Embassy Row GM Steers Overhaul with Military Precision

“Can you hear me? There’s jackhammering over my office.” It is hardly your typical work environment, but Shawn Jervis, general manager of the Embassy Row Hotel, sounds cool and collected in the face of some chaos.

In managing the impact of a $15 million renovation to the nearly 45-year-old Washington, D.C., hotel while keeping it open to guests, Jervis has been confronted with a number of challenges. “It’s not the best thing in a hotel to have to shut the water off for a couple hours,” he says. “Jackhammers are a challenge, but we have a really good relationship with the contractor, so we’re only doing loud work during the daytime.” The entire front façade of the hotel has also been removed, which can have a negative impact on guests’ arrival experience. “When you arrive in your taxicab, it appears to be a full-blown construction site. But we have our doorman and our valet all posted out on Massachusetts Avenue so the guests can be guided into our lobby.”

For Jervis, the test of maintaining smooth operations while the hotel undergoes a transformation has been exciting. Renovations kicked off in April, and shortly following, the rooftop deck transformation was complete. Now, construction has moved on to the lobby, meeting space, and one floor of guestrooms. By the time renovations are completed in March 2015, the Embassy Row property will feature a new restaurant and coffee shop, as well as a new fitness center.

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“The hotel has got a phenomenal location,” Jervis says of the Dupont Circle property, which is owned and operated by Destination Hotels and Resorts. “It’s been left kind of feral for a while, so the excitement of us returning it and repositioning it as a lifestyle hotel is very fitting for the neighborhood.”
Perhaps Jervis’s ability to overcome challenges stems from his military background. A member of the Marine Corps for four years, Jervis was thrown into a hectic lifestyle fresh out of high school, serving in the Gulf War and as part of the Presidential Honor Guard. “My first year in the Marines was a very fast-paced year—training, training, training, war, and then back.”

When Jervis left the military, he found himself unsure of where to head next, so he decided to stay with a friend who lived in D.C. and put his skills to use in hospitality. “My friend helped me get my first job in a hotel. It was the Renaissance on 9th Street North West here in D.C. as an overnight security guard.”

His longtime love for cooking, instilled in him by his grandmother, coupled with a sense of discipline from the Marine Corps, made Jervis feel at home in the hotel world. “I remember my first manager was a retired Marine Corps first sergeant. He said that he loved to hire Marines because we understood. The hotel business is just like the Marine Corps. Everything has to be done on time and perfect. You can’t ask a lot of questions, and you have to change duty stations every once in a while.”

Over the course of his 20-year career, Jervis has been stationed everywhere from The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and Grand Wailea in Maui to The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Dearborn in Michigan and Adams Mark Hotel in Denver, Colo. Most recently, he served as general manager at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., another Destination Hotels and Resorts property. Now, Jervis has come full circle back to D.C., where he first caught the bug for the hospitality business.

As the Embassy Row renovation nears the home stretch, the hum of drills and clang of hammers will eventually die down, the building dust will settle, and Jervis can (hopefully) get back to business as usual. “The team members I have assembled so far are young, bright, and they’ve got a lot of energy and excitement for making the hotel a part of the community versus just another box,” he says. “It’s exciting for us all.”