Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate’s father-and-sons team started in restaurants and lifestyle centers and has since taken their nimble knowledge to the hotel business, including independent hotel The Restoration.
CINCINNATI—Jeff Anderson wasn’t always a commercial real estate mogul. The founder, president and CEO of Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate was once a professional football player with the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
When it was time for a change, he returned to Cincinnati to start up a real estate career. Enter Dave Thomas—yes, that Dave Thomas, the one of fast-casual burger fame, the founder of Wendy’s.
“A friend of (Anderson’s) said, ‘Hey, there’s this guy from Columbus. He has a few burger places, and he’s looking for some property,’” said J.R. Anderson, VP of development for Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate and eldest son of Jeff.
The year was 1975, in a time when there wasn’t a grab-and-go eatery on every corner. And Jeff had only ever sold residential real estate, but Thomas insisted on meeting anyway. What ensued was a makeshift lesson in commercial real estate from a pioneer who would become a fast-food maven.
“They would get in Dave’s car, and he would point to sites and tell my dad to find out who owns them,” J.R. Anderson said. “Dave taught him which side of the road to look at, and what locations would be better for business than others.”
Jeff Anderson took that site-selection knowledge and ran with it. He soon went on to become the director of real estate for Chi-Chi’s and helped them grow the Mexican restaurant chain from a few stores to more than 100 locations. Then, his real estate business expanded into lifestyle shopping centers and hospitality-based holdings all across the country.
Now, Jeff Anderson works closely with his two sons. J.R. Anderson came back home to work in the family business in 1996 after obtaining a finance degree and working on Wall Street for three years. Younger son, Anders Anderson, managing director of strategic investments, started with the company in 2012 after spending time on the Hollywood scene and putting out a successful feature film.
For a real estate firm that got its start in restaurants and lifestyle shopping centers (think: outdoor shopping malls not anchored by your typical big-box department stores but rather by a fashion outlet or entertainment aspect), the hotel industry perhaps wasn’t that big of a stretch. That’s especially so when considering Jeff Anderson and his team weren’t afraid to take risks and diversify. In fact, J.R. Anderson said stepping outside of the box was necessary, especially as the Great Recession swooped in and killed the retail market.
“Our business was toast in 2009 and 2010, so we had to try new things,” J.R. Anderson said. “We asked: Should we do multifamily? Then, we got franchise rights for a Courtyard by Marriott. We thought we were good at restaurants, and those are harder to operate than hotels. We understood the space and the operating model and the building of the hotel, so let’s just do it.”
In 2013, the firm’s first hotel in Cincinnati was born. From opening, J.R. Anderson said occupancy was near 100% most of the time. He attributed that to the team’s knowledge of the market. Later, they would add a Residence Inn nearby. Those two hotels are still in their portfolio today.
In 2014, a new opportunity arose in Charleston, South Carolina: A 16-unit condo project called The Restoration on King had gone bad. When the units couldn’t be sold, the owners had resorted to running the property as a hotel.
“It was an interesting concept because this was pre-Airbnb,” Anders Anderson said. “We looked at it in 2012, and then in 2013, we had it. In 2014, we started running it.”
“We buy the place, and our pitch is that it’s your home away from home. We take over the branding, and we work on how to position it in the market,” J.R. Anderson added.
That took some vision, the brothers agreed, and a little bit more skin in the game—or shovels in the dirt. In 2016, the team decided to build another 36 rooms at the hotel, now called The Restoration.
The process proved challenging, as two buildings needed to be threaded together into one. What’s more, there was a site owned by someone else right in the middle of the two existing buildings that the Andersons owned, so effectively, a leap frog was in order. Fortunately, that building went into foreclosure while the new hotel building was under construction. That’s when the Andersons acquired the property. Today, the 54-room hotel is connected via five buildings. During the process, they also added a rooftop bar and a spa. And because they knew retail and food and beverage, they added outlets to complement the stay experience.
“This allowed us to retell the brand story and explain why we exist as a company,” J.R. Anderson said. “When we went to the Ace hotel, we noticed that the coffee shop component drove local people and engaged tourists. So, we designed, developed and implemented a coffee shop at The Restoration.”
Anders Anderson said that creating partnerships in the community was a key that would prove to drive success.
“I don’t know everyone’s approach to shopping centers, but our first value was community engagement. We have always been able to speak with a community,” he said. “Here, this was a great megaphone for us to have in Charleston to take those same values and put them into the hotel.”
That meant the hotel and its programming had to cater to both guests and locals. Offerings, such as yoga and movies on the rooftop as well as Burger Mondays, have helped to draw a local crowd, he said. Additionally, the team brings in local experts for programs. For example, Charleston’s poet laureate visited to give a talk and a partnership with a local motorcycle builder allowed guests to create their own custom bikes that could then be shipped home.
“We try to be a community and figure out how to make it have a lot of energy. We have to have a lot of energy because that’s how you drive occupancy,” J.R. Anderson said, adding that the hotel nets north of an 80% occupancy on an annual basis.
Like father, like son
The Anderson brothers attribute much of their real estate and operating acumen to their father, a man who took an opportunity and flew with it. Literally. Jeff Anderson is a licensed pilot, and his sons said that the ability to fly himself to meetings with potential business partners as well as his instincts are what have made him and his eponymous firm such a triumph.
“He works from his gut,” Anders Anderson said. “He was going to retire before J.R. came back. Then, it was the combo of J.R., a very disciplined, financial mind who is detail oriented. You put that together with a guy who has incredible instincts. If you could have seen what was going on with these lifestyle centers back then, no one was doing them. They could just move so quickly.”
J.R. Anderson agreed, adding that their father could make meetings happen faster due to his personal plane.
“Someone might say they couldn’t meet for a month due to scheduling issues. Jeff would say, ‘I’ll pick you up Tuesday, you can look at these centers, and I’ll have you back by dinner,’” he laughed. “We’d talk on the plane and get deals done.”
But, the sons agreed that success didn’t just come from how much money their father had or the ability to fly a plane—admittedly, not something just any real estate developer could do. Accomplishments, and deals, were made because Jeff Anderson showed up every day to work, they said. But not only that, he showed up with an optimistic attitude, Anders Anderson said.
“I’m not saying we haven’t made mistakes, but even when we did, he still brought the optimism,” he said. “He has that final word. He will say, ‘We have to do this and once we commit, we have to give 100% to make it successful. There’s no such thing as failure.’”
And that is, the sons agreed, one of the biggest lessons they have learned from their father: figure it out, take the time to make it work, get the right people on board the plane and find the right site. In essence, don’t give up on projects.
“There have not been many projects we’ve had to walk away from,” Anders Anderson said.