Celebrating 50 years of hospitality
By: Mudeeha Yousaf
We’re full every weekend this summer, so much so I couldn’t get a reservation in my own hotel.” This comical, albeit inspirational, anecdote depicts a hotel owner achieving full occupancy and not able to receive a room of his own — a success story for the ages, and what drives Keith Levit, the second generation behind Lakeview Hotels & Resorts, to continue to leave its mark on the hospitality industry. Celebrating 50 years as the largest, solely Canadian, hotel chain, Lakeview reflects on its rich history and promising future.
The history of the fruitful business venture dates back to the 1960’s when Lakeview’s roots were planted by founder and CEO Jack Levit, a developer of multi-tenant industrial warehouse and office buildings in Winnipeg, Jack rapidly grew his business, expanding Lakeview`s operations to Denver and Dallas. It was not until 1983 when Jack made a tactical decision to convert an apartment building into a full-service luxury Sheraton Hotel, and became the first Sheraton franchisee to build and open three hotels under the brand in the span of one year. Thereafter, he worked to change the Winnipeg Skyline and was heart set on developing the city’s downtown. Lakeview Square, consisting of the Delta Hotel, two residential apartment towers, three office towers and a 500 car heated underground parking garage, became the enterprises first major development project. The property won the city’s appreciation through the use of the first overhead Winnipeg Skywalk System — an above tunnel shielding Winnipeggers from the city’s iconic cold weather — connecting to the Winnipeg Convention Center, and Lakeview became the first to envision the commuter’s revolution for the city. Not wanting to be limited to one industry, the company went on to pioneer the Ichiban Japanese Steak House in 1973, one of the two longest standing restaurants in Winnipeg to date, which is still a local hotspot in the city. Today, the hotel chain uses its extensive experience to better serve its customer base, as well as reinvent the industry at large.
Receiving his entrepreneurial spirit from his father, Keith was “swept into the hotel side of the real estate business. I love the hospitality side and taking care of people.” Keith, President and partner of the family-operated business, graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Manitoba, and a Master`s Degree in Real Estate and Regional Sciences from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and is proud to guide the efficacious venture with full force. Keith changed the company’s focus from the real estate landscape towards the hospitality business. The company successfully negotiated exclusive franchise rights in Canada for the Country Inn & Suites brand, which developed a large presence in the Maritimes.
“I thought, ‘why can’t we have our own brand?’ and that’s exactly what we did. In 1999 we developed three new properties, converted the Country Inn & Suites and got a jump start on the brand,” says Keith. To grow the Lakeview Brand, Keith raised the equity required in Lakeview Management Inc. Today, Lakeview Management Inc. stands as a fully diversified organization equipped in all major sectors of real estate development activity and houses 23 hotels under its trademark name.
Accommodating an array of projects within the commercial, office, retail, residential, hotel, restaurant, industrial and mixed use development sectors, the company wishes to take advantage of the developing economy in Western Canada as well as leaving an international mark. “Everyone is hopping on to the oil and gas bandwagon. We were one of the first to jump in and did well, but the recession hit that market hard. It’s starting to rebound and we want to move further west to explore it.” The company’s capability includes property acquisition, financing, design and construction and ongoing property management.
Currently, Lakeview Hospitality is taking the lead on the Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel, Winnipeg’s latest luxury property located by Winnipeg International Airport – one of the top 10 airport terminals in the world. In keeping with the consistency of the ostentatious airport, the enterprise developed a modern, high-tech, spacious space and provided amenities unique to the hotel, which is affiliated with the Preferred Hotel Group out of Chicago. Being the first hotel in the city to offer complimentary use of an in-room iPad, where guests can request items and services through a custom application specifically for the hotel, Lakeview has left a legacy of technological ingenuity. The project is also the first to offer Netflix in North America and a Starbucks auto barista machine in the lobby, thus exemplifying the modernization within the hotel industry. The recent acquisition of Hecla Lakeview Resort, located two hours north of Winnipeg, is another exceptional project for the company, and consists of the conversion of an elite, ultra-luxurious business-class hotel to a family-friendly hotel that is more price-reasonable.
The eco-friendly hotel sets itself apart from the rest through the Lakeview Management University where staff have the opportunity to enroll in online courses completed at their own pace, and a tactic used to better train employees and make them passionate about the brand. “Our staff is able to get the sense they are part of the Lakeview family and contributing in our success rate. If you treat your staff right, they treat your guests’ right, and a healthy circle is created,” says Keith. As well, the company is a happy participant in the “Clean the World” initiative, where they recycle their shampoo and soap and donate them to orphanages in third world countries. “I had the amazing opportunity to go to Guatemala and hand out our recycled products to the slums. We’re very passionate about that partnership.”
After five decades of service, the development of 20 hotels and the management of 28 properties, Lakeview Hotels & Resorts wishes to continue expanding across the nation and are looking to build on their commercial development. “Canada is our community and our focus will be continuing to expand the Lakeview brand,” closes Keith. “Our passion about the service industry and providing service for our guests will be our backbone. We’re a company that is open for business in all aspects of the real estate sector in Canada.”
For more information on Lakeview Hotels & Resorts, visit www.lakeviewhotels.com