Entrepreneur

Graduate Hotels Is Beating Its Competitors By Going Hyper, Hyper Local

The boutique hotel chain won fans by catering to local tastes in small markets. Now it's out to conquer big cities.
Source: Courtesy of Graduate Hotels
Courtesy of Graduate Hotels

Ben Weprin, CEO of the company behind Graduate Hotels, is standing tall on the unfinished rooftop of the building he has spent four years willing into existence. Once complete, this will be the only hotel on Roosevelt Island, a two-mile crust of grass and concrete that runs alongside Manhattan’s eastern shore. “Every time I’m up here, I still can’t believe this is happening,” Weprin says. “It’s unreal.” 

Many New Yorkers might say the same. For most of them, Roosevelt Island is little more than a curious patch of land they cross over while driving from Manhattan to Queens. A hotel there? Why? As Weprin stands on the roof, he seems to revel in the counterintuitiveness of it. Today’s sky is wet and heavy, and in the distance, the Chrysler Building appears as a cold silhouette against a gray background. “Over there is the old insane asylum,” he says, gesturing to what this place was once most famous for. “That’s where they’ll put me, eventually.”

But Weprin doesn’t appear to be insane. Instead, he’s an entrepreneur with a keen eye for opportunity, and he’s building here on Roosevelt Island for a specific reason: Cornell University has opened a new campus called Cornell Tech. That means Weprin will do what he does best. He’ll build the hotel that every Cornell student will want to hang out at, and every visitor will want to stay at — not just because it’s there, but because it feels like theirs.

Related: To Beat the Competition, Become the Most Convenient Option for Customers

At 41, Weprin could pass for a graduate student. He is certainly dressed the part — worn leather boots, Army-style camo socks, a plaid button-up emerging from the navy-blue collar of his quarter-zip mock-neck sweater. As his brainchild, Graduate Hotels is a chain that romanticizes the college experience. It allows

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