Name: David Gindin
Current location: New Orleans, LA
City you were raised in: Staten Island, NY
Company name and Job Title: Founder and General Manager of The Quisby
Please tell us more about the concept for The Quisby: The Quisby is my take on an upscale hostel housed in a 1930’s former hotel. The concept is based on experiences I’ve had staying at hostels all over the world. In the last 15 years, hostels have gotten MUCH nicer and they’ve also morphed from crash pads for weary travelers short on cash to little social hubs on the global travel circuit. In the US we don’t have much of that yet—and there is almost none of that in New Orleans. New Orleans gets over 750,000 international visitors a year so the demand is there but the supply hasn’t caught up yet. So I saw an opportunity to make a living doing something I love: taking care of people and making sure they have a good time.
Why and how did you decide to open up a hostel in New Orleans and why not elsewhere? I was looking for an excuse to live in New Orleans since the first time I visited—that was in 2007 for a volunteer weekend with Habitat for Humanity. The city is so unlike any other I’ve been to—it actually felt weird paying for stuff in greenbacks. I had to keep reminding myself I was still in my own country. There is a saying here: “do what ya wanna” which, cheesy as it sounds, is actually core to what sets this place apart. Different cities develop different value sets. In New York, for example, hard work and success are core virtues. Here, it’s all about doing what makes you happy. If working hard and making money are what makes you happy, people will support it. But if you’re more interested in getting together a bunch of Elvis impersonators and parading down the streets on motorized scooters (actually a thing), they’ll say go for it and will probably offer to chip in for an old wig or rhinestone cape!
Could you walk us through the process of opening up a hostel? What were some challenges you had to overcome? In order to get to opening day, I had to go through the real estate development process. Basically, this breaks down to: 1) Secure the land or building, 2) Secure equity financing, 4) secure all city approvals and permits, 3) secure debt financing, 5) construction. In my case, this process took four years start to finish. The toughest part to pull off was the lease on the building. The owner wasn’t interested in selling so we did a 59 year lease instead. That took over a year to negotiate. We had to think through and negotiate everything that can happen in 59 years. The legal bill at the end made my head spin.
But the biggest challenge was always mental. I had to get really good at recognizing the difference between pushing myself hard and beating myself down. When I first started, I would experience crazy highs and deep lows based on achievements and setbacks I experienced. When a mentor of mine committed to investing in the project, I literally sprinted down a subway platform in a euphoric mad rush. When an early partner backed out on me, I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. Eventually, I realized I’d have to disassociate myself from the outcomes. Like when I screwed something up instead of saying to myself “of course you screwed up, you’re worthless and destined for failure” I learned to say “of course you screwed up, you’re learning a new skill and that’s how learning works.” I had to constantly remind myself that my failure or success does not define or change who I am as a person. It might change how some people view me but it won’t change anything for my close friends and family.
I don’t see that changing anytime soon, even if I end up being successful. In fact, when things are going my way—like they are currently—it becomes even more important because that’s when it’s easiest to get my persona wrapped up in my business. And I see that as a big mistake both personally and professionally.
What sets your hostel apart from others in the area? Why stay at yours? What kind of guest experience do you want to give? There are some nice hostels in New Orleans but most of them are old houses that someone converted into a hostel by throwing in gym lockers and Ikea bunk beds. They provide a good atmosphere but not a lot of attention is paid to guest comfort. We’ll give our guests atmosphere plus a really comfortable stay. The Quisby is built inside a 1930’s hotel that we completely renovated down to the studs. Every inch of it has been rebuilt with the guest experience in mind. Each room has its own bathroom. Every bed has a little cubby with an outlet and reading light next to it. All our beds have privacy curtains or panels. A lot of hostels use hospital mattresses in their beds. Our mattresses are memory foam. Each of our beds is custom made in New Orleans by a badass Master Carpenter. They’re longer and wider than a standard bunk bed and sturdy as a battleship so they don’t creak or rock. Finally, we have a bar. No other hostel in New Orleans has a bar!!
Who are the clientele you’d like to have stay in your hostel? We just opened so I don’t know exactly who we’ll attract but I have a pretty good idea. I think the common trend will be people who are bored with hotels. Maybe I’m just saying that because I’m one of those people. At my last job, I once got sent to Miami on a business trip and after my meetings were done, I was sitting at the hotel by myself with nothing to do. I was in Miami and very bored. Eventually, I got fed up and checked out of the hotel and into a hostel down the street. That was a great decision because I went from sitting alone in a nice hotel room to sitting at the hostel bar surrounded by interesting people from all over the world. Hostels just have a way of attracting more interesting people than hotels. I think it’s because you have to be more open to sleep in a room with strangers and people that are more open are always more interesting too.
Could you give one piece of advice to anyone who wants to open their own hostel or hotel? You’ll probably fail but go for it anyway. When I started out, I figured my odds of succeeding were 20%. In hindsight, it was more like 10%. I got extremely lucky. But I learned so much about myself from this process that even if it ended in utter failure, I’d still consider it the best thing I’ve done so far. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking of making the leap, get in touch, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.
