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Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple, With Anouk & Louis Solanet

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

…Louis : Business is important, but our main achievement is our children. Anouk is a superpower mother and I make sure that I can bring the kids to school (almost) every day. All our weekends and holidays are dedicated to them.

Anouk: Our children are my everything and multitasking is my best friend.

As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anouk and Louis Solanet, the founders of new Paris-based hospitality brand Orso. Convinced that the true art of hospitality was getting lost in an industry that is increasingly leaning on standardized experiences, Anouk & Louis chose to create Orso with a mission to revive its true core values, those that prompt emotion and create memories. A simple smile, a handshake, the desire to share a moment with guests; the small things that hold meaning and transform an enjoyable stay into an unforgettable one. Starting a hotel group during a global pandemic simply cemented those beliefs; sincerity and kindness are the foundations Orso is built on.

Through their six openings over the last two years, including their flagship at the foothills of Montmartre, Hôtel Rochechouart, and their most recent opening in the heart of the 15th, Le Wallace Hôtel & Bar, their goal has been to create spaces that are so rooted in their neighborhoods, and have such a singular identity — each hotel is a collaboration with a different designer to give it its own personality — that both locals and visitors find pleasure in visiting. Their seventh hotel is opening this spring in Paris’ 5th arrondissement, and they have plans to expand beyond Paris, to the South of France and other parts of Europe.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?

Louis: I studied and started to work in finance in London and Brussels. I didn’t love it, hence was not very good at it. Nevertheless, perhaps it gave me a structure and an advantage compared to other hoteliers. My father asked me to work for the family business — a hotel management company — which I was initially against, but he entrusted me to develop the hotel management part of the business, so I gave it a try. That experience enabled me to get to Orso. In a way, both are client focused and I always try to put myself in the client’s shoes to better understand their needs. I’ve always believed I am a guest first and a hotelier second.

Anouk: I am Dutch, born and raised in the Netherlands. I studied Law and European Studies in Amsterdam. When I was 24 years old, I swapped my bike for the metro, Gouda for Camembert and the canals for the Seine, and moved to Paris with a friend to learn French. In Paris, I started my career at various International Law firms. A year later I met Louis and ended up staying. Quite quickly after our encounter I completely switched career paths and integrated Solanet Hotels to work alongside my father-in-law and my husband. I learned everything I could about hospitality and was responsible for managing part of the company’s hotel portfolio. I eventually became a project manager, which is when I started coordinating hotel renovations managed by Solanet Hotels. Two years ago, we founded Orso and much of what I do today involves hand-picking design collaborators for each property and overseeing the work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?

Anouk: We can start with the fact that we brought three kids into this world, four if you count starting Orso together! We could talk about events we have attended and the brilliant people we have met and worked with along the way but bringing a thriving business to life during a global pandemic has probably been the most interesting and challenging experience since getting married.

Louis: We are also born on the same day, October 4th which means we have similar (read: strong) personalities, so we have an interesting way of interacting and communicating with each other. While we can both be very stubborn, we tend to reach the same conclusion rather quickly. There’s a certain synergy that enables us to easily align on a number of things and makes us stronger partners and collaborators.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Anouk: I don’t know if it’s technically a mistake, but it’s a funny story about the road to finding the name for what is now known as Hotel Ami. Naming a hotel is a difficult task and this one was no different. Our designers are always very involved and Gesa Hansen, who worked on this hotel with us, made several suggestions. She eventually came up with one name but we told her that Timothée didn’t like it. Gesa insisted and said to “just bribe him with ice cream so he approves of the name” which we thought was a very strange way of trying to convince our associate partner. It turns out, we found out a few days later that Gesa thought we were talking about our 3-year-old son, also named Timothée.

Louis: Letting our 3-year-old son make decisions about our business could have been the real mistake! This just goes to show how intertwined our professional and personal lives are.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Anouk: We like to think that we are setting a different pace for an industry that’s become so reliant on standardized experiences. We chose to create Orso to restore the lost art of hospitality. Simple gestures, special moments, sincerity, and kindness; small things that hold meaning and take an experience from pleasant to remarkable.

Louis: As mentioned above, we are guests before we are hoteliers, and we drew from our personal experiences to bring Orso to life. For example, we once attended a wedding and the hotel owner let me borrow his wedding shoes because I had forgotten mine. Another time, our three kids tagged along for another wedding in the south of France, and because we couldn’t get a nanny, the B&B owners offered to look after them all day; they had them pick up fresh eggs from the chicken coop, make herbariums, etc. Those are the moments and kind gestures that make a difference. We try to do this in a playful manner because we don’t want to be stuffy or uptight, we want to strike the right balance between laid back and sophisticated.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Louis : We have a few exciting projects in the works. More immediately we’re opening our 7th hotel in Paris this spring, Hotel Orphée in the 5th arrondissement, designed in collaboration with architect Eloise Bosredon. We’re also opening a speakeasy-style dancing bar in the basement of Hotel Rochechouart, right below the restaurant, also slated to open early spring. Coming this summer, an oyster bar next door to Hotel Rochechouart called Citrons & Huitres. Long-term, we are beginning to look at expanding Orso, in France and in Europe, diversifying a little bit. We want to choose projects that drive us, where there is storytelling value in the design, the location, the people…

Anouk: As individuals an as a business, we also strive to be socially and environmentally conscious and are still looking for the best ways to implement that on a local and human level. Right now we are banning plastic from our hotels as much as we can and we’re avoiding food waste by offering a very small and curated breakfast spread, working with and supporting the local communities we’re settled in. They may seem like small steps but they’re significant for our industry.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Anouk and Louis: Encourage them and offer growth opportunities. Surround yourself with the right people and give them the tools to move things forward on their own. Provide constructive criticism while recognizing their strengths. Own up to your shortcomings, too, so you can be a better leader.

