March 29, 2021 6 min read
Liz Lambert needs no introduction—especially, if you’re from Texas. On paper, she’s a successful businesswoman, respected hotelier, Partner at Lambert McGuire Group and Founder of Bunkhouse Group—the hospitality group behind some of Texas' most hip destinations like the St. Cecilia, Hotel San Jose, El Cosmico in Marfa (if you’re into nomadic dwellings like us!), and San Cristobal in Baja.
She comes from a seventh-generation cattle ranching family still farming today. She says “tenacity” is her super-power, an attribute she credits to her Odessa, TX upbringing. It’s a Texas thing, or rather a “West Texas” thing, she says when asked where she’s from. Calling out the region shows a sense of pride in her roots. It’s no wonder we feel a real kinship with her. “There’s a real sense of civility [in being from West Texas], traditionally speaking,” Liz said. “Even if you're totally different, there’s an exceptional neighborly-ness.” These values she’s held onto and it shows in her charisma and successful work in hospitality. Despite her accomplishments, the essence of her manner is seemingly unflappable and pleasantly warm. This, we’d say, is probably the “most Texas thing” about her, other than her boots and Texas accent, as she says.
Liz keeps plenty busy blurring the line between business and pleasure. She says that travel is everything and the aspect of exploration what she loves most. We couldn’t agree more. “It changes our perspective, which I think is a very healthy thing to do as often as possible,” she said. “It makes you realize there’s just not one way of seeing things, and it can be full of little delights that you are opening up your eyes and senses to in a way that you wouldn’t, just staying at home.” As daunting as it may seem (for some) when it implies movement, distance, and change, travel teaches us real-life experience and applied lessons. We’d go as far as saying that it should be a prerequisite for navigating life. For many, like Sarah (our founder) and Liz, it’s provided a generous amount of inspiration and vision, conjuring the spirit of curiosity that’s essential in every entrepreneur.
Liz’s success isn’t attributed to years of work moving up the ranks of hospitality. She majored in humanities, studied creative-writing and poetry, went to law school and received a law degree from University of Texas (she recently added filmmaker to her title). It is precisely the journey that is the destination in her success, and what makes her entrepreneurial story refreshing and remarkable. A multi-hyphenate, is a multi-faceted person who is always reinventing themselves, and this has rang true for Lambert. Years into practicing law in Austin, she says that she desired for more creativity in her life. That’s when curiosity hit, and actually “doing it” is where the transformation began. “Anyone who doesn’t feel like they are living to their own potential, I think you just have to throw the shackles of what’s expected of you off,” Liz said. “That doesn’t mean carelessly, without a plan, but it is always possible to change.”
That curiosity sparked vision when she bought a run-down residential hotel in South Congress (before it was the vibrant and trendy neighborhood it is today) and transformed it into Hotel San Jose. As to how she approaches her work and the growing roster of establishments, she says that she follows the work of architect and theorist Christopher Alexander especially in his books “A Pattern Language” and “The Timeless Way of Building”. She says that building is partly about creating a place that is made of the things and elements that are endemic to their environment, as much as it is about telling a story.
From Christopher Alexander's "Notes on the Synthesis of Form"
The art of escapism is fundamental in hospitality. She says that her goal with everything she creates is to provide a completely immersive experience where everything from colors, smells and sounds are key in touching all of the senses and leaving a lasting impression. “That is what we as a team look for more than anything when finding that next place,” she said. “We have a chance to be aspirational.”
The biggest shift she’s seen in the industry amidst the pandemic is an acceleration in the movement toward outdoor and adventure travel. Websites like Tentrr have grown popular. Outdoorsy, an outdoor destination RV rental platform grew 4600% over the pandemic.
“The safest places that people go during the pandemic are where you are driving, rather than flying.” Liz said. “They are willing to go camping in places with vast outdoor space. It’s opened that door for a lot of people that might not have stepped through it before.”
Liz might have already checked all these boxes in the design of El Cosmico, her latest outdoor festival style hotel designed with trailers, yurts, and teepees. Her next project, Hotel Saint Vincent, is a new 75-room hotel in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans opening in May. It was an orphanage built during the civil war and opened by a woman who worked her way up from nothing and became one of the wealthiest women in New Orleans. We are really looking forward to seeing that.
When it comes to people, Liz put it simple. She likes to work with people who do things well and people she’s delighted by. “In the hospitality business, execution is an everyday key thing.” she said. “You can build a beautiful place that is wonderful to look at but you have to deliver beyond that. Delivering on the experience is where the really hard work comes in and it doesn’t stop. It’s not just about the quality of the product but on how it’s delivered as a service. So, I have a lot of admiration for people who do that well.”
So, what’s her recipe for success? Well, there really isn’t one. We learn from traveling that there is more than one way to do something. Many respected entrepreneurs who go from “good to great” say that it is often not about the idea itself, rather the people behind it. For Liz, her ability to succeed rests on curiosity and tenacity. “I think to continually be curious and willing to reinvent, and to not follow a trend necessarily, to think for yourself.” she said. “It takes a lot of follow-through. It is a constant and constant lift, and only the strong survive.”
When it comes to finding the courage to try something foreign or new despite who we’ve been, she is someone we can learn from. She’s continually reinvented herself, and is an example that we don’t have to be trapped in the box we’ve built for ourselves. If anything, make this the takeaway. “You have to realize that you only live once.” Liz said. “Life is short, you have to be alive. I know it's easier said than done, depending on your level of privilege, sometimes the easiest time to make a big life change is when the risks aren’t as great, especially when you’re young.” She quotes a teaching from Buddha ‘it's better to travel well than to arrive’. Perhaps, if we throw ourselves into what we do, give our best to our work and the people around us, and lead with that into a daily practice, even if we “don’t arrive” we just may go further than we think, and ultimately, we might find a different meaning for what truly means “to arrive”.
Favorite thing about her Ranch Road Boots: The workmanship. They are stylish, well-made, comfortable and they put confidence or a “pep in her step”.
Liz’s Read List: “Slouching Through Bethlehem” by Joan Didion. Particularly “On Keeping a Notebook” and “On Self-Respect” essays. We also took the liberty of recommending to her Alain De Botton’s “The Art of Travel”.
Favorite Place to Spend Time: El Pescadero, a small village in Baja where she has a little place she loves to frequent with her wife and son—and not too far from the San Cristobal Hotel in Todos Santos.
Go-to Drink: On a daily basis, Topo-Chico sparkling water.
Her Watch List: You can add filmmaker to her multi-hyphenate resume. She just premiered “Through the Plexi-Glass: The Last Days of the San José” at SXSW last week, her new documentary which offers a glimpse into her first property and South Congress prior to gentrification. We can’t wait to watch.
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