’ll continue to feature al fresco dining, reduced seating capacity, masks for employees and many of the other Covid requirements in the coming months, we have really begun to pivot our Market strategy to accommodate this pent up need for connection and community.
The pandemic has left an indelible mark on the culture of travel and hospitality. On the back end of Time Out Market, our team is constantly finding ways to innovate, thinking about where we can best serve our visitors and make them feel most comfortable. We’ve succeeded in turning the model of what a traditional food hall can be on its head and in doing so, the flexibility we’ve instilled in each location means that even with COVID19 restrictions in place we’re rising to meet the challenge. We’re prioritizing and incorporating outdoor spaces, and we’re reopening in areas like the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, places that have become destinations in and of themselves so travelers can easily cross these top sites off their bucket list when they come to visit.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more?
A few things come to mind when creating travel experiences that resonate with consumers:
- Hospitality is the number one priority. Creating an environment where guests feel cared for by the staff and nourished by the quality of the food is essential.
- Relevancy is also key. With our ever-evolving roster of hand-curated culinary experiences and cultural activities, our markets are always fresh, vibrant and on-trend. Time Out Market needs to be a place where there’s always something going on and always something new to discover.
- Being a part of the Community is also an important part of our success. We strive to create an environment that is comfortable, friendly and engaging so that our neighbors, office workers and visitors feel like they can relax and really explore everything we have to offer.
- Consistency is also vital. We are very proud of our ability to deliver compelling dining and cultural experiences day in and day out, during a global pandemic and despite the uncertainty that faced the entire foodservice industry. This consistency of quality and execution is the hallmark of a great operation.
- The last ingredient is Fun. People can get fed almost anywhere in America, so to stand out in the vast array of dining and entertainment options, our Markets have to have a sense of fun, excitement and adventure.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I spent a couple of years at the Inn at Little Washington with the amazing chef and restaurateur Patrick O’Connell. Patrick was perhaps the most inventive, immersive and entertaining hospitality personality I have ever met. His perspective on everything from lighting, to music, to the interior design of the dining room were always creative, unexpected and incredibly exacting.
Of all of the amazing things I learned during my time there, it was his unique ability to add layers and layers of experience to a single evening to make something truly extraordinary. From how the guests were greeted on arrival, to the customized menus, to rating the guests’ mood several times during the meal, to the way coffee is poured at the table, everything was scripted and everything fed his overarching vision of hospitality and service.
When I think about the guest experience in any environment, it is his voice I hear in my head.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!