The Hamptons are in full swing and Sylvia Wong certainly feels it as owner of the Roundtree Hotel in Amagansett. For the New York lawyer, the road to hospitality was quite a circuitous one but a natural transition given his love of travel.
After studying law at NYU, Wong began his career at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a large city law firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions, representing clients who acquired or sold companies.
“As a young female attorney, it was an incredible learning experience working alongside some of America’s top smart, creative, and client-focused attorneys,” she said, noting that while he was a demanding job, it helped her build a solid foundation. legal and business skills, as well as personal development. “I look back on 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 Chief Compliance Officer, leading the company’s global ethics and compliance program.
Then, in 2015, another turning point: Wong was hired by Western Technology Investment, a private investment company with a large real estate portfolio. As the company sought to expand, hospitality became an organic extension of their holdings, and of Wong too.
“Travel has always been a passion of mine,” she said. “I have been lucky enough to be able to visit many incredible places around the world. Many wonderful memories come from visiting interesting places and staying in small hotels with understated luxury and excellent service.”
It wasn’t Wong’s original plan to open a boutique in the Hamptons, specifically, but a fortuitous online property listing changed everything in early 2019. At that time, the current hotel was family-owned called Gansett Green Manor, and one winter weekend she took the Hampton Jitney to see it first hand. “The jitney stopped right in front of the property. I still vividly remember how cool the air was – it was a lovely cool day. When I started exploring the grounds of the property, I immediately fell in love with it,” said Wong, who co-invested in the purchase of what would become the Roundtree with WTI. “Its expansive lawn and surrounding farmland provide such a peaceful and tranquil environment,” she added. “Yet it’s located right on the main street, close to wonderful local shops and restaurants, and a short walk or bike ride from miles of beautiful white sand beaches.”
Wong was also drawn to the history of the property. “This was the farm of one of the first four families who settled in Amagansett around the 1650s – we have a barn and several cottages hundreds of years old.”
After purchasing the property, the renovation process turned out to be quite an achievement. “There was so much work to do and having so many historic structures on the property made the process a lot more cumbersome,” Wong said, noting that the pandemic has created an additional set of hurdles.
“Halfway through the process, New York State suspended most construction projects outside of a very narrowly defined group of projects, and we were unable to determine if we could continue, so out of an abundance of caution, we stopped not knowing when we would be able to complete or even resume the work we were doing. In the end, they were able to complete the renovations just past their original schedule. In 2022, the Roundtree has also unveiled the Beach House, a two-unit complex just minutes from the main property that once belonged to playwright Neil Simon.
The site redesign has been “both nerve-wracking and exciting”, with the pandemic exacerbating the challenges of launching a hotel.
“In addition to making sure our customers’ experience was what we wanted it to be, we needed to figure out how to create an environment where our customers feel safe and how best to protect them. At the start of the pandemic, there were no rules to follow,” Wong said.
Fortunately, when the hotel opened 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 it opened, we had no reservations. We were so busy that we didn’t even have time to worry,” she said. “Very quickly, when the first guests found us, we were greeted with tremendous appreciation and support from them.”
In their first year of business, about 80% of their guests were from New York and the tri-state area. Now that’s half of their guests, with the rest coming from the West Coast, Texas, Florida, and “lately, quite a few from Europe.
“For those who have always dreamed of opening an inn, Wong finds his secret sauce by remembering the little things.
“In my mind, passion, authenticity and attention to detail are critical success factors,” she said. “You have to love what you do. It’s hard work, but you won’t feel it when you enjoy it. Do your research and use the resources that are available to you in terms of personal learning, 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 their time at your property.”
When creating the Roundtree, Wong asked countless people to tell him “that’s always how it goes”. Still, relying on your own intuition to determine right from wrong was invaluable.
“It’s important to listen to the advice, but make your own decisions after that,” she said. “Ask questions, be curious and trust your instincts.”