The Hamptons are now in full swing, and Sylvia Wong definitely feels like an owner The Roundtree Hotel in Amagansett. For the New York City attorney, the road to the hotelier was quite a twisting but natural turn due to her love of travel.
After studying law at New York University, Wong began her career at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, and Wharton & Garrison, a large city law firm that focuses on mergers and acquisitions, representing clients who have acquired or sold businesses.
“As a young attorney, it was a great learning experience to work alongside some of the best American lawyers who are smart, creative and client focused,” she said, noting that although it was a demanding job, it helped her build a foundation Strong skills in the legal and commercial fields, as well as personal development. “I think of those years with fond memories.”
Wong then joined IBM and was based in Asia for about 10 years. In 2012, she returned to New York and was appointed Director of Compliance, leading the company’s global ethics and compliance program.
Then, in 2015, it was another turning point: Wong was hired by Western Technology Investment, a private investment firm with a large real estate portfolio. While the company was looking to grow, hospitality became an organic extension of its properties, and so did Wong’s.
“Traveling has always been one of my interests,” she said. “I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit so many wonderful places around the world. So many great memories are from visits to interesting places and stays in small hotels that offer simple luxury and excellent service.”
Wong’s initial plan wasn’t to open a store in the Hamptons, specifically, but an online property listing changed all that in early 2019. At the time, the hotel was now a family-owned property called Gansett Green Manor, and for one winter weekend, I took Hampton Jitney to see it up close. “Jitney parked right across the street from the property. I still vividly remember the crispness of the air—it was a beautiful, cold day.” Wong, who co-invested in the purchase of what would become Roundtree with WTI, said when I began exploring the property grounds, I fell in love with him instantly. “Its sprawling lawn and surrounding farmland provide a peaceful and tranquil environment,” she added. “However, it is right on Main Street, close to great local shops and restaurants, and just a short walk or bike ride from miles of beautiful white sandy beaches.” “
Wong was also drawn to the property’s history. “It was the home of one of the first four families who settled in Amagansett around the 1650s – we have a barn and several cottages that are hundreds of years old.”
After purchasing the property, the renovation process proved to be very successful. “There was a lot of work to be done, and having so many historic structures on the property made the process a lot more boring,” Wong said, noting that the pandemic has created an additional set of hurdles.
“About halfway through the process, the state of New York halted most construction projects except for a very specific set of projects, and we were unable to determine if we were able to move forward, so we paused out of caution without knowing when we would be able to finish or even resume the work we had been We do.” In the end, they were able to complete the renovations behind their original schedule. In 2022, Roundtree unveiled Beach House, a two-condominium complex just minutes from the main property formerly owned by playwright Neil Simon.
The site overhaul was “exciting and nerve-wracking in equal parts” as the pandemic exacerbated the challenges of debuting a hotel.
“In addition to making sure our guest experience is everything we wanted it to be, we had to figure out how to create an environment in which our guests feel safe and how best to protect them. In the early days of the pandemic, there was no rule book to follow,” Wong said.
Fortunately, when the hotel opened its doors in June 2020, everything fell into place.
“We decided to take a simple approach – do what we would normally do if we were hosting friends and loved ones. When we opened, we had no reservations. We were so busy that we didn’t even have time to worry,” she said. “Very soon, when we found the first guests, we were met with a tremendous amount of appreciation and support on their part.”
In their first year of business, about 80% of their guests came from New York City and the tri-state area. Now, this makes up half of their guests, with the rest flocking from the West Coast, Texas, Florida and “more recently quite a few” from Europe.
“For those who have had a lifelong dream of opening an inn, Wong finds her secret advantage in remembering the little things.
“In my opinion, passion, originality and attention to detail are some of the critical success factors,” she said. “You must love what you do. It is a demanding job, but it will not feel like it when you enjoy it. Do your research and make use of the resources available to you in terms of personal knowledge, contacts and mentorship opportunities.”
The entrepreneur also stresses the importance of learning from life experiences “to create a vision of what you want your guest experience to look like and what you want guests to take away from the time they spend at your property.”
In the process of creating Roundtree, Wong had countless people telling her “that’s always the way it’s been done.” However, relying on her intuition to determine right from wrong was invaluable.
“It’s important to listen to the advice but make your own decisions afterward,” she said. “Ask questions, be curious, and trust your intuition.”
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