No, this isn’t anything like Monopoly, Lesa James-Lloyd clarifies. Owning a hotel – especially one as historic and woven into the fabric of downtown Lafayette as The Juliet Hotel on Jefferson Street – isn’t a game.
Although, upon further contemplation, James-Lloyd concedes owning a hotel is a little like the capitalistic classic from our youth. At least in one regard, anyway.
Because this is the ultimate roll of the dice.
On April 25, 2018 – one day before Festival International consumed downtown Lafayette – James-Lloyd re-opened the doors of The Juliet Hotel, welcoming the world to this 20-room boutique abode with a megawatt smile that concealed the butterflies fluttering in her stomach. Why the nerves, especially after having three months to get this place into shape after the ownership transfer?
“I’ve never worked in a hotel before,” she confesses. “So therefore, I’ve never owned a hotel before. But I walked by it one day and thought it was cute. Then, two weeks later someone at my church told me it was for sale and I figured, ‘Well, how hard can it be?’”
Fitting that James-Lloyd is the wife of a pastor, because the revival of The Juliet Hotel over the past half-year has been nothing short of a miracle. From an afterthought plagued by iffy online reviews, James-Lloyd and her diligent staff have labored to change The Juliet’s narrative one guest at a time. As she says, “When you only have 20 rooms, you have to go above and beyond.” Doing just that has been a team effort. From January to late April, female members of the church congregation volunteered to clean up The Juliet Hotel every Saturday. For a month, James-Lloyd’s 76-year-old mother pressed pillow cases, while her daughter figured out how to operate this place.
“We started from square one,” she says. “How do you take reservations? How does the phone system work? That was pretty funny. How do you get on Hotwire and Expedia? OK, I figured that out, but then it was something else. ‘We’re gonna need staff, so we need to hire them.’ And then we need to train them, because they’re a reflection of us, as a whole.
“Just quirky little things, things that you don’t think about until you do something like give up a steady paycheck to decide you’re gonna run a hotel,” James-Lloyd continues. “The hotel industry is crazy.”
It’s also demanding. Name the hat, James-Lloyd has worn it. She’s the owner, obviously. But she’s also a front desk clerk, a breakfast chef, a swimming pool skimmer, a sheet folder, a toilet paper-roll refiller and a soon-to-be Rosetta Stone purchaser since a lot of her guests speak French and she wishes to communicate with them in their own language.
“It’s all about having a servant heart,” she says. “Because you’re serving people. To me, it’s an honor that they’d even consider visiting our city, our culture and when they do that, choosing to stay at The Juliet. I want to give them the service they expect, because they honored us with their presence and patronage.”
Despite Lafayette’s hotel boom during the past decade – with new national chains popping up near the Cajundome and Kaliste Saloom Road – The Juliet stands alone downtown, a distinction James-Lloyd sees as a prime opportunity. Because of its prime location, The Juliet Hotel is a mere steps away from the new Rock ‘N’ Bowl in Lafayette, countless restaurants and bars dotting Jefferson Street, and scheduled festivals and outdoor music nights at Parc de Lafayette or Parc Sans Souci. Beyond that, The Juliet’s charm and original architecture makes for an ideal setting to house wedding parties or for locals to plan a romantic staycation.
“The standard isn’t the owner’s standard, it’s the customers’ standard,” she says. “So that’s how you approach each room. You tell yourself, ‘If I was paying money for this room, is this clean enough for me? Is this nice enough for me?’ You answer the question yourself, so that by the time the customer checks in they don’t even need to ask it.”
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“You have to have an attitude to serve. I tell my staff, ‘If you came to work at 75, I need you to raise your energy to 125.’ We’re a female-owned, independent hotel. So we aim high. We want to give you an experience. Something to remember. Something to tell a friend about. A reason to come back. Once we have your business, we want to keep your business.”
“We can’t be the biggest. We can’t be the fanciest. But we can be the cleanest. In our short period of operating The Juliet, I’ve turned over some housekeeping staff, and they’ve told me, ‘You know, you’re the only hotel in town with standards like this.’ And I find that amazing, because ever hotel should be like that. I don’t want anyone to look back and wonder, ‘Did I stay at a dirty hotel?’”
A Sense of Pride
“It shocks me how many hotel owners don’t go to their hotels. They just look at the numbers. I can’t do that. I have to be hands-on. I have to be present. Literally, hands-on. A lot of my guests, I give them my cell phone number. If I have a bride, we don’t have to panic, she doesn’t have to stress. Text me at 2 in the morning and I’ll text you back first thing when I wake up.”