East Hotel: Taking Another Stylish Step Forward
East Hotel has been called many names but most circle back to the same three words – eclectic, chic and unique. Since this boutique hotel brought colour and life to Canberra Avenue four years ago, it has raised the bar for design in the capital city with its clever blend of unusual materials, bold statement pieces and sleek, muted palette.
Take, for instance, the arresting retro couches in the lobby. Or the installation art on the walls. And especially the floor to ceiling, undulating concrete curtain at the intimate Joe’s Bar.
The stylish conference rooms are designed to transition from boardroom meeting to cocktail hour, the two-bedroom apartments are connected to a Kids Cubby that comes complete with an Xbox 360 and there is a library in its Muse restaurant.
Every nook in East reflects thoughtfulness, passion and originality – a powerful combination that has made it a standout among its staid or glitzy counterparts. And last week, that same combination saw East bringing home four awards from the 2016 Australian Hotels Association ACT Hospitality Awards night.
The hotel was hailed as the Best Marketed Hotel and Best Suite/Apartment Hotel while Joe’s Bar won Best New/Redeveloped Venue and its chef, Barsha Rai, was named Best Apprentice Chef.
“It was our fourth year entering the awards and we were really anxious as competition was fierce this year,” said Dion Bisa, the Assistant General Manager.
“The wins are a testament to our incredible team. And Barsha’s award was the real highlight because she was previously in housekeeping. We made her an apprentice chef after she showed an interest in culinary.”
Dion is also part of Bisa Property, a family business and the developer of East Hotel. She talks to woman with drive about establishing Canberra’s identity as a design capital, the role of psychology in her role and the hotel’s upcoming new addition.
East has been credited with helping establish Canberra’s identity as a design capital. How exactly has it done that?
There were no boutique hotels in Canberra when East opened and it really shook the city in terms of giving it a unique design space. It all comes down to its personality. (Bisa Property director and Dion’s brother) Dan insisted that East should not be another big, cold hotel. So there is a lot of warmth and texture here, which really surprises people. They still say they have never seen anything like it and that it makes them feel like they could be anywhere in the world.
Which is your favourite part of East?
I really love the lobby. It is very unusual and so warm and inviting. I also love Joe’s Bar, which we opened this year. We told our interior designer to create whatever she wanted and it gave us a bar that is layered, beautiful, sexy and glamorous.
Tell us about the partnership between East and the Canberra Hospital Foundation.
Dan and I are good friends with Peter Munday who was involved with the Canberra Hospital Foundation. One day Peter mentioned how difficult and costly it was for parents, whose kids had to unexpectedly stay overnight or longer in hospital, to find accommodation at the last minute. Dan said, we have rooms and we can help you. We now have a referral system with the hospital where the nurse on duty calls us when a room is needed and we book the family in. It is one less thing for them to think about when they have other stressful things going on. And it is a great partnership and outreach for us.
In hospitality, a business is only as good as its people. How did you impart East’s vision and culture to your team?
We actually hired most of our staff before the hotel opened so we were all unpacking furniture and setting up the rooms together. That gave them an incredible sense of ownership. It was not something we planned but it worked! We have many staff whom we call the East Boomerangs who want to travel for six months and return to us after that. We always say yes. Our staff is like family to us.
We also chose personality over experience. We took on many people with no prior experience because that meant they had no preconceived ideas on how a hotel should be run or how they should behave. This way we could teach them to let their individualities shine in their work and with the guests.
You were a psychologist in your previous career. How has that helped you in this one?
I am constantly working with my management team through any stumbling blocks and I am always thinking of ways to get into my guests’ head. I use psychology all the time here, and that is what I love.
What is next for East?
We will be opening a new Italian restaurant in November. I cannot reveal the name right now but I can tell you that it will be headed by the chef at Joe’s Bar who will be serving up simple, beautiful Italian food.
The vibe of this restaurant will be around families and groups. It will be a lovely, casual place with huge tables and enough space to sit three generations of a family. There is no place in Canberra like this right now. Oh, and there will also be a glass-enclosed pizza oven!
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