How do you define “Leadership”?

Louis: Leadership is defined by having faith in what you do and teamwork. We show the way and provide a direction while knowing how and when to delegate. We embrace our own strengths and weaknesses and strongly encourage our collaborators to have a voice. We also try not to take ourselves too seriously. We don’t have all the answers, but we surround ourselves with the right people so that together, we can work towards finding them.

Anouk: We follow the Dutch example. The Netherlands has a less formal business hierarchy. When it comes to workplace culture, the Dutch uphold value for social integration. The structure of Dutch companies is often horizontal, where individual executives are considered co-workers. We think it’s very important that everybody we work with feels that we are accessible and that they can easily come talk to us.

From more of a brand and hotel perspective, we strongly believe that imagining the guest experience is the best way to please. Brilliant basics, quality products, a welcoming atmosphere, and friendly and efficient staff will do the trick if it’s done right.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Anouk: There are a few but the one that stands out is Jean Solanet, Louis’ father, for his trust in Louis and for giving him the freedom to do things his way. And for taking me on!

Louis: My father for imparting on me his knowledge of the industry, for leading by example and instilling these core values of simplicity and authenticity that have become Orso standards.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Louis: « Success » in the hotel business is a BIG word during a global pandemic! As we were developing our own line of cosmetics (Colomba) to put into our hotels, we decided to donate our existing stock of amenities to organizations that help women in Paris; we collected about 15,000 products to give. Whenever we take on a new project and renovate a hotel, we try to donate what we’re not using to local organizations.

Anouk: Most recently we worked with the French “Secours Populaire” to provide families in need with hotel stays at our various properties across the city.

What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.

1 — Family first.

Louis : Business is important, but our main achievement is our children. Anouk is a superpower mother and I make sure that I can bring the kids to school (almost) every day. All our weekends and holidays are dedicated to them.

Anouk: Our children are my everything and multitasking is my best friend.

2 — Do not talk about work at home.

Louis : It’s not easy, but I think we manage…

Anouk : We don’t manage at all! It’s all about hotels, all the time. Louis was born into a hospitality family, so he is probably used to it, but I can assure you, we never disconnect for more than a few hours unfortunately, but we make up for it by putting our family first regardless.

3 — Be passionate and take risks.

Louis : Everybody tells us they can’t imagine working with their husband or wife, but I would actually not be able to work without Anouk on many projects. I make mistakes and I’m lucky she’s always behind me to correct them.

Anouk : Be passionate about your work. As your professional and personal lives are so interconnected, you better love every minute of it!

4 — Make your work part of your family.

Louis : Orso is our fourth and last child! Fun fact: we wanted to name one of our children Orso but Orso Solanet didn’t have a nice ring to it…

Anouk: We also ensured that children were a big part of our business by catering to them; all our hotels have “hidden” costume closets with books and various games so they, too, can partake in and enjoy the Orso experience.

5 — Know how to read each other’s minds

Louis: Nobody understands your wishes and ideas better than your spouse. It’s important to have someone next to you who can help spread the word the right way. It’s such a luxury and a time saver.

Anouk: We are very complementary, even if we sometimes disagree!

You are people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Anouk: It’s difficult to name one movement but if we had to choose it would be children and education. Education is the entry point in life, it determines everything thereafter. Working in hotels remains one of the only social elevators in life for people who did not necessarily have the chance to study. We are very proud of some people that work for the company, who started at the bottom and worked their way up, now managing several hotels.

Louis: A friend who is also a hotelier in Paris gathers money for new educational systems in the suburbs (Espérance Banlieue). This is one to support and follow very closely. It’s very inspirational and sets a good example.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Anouk: Nothing is constant except change (Buddha).

Nothing should be taken for granted. There isn’t a unique recipe for success, just hard work maybe. You need to adapt to how the world is evolving, roll with the punches. Our mission to revive and rediscover the lost art of hospitality came to be because we felt that some contemporary hotel brands were missing the mark on very basic aspects of hospitality.

Louis: We have to remind ourselves that we are welcoming guests, instead of servicing clients. It doesn’t mean we live in the past either, we just think of authentic ways to improve their stay.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Louis: I would say the American athlete Aimée Mullins, who was one of the inspirations for our daughter’s name. I liked the name and when I read up on her, I was so impressed by her journey, it sealed the deal.

Anouk: The Queen of England because of how elegantly and powerfully she embodies both tradition and modernism.

How can our readers follow your work online?

www.orsohotels.com

@orsohotels

@cheflouisparis

@anoukreceveur

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.