The Townsend Hotel, that storied Birmingham bastion of exclusivity, has been turning a friendly face toward locals of late, and that face belongs to managing director Steven Kalczynski.
Kalczynski, a Boston native, joined the Townsend in September 2012 after decades managing some of the world’s most luxurious properties. Tall, gregarious, and with a Boston accent that slips out in relaxed conversation, Kalczynski brings both the attention to formal detail expected by the Townsend’s clientele — plus an emphasis on accessibility.
“All that international experience probably really helps him deal with the clientele,” says Joe Bauman, president of the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce. “But it seems to me that Steve has opened up the hotel a bit to the general public. You don’t have to be a guest anymore to be able to appreciate and enjoy the hotel’s amenities.”
Since Kalczynski arrived, the hotel introduced Townsend-to-go, a takeout breakfast option, and a dog-friendly happy hour at The Corner bar; hosted art exhibits; renovated the Rugby Grille and hired a new executive chef who updated its menu; and promoted its bakery and daily tea service. Forbes Travel Guide awarded the hotel four stars this September and gave the Rugby Grille a Recommended Award (the only Michigan restaurant so recognized).
“You’re only as good as your next guest experience,” Kalczynski says. “[On the one hand], you have to pull yourself out and look from 30,000 feet. But at the same time, if I didn’t focus on the details … I’d be dead in the water.”
Connie Elder, Kalczynski’s executive assistant, says her boss “has this casual grace — it’s not the stuffiness you’d expect. He’s more relaxed, and very open to new things. We’re all kind of testing the waters of what we can do next … which is fun and exciting.”
Kalczynski started working security at a Sheraton in 1978 while a criminal justice major. He was quickly moved to an office position and spent a decade with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, bouncing to Toronto, New Orleans, and Washington D.C. He then headed to the Caribbean with Renaissance Hotels and, after marrying his wife, who is Jamaican-Chinese, decided he wanted to work in Asia. In 1991, armed with a week-old newspaper from Hong Kong and $3,000 in savings, Kalczynski flew to Shanghai and started job-hunting. Shangri-La Hotels hired him, and he worked for the company for three years.
“I was fascinated by human dynamics and different cultures,” Kalczynski says. “The world is very small.”
Kalczynski returned to the United States to earn an MBA from Rutgers University and rejoined Starwood Hotels as director of franchise operations. After a decade stateside, he got the international itch again and joined the five-star Oberoi in Mumbai. He was hired to oversee the hotel’s reopening after terrorist attacks in 2008 on it and another property killed approximately 163 people.
“So there I am in Mumbai coming off two major terrorist attacks, two hotels destroyed, and I’m selling one of those hotels, reassuring people that it’s safe,” he says. “You sell the destination first and then you sell the hotel. I struggle at times with the fact that the world’s perception of Detroit is not what Detroit is, and how we can overcome that.”
After his stint in Mumbai, Kalczynski spent several years with the Sheraton in Doha, Qatar. Finally, last year, Kalczynski was ready to return to the United States. When he arrived at the Townsend, he says, “I just felt right at home.” He keeps busy house hunting, tapping into the local Polish community (look for pierogi on the Rugby Grille’s menu), and attending Detroit’s pro sports events.
“The fact that Boston was a big sports town and that Detroit is, it’s a connection,” he says. “Probably the most difficult thing for me, emotionally, is when the Tigers play the Red Sox, and I’m talking with my 85-year-old mother on the phone, hoping the Tigers win but not saying so.”
//////// Townsend Hotel Fast Facts:
>> The Townsend Hotel turns 25 this year. Built as an 87-room hotel, it underwent an expansion in 2000, which more than doubled the event space and added 63 rooms; three penthouses; two private boardrooms; and The Corner bar. It employs more than 200 people.
>> The Townsend’s bed linens are 100 percent Egyptian cotton, 310-thread count, with custom Italian duvet covers. Guests enjoy terry bathrobes and slippers, plus Gilchrist and Soames bath products.
>> The Townsend’s opening in 1988 coincided with that of the Palace of Auburn Hills. The first three acts booked at the Palace were Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, and Elton John. All three stayed at the Townsend.
>> Boxer Mike Tyson stayed at the Townsend for 10 days surrounding a bout at the Palace; he left a $10,000 tip for a waiter at the Rugby Grille.
>> Actress Morgan Fairchild was the first person to sleep in a Townsend guest room. She stayed in the hotel the night prior to its grand opening.