“It is catastrophic:” Sam Nazarian, Kobi Karp talk coronavirus toll

Miami architect Karp and luxury hospitality CEO Nazarian talked coronavirus over virtual coffee with TRD's Amir Korangy

Mar.March 25, 2020 03:00 PM

Last week, The Real Deal publisher Amir Korangy sat down for another episode of Coffee Talk with luxury hospitality group SBE’s Sam Nazarian and leading architect Kobi Karp. This time, though, coffees were kept at home, with Karp and Nazarian joining TRD for a virtual conversation.

Nazarian detailed the difficulty in maintaining his large workforce, which includes over 7,000 employees in the United States who are unable to work.

“Every one of our hotels are either closed or closing,” Nazarian said. “It is catastrophic.”

Some of the workers furloughed at home are receiving packages of food from Nazarian’s company and online GoFundMe pages. Despite this, Nazarian is moving ahead with a number of international projects, including hotels in Dubai, Seoul, and Buenos Aires.

Karp, too, noted projects that were moving ahead.

“We do not have clients coming to the office, we don’t have vendors coming to the office, we don’t have suppliers coming to the office,” he said. Yet, “work for us here as architects and engineers is going on as normal.”

Looking to the future, Karp laid out a number of improvements that would enable buildings to be cleaner, safer and less susceptible to infectious disease.

“Instead of coming in to the front door of your building and having to open it up, it would just open up automatically. We have that technology. I can have it controlled by my retina. … We don’t need to be touching things,” he explained.

Both Karp and Nazarian saw opportunity in disaster to improve the functionality and safety of the buildings and to be better prepared for crises to come.

And while restaurants are struggling to survive as dining out is widely restricted, Nazarian is opening up Sam’s Crispy Chicken. He cited growth in delivery demand and the high cost of labor and built restaurants as his logic for “making a really big push into the ghost kitchen and virtual kitchen business.” That led to the launch of virtual food brands, of which Sam’s Crispy Chicken is one of 15.

“Ghost kitchens are revolutionizing real estate,” he said.

Nazarian and Karp both ended with messages of unity, urging safety and sanity in reactions to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

“If you can… try to support [hospitality businesses],” Nazarian said. “We’re trying to look at the humanity side of this more than just the virus itself.”

Berdon LLP is the sponsor of TRD’s Coffee Talk 

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