Hotelier With History And Heart
Posted on December 17, 2011
Eight years ago, Kerman Beriker got a phone call from a friend who urged: “Kerman, there’s some place you need to go.” Beriker, the hotelier who had once been at the helm of such high-end hotels as the Beverly Hills and Bel-Air during his long career, was then consulting for The Venetian in Las Vegas. “Where?” Beriker asked. “Rancho Santa Fe,” the friend replied. Said Beriker without hesitation: “I don’t want to go to New Mexico.”
Beriker laughs when he relates the story of the call that led him, not to Santa Fe, New Mexico, but to Rancho Santa Fe, California, as managing director of The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. The job was supposed to last for just two years; Beriker is still there eight years later, doing what he’s done so well for four decades. “If you are going to be an hotelier,” he says, “you need to love people.” The feeling is mutual, the admiration between the Rancho Santa Fe community and this kind, courtly gentleman with a self-effacing style, charming accent, and quick wit.
“How many languages do you speak?” he’s asked. “Four and a half,” Beriker replies, without skipping a beat. “So what’s the half?” “English,” he says with a chuckle, and a twinkle in his eye.
Beriker was raised in Switzerland, studied politics at the University of Lausanne, and later enrolled in a rigorous hotel management school at Glion sur Montreux. Since then, he has traveled the world with his Swedish wife Kristina (and later, their three sons), running two dozen hotels, including the Hotel Bel-Air, which earned a five-star rating during his tenure, and the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he oversaw a $140 million renovation. He says the latter hotel is now one of the safest because the Northridge Earthquake, which rumbled through Los Angeles during reconstruction, helped to pinpoint any problems. Even so, the exacting Beriker presented a punch list of 30,000 items that needed to be addressed before the hotel re-opened. Beriker was so active in Beverly Hills at the time that the city once proclaimed “Kerman Beriker Day.”
Given his long experience, Beriker has seen — and heard — it all. But he refuses to tell all about the rich, famous, and infamous with whom he has rubbed shoulders. “I will never betray the people, their trust in me, because in our business, we should be much more discreet than lawyers and doctors because we see everything, I mean, they’re coming to sleep in our place.”
Beriker won’t name names, but he will talk about some unusual requests he’s received over the years. There was the guest, for instance, who gave him two hours to rent a brand new Ferrari with zero miles on it. Beriker found the car. And then there was the time he sent his maitre d’ to New York with six bottles of very special Champagne. Beriker booked two first-class seats: one for the Champagne; the other for the maitre d’.
Unless a request is illegal, Beriker says: “We never say ‘no’ to guests” who regard the inn as their own home. But he also believes in looking out for his co-workers, the family he often sees more than his own. He says he’ll never forget an incident involving a powerful Hollywood producer who was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “I asked him to leave the property because he was abusing one of our front desk personnel,” he recalls. “This is your family. You need to protect them.”
Beriker, ever genteel and genial, always greets people with a smile. “I always say the smile God gave us [is] free. You can get so many things with a smile,” he says. “But you have to enjoy yourself, you must enjoy what you are doing. In our business, you can’t smile artificially. It must come from the heart.” He tells the story of another famous personality who was staying long-term at one of his hotels. When their paths crossed, usually twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, Beriker, without fail, greeted him warmly. It took two years, but the celebrity finally responded. “Two years,” Beriker emphasizes. “But I never gave up.” The hotelier firmly believes there are no truly bad people, that you can always pull out the good .
The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, he confirms, is up for sale, not unusual in the hospitality industry, where hotels frequently change hands. What is unusual is that the Royce family has owned the historic inn for so long, more than a half century. Whether the family ultimately sells, Beriker says, could be a matter not just of price but whether potential buyers will “operate it in the same direction,” continuing the inn’s close ties to the community.
Whatever happens, Beriker won’t be calling it quits. He would like to teach some day and write a book about his experiences as an hotelier. “No, I can’t retire. I will never retire,” he insists. “I have too much energy. I need to give back.” During his tenure, the Inn has given generously to the community, hosting receptions for Rancho Santa Fe schools, the community, and senior centers, along with Casa de Amparo and Mainly Mozart. “Luckily, I have a position that I could do this,” he says with gratitude. “There’s nothing better than being able to give.” Andrea Naversen