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A Morristown native is working to change how hotels view hospitality

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A Morristown native is at the helm of a soon-to-open boutique hotel that could forever change how hotels show hospitality.

Thomas E. Haines is general manager of the Epicurean Hotel, South Tampa, Fla., which is set to open Wednesday after six years of planning. The $33 million, 137-room hotel is a partnership of Marriott’s Autograph Collection hotels, Mainsail Lodging and Development and the world-renown Bern’s Steak House, and is based on an all-encompassing culinary theme that caters to guests passionate about food, wine and spirits.

“Every full-service hotel serves food and wine,” Mr. Haines said in a phone interview. “No other hotel makes food and wine its theme. It really is special from that standpoint, which is what drew me to the project.”

Guest rooms are stocked with artisanal snacks, spirits and wines. A gourmet restaurant, patisserie, rooftop bar, spa using wine products in treatments, and Bern’s Fine Wine & Spirits store round out the experience. The hotel is also home to the Epicurean Theater, a 36-seat stadium show kitchen that will host classes and demonstrations by chefs, mixologists, wine makers and farmers to showcase skills and products.

Mr. Haines said the culinary theme was the vision of Bern’s Steak House owner Bern Laxer and majority backers Mainsail. His job was to bring it to life.

The theme is unique enough, but Mr. Haines’s vision for the hotel’s approach to service is what will give guests an experience like no other.

Guests won’t ever stand in line waiting for someone to help them. There is no front desk, concierge or bellhops. Hotel hosts will attend to guests wherever they are, be it in the lobby or at the pool, via an iPad that handles all transactions and programs room keys.

“Wherever the host is standing is the front desk,” he said.

It’s an approach to hospitality that Mr. Haines acknowledges could set a new standard for the industry.

“I would like to think so, but before we figure that out we hope to have two or three more of these open in other markets,” Mr. Haines said. “We see this as our future.”

Mr. Haines is the son of Caroline and the late Thomas E. Haines. His parents operated the Abbe on the Mall Restaurant in Ogdensburg’s Charlestown Mall from 1977 to 1986.

He graduated from Morristown Central School in 1981, and followed in his father’s footsteps to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, in 1983. He has spent the last 30 years in the hotel industry, working 20 years for Hyatt Hotels and the last 10 for Loews Hotels in Orlando.

He said he never envisioned 30 years ago that he would be standing where he is today.

“I thought maybe one day I would be a restaurant manager. I’m from Morristown, and I didn’t know what the rest of the world was all about,” Mr. Haines said. “I had no idea what opportunities the world offered.”

Mr. Haines lives in Clermont, Fla., with his wife, Denise (Bennett) Haines, a 1977 graduate of Ogdensburg Free Academy.

More information about the Epicurean Hotel is online at www.epicureanhotel.com.

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