The History of Shinola Hotel

How a downtown hotel owned by a watch company came to be.
The 129-room hotel sits on Woodward and Grand River. // Photograph courtesy of Shinola

In the just over 10 years since it was founded, Shinola — the Detroit-based lifestyle brand known for its watches, bikes, leather goods, and more — has become nationally recognized for its superior craftsmanship and classic style. So maybe it should come as no surprise that the brand’s foray into hospitality, the Shinola Hotel, feels equally timeless as it marks five years of operation this month.

The idea for the hotel dates back to the early 2010s, when prominent real estate firm Bedrock identified “this need for a world-class hotel that befitted the world-class city of Detroit,” says Andrew Leber, vice president of hospitality at Bedrock.

“We didn’t necessarily say it had to be a Shinola hotel at the time; we just knew that the market in the city needed it.” Serendipitously, Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis was dreaming up a hotel concept for the brand at the same time. Together, Shinola and Bedrock found the perfect site at 1400 Woodward, a Bedrock property.

Construction of the 129-room hotel — made up of two renovated historical buildings, along with new structures, and encompassing several restaurants and other businesses — which began in late 2016 and took two years to complete, generated a perceptible buzz around the city.

“When we launched [in January 2019], we were so busy because everybody wanted to be part of it,” Leber says. “Detroiters want to see Detroit succeed.”

The hotel’s prominent position on Woodward Avenue and the careful restoration of two pieces of Detroit history also contributed to the fanfare. The larger of the two buildings was built in 1915 to house the T.B. Rayl & Co. hardware store; the other, a former Singer sewing machine company store, was constructed in 1936.

The T.B. Rayl & Co. building was constructed in 1915 and was restored to house the Shinola Hotel. // Photograph courtesy of Shinola

“The adaptive reuse of the legacy buildings, in addition to the newly constructed buildings, really blends the old and new in ways that we try to do in the retail context and also fits with where the Shinola brand is and where it’s going,” says Shinola CEO Awenate Cobbina.

Though by no means the only hotel operating or in development in Detroit at the time, the Shinola Hotel gained attention for its support of local makers and for the novel idea of expanding a well-known lifestyle brand into a hotel concept. The hotel’s designers, operators, and food and beverage teams focused on partnering with local businesses and creators, from using mattresses supplied by metro Detroit-based Serta to placing an eye-catching piece by Cranbrook-educated artist Nick Cave in the lobby.

For the hotel’s developers, bringing the Shinola brand into the world of hospitality was a matter of building on the company’s emphasis on high-quality craftmanship. The focus was “on the worker, on manufacturing, creation, the hands-on tactile experience,” says Sergio Maclean, who along with his wife, Audrey Laurent, is behind the hospitality company Mac&Lo, which up until November 2023 was the operating partner of the hotel.

After only five years of operation and weathering a pandemic just a year after opening, the Shinola Hotel has garnered accolades including recently being named one of Travel + Leisure’s 500 best hotels in the world and making Condé Nast Traveler’s list of the top 15 hotels in the Midwest. But the accomplishment many of the Shinola Hotel’s chief contributors are proudest of is living up to the nickname “Detroit’s Living Room,” or, as Leber puts it, being “a place where every single person could feel comfortable.”

“We knew that the trick was that ‘gateway to Detroit’ message,” Maclean says. “You hear a lot of ‘Let’s bring Detroit back.’ But then you live in Detroit and you’re like, ‘We don’t have to bring anything back. We just have to celebrate what is happening already.’”

“This isn’t as much about [Shinola] as it is bringing a piece of Detroit and Michigan to the world,” Cobbina agrees. “I really think the hotel adds to everything that is happening and that people are doing in Detroit, and hopefully it’s a positive addition to that ecosystem.”

This story is from the January 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.