Owners of the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel in Los Angeles have created buzz around their independent property and plan to keep the story going through a sophisticated and authentic country theme.
LOS ANGELES—Creating a character, storyline and sense of authenticity has proven worthwhile for the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel, an independent boutique located in the bustle of Los Angeles.
The process required thoughtful updates and a bit of imagination, said owners Ellen and Peter Picataggio, a husband and wife duo, who took over the hotel in 1999 from Ellen’s parents, the former owners.
Ellen Picataggio had a design background; Peter Picataggio’s expertise is in engineering and strategic alliances. Both knew right away they would preserve the hotel’s name—which has been around since the 1960s—and build the hotel’s story around it.
The Farmer’s Daughter spent its early years as a “no-tell motel,” Ellen Picataggio said. Often, it has hosted creative types, as well as contestants of “The Price is Right,” which films nearby.
Today, the hotel sits in the heart of L.A.’s Fairfax neighborhood, which is rich in fashion, skate culture and diversity. To stay relevant and appealing to locals and guests, the Picataggios have developed the property into a unique spot that revolves around personal touches and the country-chic references to its name.
Attention to detail
“Themes work,” Peter Picataggio said. And that’s exactly what the owners sought to create when they first renovated the 66-room property in 2002.
“We played on the story of what the ‘farmer’s daughter’ meant, what it means to us (and) what it means to Hollywood,” Peter Picataggio said. “It invokes so many metaphors, and a lot of people (who stay here) are not from Los Angeles; they are from Middle America, the East Coast.”
The Farmer’s Daughter name represents a young ingenue hopping off of a bus in L.A. with two suitcases in hand trying to make a name for herself, he said. The hotel’s design philosophy mirrored that theme by incorporating touches of authentic country with a sense of humor.
Details such as barn-red paint colors, chicken wallpaper, denim and handcrafted art were the first interpretation of the theme. Now, in the past year, she (the Farmer’s Daughter) has grown up metaphorically, the Picataggios said, and the hotel’s most recent renovation reflects that.
“She grew up, she had a few hits, she’s done a few things,” Peter said, “but she still needs to stay relevant to the culture. Now she’s more sophisticated.”
In 2016, the Picataggios updated the public space and guestroom design to include trendier, rustic elements such as cement floors, glass walls in the bathrooms, wool blankets, fire pits and wooden accents. Each room also has art created by 38 different artists, interpreting the idea of what a farm means to them.
Bringing in bits of themed pieces, like in the room key holder or the “do not disturb sign,” can give a hotel a subtle sense of personality, the Picataggios said.
Although custom art and furniture is pricier and more time-consuming to source, the Picataggios said it adds to the hotel’s value and comfort in ways mass-produced hotel furniture might not.
A “thinking outside of the box” mentality is essential when it comes to retaining guests at independent hotels, the Picataggios said.
They work with most online travel agencies, and a top priority is making sure their rates remain the same across the board, regardless of channel.
While all customers are valued by the owners and the hotel, the ones who book direct will find extras upon their arrival such as slippers, chocolate chip cookies or a bottle of Champagne in their room, along with discounts on their dinner. Each time, these perks are different to create a sense of uniqueness, the Picataggios said.
Since the property isn’t as large as, say, a typical chain hotel, the owners have made deals with a local gym to admit guests who show their room key, as well as offer morning yoga in the hotel.
“You can invest a million dollars into marketing, but nothing beats me being able to remember your name when you walk back through the door,” Peter Picataggio said. “A simple phone call 10 minutes after you check-in and saying, ‘we just want to make sure everything is OK with your room and it is meeting your expectations’ (goes a long way).”
Whereas other hoteliers might have automated systems to monitor online reviews of their properties, Peter Picataggio said he takes extra time in the mornings to look at reviews and personally respond to them.
“Things that I can make better, I will. I’ll talk to the managers about it,” he said.
Not your average F&B
To carry on the theme, the property’s upscale restaurant Tart shows the more sophisticated—yet still playful—side of the Farmer’s Daughter.
In the face of heavy competition from various restaurants and food options in the neighborhood, the Picataggios had to revise their business model.
“Since we only have 66 rooms, our restaurant cannot solely rely on the hotel (customer’s) business; it would never survive,” Peter Picataggio said. “A lot of our business for F&B comes from the outside—and it has to in order for it to survive and be a profitable department.”
While many food establishments have become quick-serve recently, Tart takes on the higher-end dining model. The restaurant’s upscale chef can make something more unique than what is available across the street from the hotel, Peter Picataggio said, and that adds to the value.
Tart’s daily brunch option has some built-in marketing as well—if customers jump into the pool fully clothed, their meal is discounted. Ellen Picataggio said hundreds of people have done so, adding to the sense of community and carefree fun the owners are trying to convey with the brand.
“One man drives all the way from Ventura (California) and does it on a schedule; he comes in like every month,” she said. “We have a plaque that we hang called ‘pool warriors’ for people who do it a lot. We’ll put their name on (the) plaque and put it on the patio.”
Challenges come and go
Before 2008, L.A. was growing exponentially as a premier place for international and domestic travelers. At that time, Ellen Picataggio said, there weren’t as many boutique hotels, and every year the hotel’s average daily rate grew. And thanks to the hotel’s small size, occupancy was always strong.
Once the recession hit in 2008, the hotel’s occupancy fell by half.
“We had to scale way back,” Ellen Picataggio said. “We had to look at our operations, look at the customer and look at who is still going to come here and at what price with this economy. We became very price sensitive, of course we really valued the repeat customer (then).”
Luckily, the Picataggios said, it only affected them for about a year, and the property seemed to rebound quickly.
Various brands have reached out to the Picataggios with intent to get them on board; however, they believe that with what they’ve created through design and word play, their role is best as a true independent hotel.
“We’ve just said no to all of them,” Peter Picataggio said. “There’s some (brands) that I respect and love what they do—but we are us and they are them.”