When you check into a hostel or a hotel, what are the most important aspects to you? What will make you come back again or never return? I’m very particular about lobby music. I’m not particular about the type of music, it could be Mozart or Rammstein, but it has to be interesting. If the person working the front desk is bobbing along to the beat, then I know it’s not the same indie rock album on repeat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s important to me.
What makes New Orleans so special and what do you wish people knew about it? My favorite thing that I only learned after moving here was everyone has a significant chunk of their closet devoted to costumes. It’s called a costume closet and everyone has one. I have one now. We dress up so much that you need to always have options on hand. When David Bowie passed away, 20,000 people spontaneously dressed up as their favorite Bowie and hit the bars. I have a feeling Mr. Bowie would be proud.
What’s your favorite neighborhood in New Orleans and why? My favorite neighborhood is Bayou St. John. It’s where I want to live next. The neighborhood is centered around a bayou so you have that waterfront for everyone to gather at, it’s a wonderful focal point for the community. Every May, they have a music festival on the water called Bayou Boogaloo. People rig together floating barges with bars, slides, hammocks and all sorts of other cool features. I usually just float around on an air mattress and enjoy the music. It’s hard to describe. I get excited just thinking about it because it really shouldn’t exist but it does.
Of course, Lower Garden District, where The Quisby is located, is great too. We’re in a part of town that got built up at the turn of the 20th Century so the architecture is gorgeous. Very victorian and grand. We’re within a few blocks of multiple art and history museums. Around the corner from us is Mais Arepas, the best Colombian food I’ve had outside of Colombia. A bar down the street called The Blind Pelican has a happy hour special of a dozen oysters and a beer for $5. It’s magical.
If you could pack up and move anywhere in the world to expand your business and open new locations, where would it be and why?
I’m going to Denver next. It’s another city that feels very open and free. People play hooky from work to ski Breckenridge or Winter Park. The craft beer scene is everywhere. They have 200 days of sunshine a year. Standing in the middle of downtown, you can see snowcapped mountains in the distance. And, because of its past as a major train hub, there are some stunning old warehouses just begging to be converted.
A guest is checking into your hotel, they ask you for the best of the following:
- Breakfast spot: Surrey’s. Really funky décor. The food and fresh squeezed juice is outstanding. I usually get the Lox BLT which is a BLT with Salmon, Avocado, and Cream Cheese. Yes, seriously. The Crab Meat Omelette is great too. Mornings in New Orleans can be rough but this place will get you started on the right foot.
- Café: Avenue Café. They source fresh pastries daily from three of the best bakeries in town. The croissant melts in your mouth. Also the best parfait I’ve ever had. High ceilings, wood banquettes, and fast free wifi complete the package.
- Date night restaurant: Taking a date to a restaurant is terrible. Who wants to fool around after a big meal and a bottle of red wine? I prefer activity dates. My favorite go to is a round of mini golf at City Putt followed by gelato and chocolate covered cannoli at Angelo Brocato’s, an old-school Italian gelateria. I guess now I can’t do that anymore since I’ve spilled my secrets of seduction on the internet. Damn. If you’re seeing this because I took you on the first date described above and you Googled me after, I’m sorry!
- Cajun restaurant: Cochon is far and away the best Cajun comfort food I’ve come across. Make sure you try the fried alligator bites as an appetizer. For a main I usually get the rabbit and dumplings.
- Bar to grab cocktails: Bacchanal is my go to spot for special occasion drinks. It’s really four things in one: a wine and cheese store in the front, a tapas restaurant in the back, a craft cocktail bar upstairs, all attached to an outdoor music venue with live music every night. Grab a bottle of wine on your way in and pair it with some smoked trout or bacon wrapped dates and finish it off with a fancy cocktail all while listening to a banjo quartet tear it up on stage. You won’t want to leave.
- Place to see live music: Apple Barrel on Frenchman Street. It’s tiny. You WILL get to know your neighbors. You may even end up having to sit on their lap. The band will take numerous smoke breaks. They don’t have a website so you know they’re legit.
- 3 Sights around the city: the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Frenchman Art Market, and Bayou St. John—rent a kayak from Bayou Paddlesports for maximum enjoyment.
- Streets to check out the architecture and houses: Just ride the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue any time of day. The St. Charles Streetcar is the oldest continuously operating mass transit in the country. It started running in 1835! You can watch the live oaks go by while getting lost in a dreamy fantasy about Sunday hats and leather bucks. Stop in for a Ramos Gin Fizz at the Columns Hotel bar to experience some serious old southern charm. $3 buys you an all day pass so you can hop off and hop back on as you please. It’s a great way to get lost in this city without really being lost.
We’ve taken Dave’s recommendations and turned them into a full New Orleans Travel Guide!