2015 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame
Graves Hospitality. He built a brand in hotels and restaurants by consistently raising the bar.
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Year founded: 1979
Employees: More than 1,500
2014 projected revenue: $100 million
Hotels under management: 5 (3 owned)
Restaurants under management: 13 (10 owned)
Properties in development: 10
- 1953 - Born in St. Cloud.
- 1974 - Earns B.S. in education from St. Cloud State University; teaches school for two years.
- 1977 - Enters the hotel industry working for St. Cloud-based developer Buchter Co.
- 1979 - Launches AmericInn hotel chain after starting his own company.
- 1991 - Opens a Radisson Suites hotel in St. Cloud, his first step toward the luxury hotel market.
- 2001 - Opens Graves 601 Hotel (now Loews Minneapolis).
- 2012 - Runs for U.S. Representative in Minnesota’s Sixth District as a DFLer, losing to incumbent Michele Bachmann.
- 2013 - His company’s Carriage House restaurant in Chicago earns “Best New Restaurant” honors from Esquire and Chicago magazines.
- 2014 - Sells Graves 601 to Loews Hotels for $65 million.
- 2015 - Graves Hospitality selected to operate a 300-room hotel at MSP international airport, to open in time for the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
Jim Graves has been a successful innovator in two volatile and perishable fields—hotels and restaurants. “It’s an art form for me,” he says. “We strive to be the best in class. I wouldn’t get a kick out of cookie cutters.”
He is best known in Minnesota for developing the Graves 601 in 2001, at the time arguably the only full-service luxury hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Along with Cosmos, the hotel’s restaurant, it earned rave reviews among discerning travelers. With his family-owned company now operating several hotels and restaurants here and elsewhere, Graves is one of the last remaining independent hoteliers in Minnesota. And he remains ambitious and driven.
His career has been distinctive and entrepreneurial. After a couple of years of teaching school in his hometown of St. Cloud, he was attracted to the hotel industry. After a quick two years working in hotel development in St. Cloud, Graves ventured out on his own in 1979, launching the AmericInn brand of limited-service hotels, developing 65 of them in small and midsize cities such as Bemidji and Owatonna.
“These were communities solely served by mom-and-pop motels with outdoor [room] entry,” Graves says. “We focused on quiet rooms, a sense of arrival, nice appointments. We were the first to build swimming pools at this level because even though only 3 percent of guests used them, it built our reputation [as a place that delivered more].”
AmericInns lacked restaurants, so Graves frequently sited them near Perkins restaurants. He developed several hotels with Perkins CEO Wyman Nelson, who eventually bought Graves out. Limited-service hotels in smaller markets offered a lower cost of entry and the simplicity of meeting guest expectations, Graves says, but they provided little in the way of creative satisfaction.
So Graves pursued higher-end projects. First came a Radisson Suites in St. Cloud in 1991. Ten years later, he opened the Graves 601.
It was a risky venture. Graves recalls Bill McCaffrey, Block E’s developer, approaching him about a hotel because the developer needed additional valuation and amenities per his subsidy agreement with the city. Upper-bracket properties are more costly to build and execute, but Graves found himself drawn to the challenge.
Originally affiliated with the Le Méridien chain (it became Graves 601 in 2005), Graves’ high-style hostelry “was a pioneering hotel when Jim developed it,” says Paul Wischermann of Wischermann Partners, a Twin Cities-area hotel development and management company. “It was a courageous move.”
Last year, Graves sold the hotel to the Loews chain for $65 million. Loews was expansion-minded, lacked a Midwest market presence and made what Graves describes as “a very compelling offer.”