US-Iranian Jew seeks new luxury hotel in Tel Aviv

"Tel Aviv was always a target city for me as a basic business proposition and because of my emotional attachment to the place," enterpreneur tells 'Post.'

Tel Aviv hotels 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Tel Aviv hotels 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
For Iranian-Jewish entrepreneur and hotelier Sam Nazarian, the worst recession in decades presents a good opportunity to bring to Tel Aviv a luxurious and sophisticated hospitality experience that he says the city has been missing until now. "Tel Aviv was always a target city for me as a basic business proposition and because of my emotional attachment to the place," Nazarian told The Jerusalem Post in Tel Aviv this week. "To me, opening a new hotel in Tel Aviv is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tel Aviv is a metropolitan resort city and one of the very few places in the world which are underserved or not oversaturated with high-end, quality-service hotels." During his five-day visit to Israel, Nazarian met with developers, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and officials in the Tourism and Finance ministries to discuss his project. "I don't see a project before 2011, but there could be a deal before," Nazarian, 30, said. "We are interested in an existing property or a joint venture. I believe that 2009 is a year of opportunities. "Traveling to Israel, people are often disappointed with the service. The composition of our brand is similar to the Hilton Hotel chain, adding European hospitality and high-end level of service and design." Nazarian knows real-estate tycoon Lev Leviev and many other business leaders and politicians through the philanthropic and business connections of his family in Israel. He is undeterred by the bureaucratic obstacles that have thwarted many who tried to launch a new hotel in Tel Aviv. Born in Teheran to Persian Jews, Nazarian's parents fled to Israel in 1978, when he was three years old, before moving to New York and then to Los Angeles, where he was raised. "As my father likes to recount, we arrived in the US with four kids and four suitcases," Nazarian said. "In Los Angeles we initially lived in a hotel for six months, which we bought many years later as an opportunity came up. "In the early 1980s, my dad and another Iranian, who both barely spoke English, invested in a company that later merged with Qualcomm, which was a very small company at the time." When he was 19, Nazarian established his first telecommunication business; it became the leading Nextel distributor in California. He then began investing in real estate and formed SBE, which stands for Sammy Boy Entertainment. Under SBE, Nazarian used his talent for creating a fast-growing empire that includes popular restaurants, a film-production unit, an event-planning company, and hip bars and clubs frequented by the likes of Paris Hilton. Nazarian has made himself a name for creating the places where Hollywood's A-list crows eats, drinks and hangs out in Los Angeles and across the country. At his trendy venues, Nazarian has hosted events for presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. "It is all about knowing your space and building an identity by picking quality people and design to offer high-end food and beverage, luxury and service," Nazarian said. His latest project is a new brand of luxury hotels, SLS Hotels, embracing the motto: "It's not your father's luxury hotel." SBE has an exclusive 15-year deal with international designer Philippe Starck and has acquired interests in hotels in Los Angeles and Miami. SBE owns the Ritz Hotel in Miami's South Beach and acquired the Le Meridien Hotel in Beverly Hills, the first hotel in the SLS chain, which is managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. In 2007, SBE acquired Las Vegas's legendary Sahara Hotel & Casino. "In Tel Aviv we want to develop another SLS, in a way which will be embraced by the local market and managed through Starwood's reservation system - not just a business hotel or just a leisure hotel," Nazarian said. After having build a portfolio of brand hotels and restaurants with a high level of expertise, operation, content and sense of design, Nazarian feels it is time for expansion, even as the global economy is facing a recession. "I am sure our current business is being affected by the global economic crisis," he said. "We expect a flat year-on-year. A lot of people wish they would be flat. Although it is not the best time to open a luxury hotel, there is untapped demand in Tel Aviv for upscale hospitality venues. Now is a good time to make good deals in Tel Aviv, Manhattan and London."