Every brand has a story, and every story has a beginning. With Kimpton, it was and always is about one inimitable Bill Drennon Kimpton. Born in the 30’s with the Great Depression still fresh on people’s minds, our founder grew up in Kansas City and flexed his entrepreneurial business savvy by majoring in economics. His first brush dabbling in real estate and hotels came in the classic form of playing Monopoly with his childhood friends. After many years passing Go and dealing in faux hotels, he had a brief stint selling typewriters before becoming an investment banker. This career took him around the world from one hotel guestroom to the next. As anyone who has traveled extensively knows, Bill often found his hotel stays to be faceless and isolating and found himself missing true human connection.
It was his experiences with warm and welcoming European bed and breakfasts sparked an idea: What if business travelers didn’t have to wake up in room after room, devoid of personality and sense of place? What if buildings could be revived into beautifully designed hotels and chef-led restaurants that always put the guest first? What if travel didn’t have to be quite so lonely?
Fast forward 41 years and the rest, they say, is history. Walk with us through memory lane as we look back on Bill’s enduring legacy on Kimpton, our company culture, and the one-of-a-kind experience you have when you stay with us.
Kimpton’s first boutique hotel (and how wine got involved)
In April 1981, San Francisco’s hotel scene was ready for primetime. Bill opened his flagship boutique hotel, the Clarion Bedford, with an eye on British design. With his relationships in investment banking and supporters like the late great actor Vincent Price, the hotel became a destination darling and an anchor for the revitalized Union Square neighborhood
Picture this: the lobby was styled after a residential living room, complete with fireplace and four-legged friends napping nearby. Bill’s dog, Chianti, was amusingly named after his favorite wine, and he’d often pour a glass to break down the day with his team. After guests kept crashing this employee meeting, Wine Hour became a nightly tradition and trademark for guests of all Kimpton hotels afterwards.
Bill always joked that his money was in hotels but his heart was in the restaurants. He loved the idea of opening restaurants that weren’t just meant for hotel guests. He envisioned dynamic spaces that would draw in the locals night after night led by empowered chefs who didn’t have to answer to a corporate menu. Renowned chefs such as Masa Takayama and Wolfgang Puck took the helm in various Kimpton kitchens, defining the San Francisco culinary scene in the 80s. Chef Wolfgang went on to have an impressive 20-year run with Postrio in Kimpton’s Prescott Hotel serving up iconic dishes like grilled quail with spinach ravioli in a sage brown butter sauce.
Animal lovers welcome
Since Bill couldn’t bear the thought of charging fees for pets, Kimpton also became one of the first hotels to introduce a brand wide pet-friendly policy with no sneaky fees. Four decades later, if your pet fits through the door, they’re as welcome as their humans. Fun fact: some of our more unconventional friends have included llamas and penguins! Animal print robes also became a bold brand signature and that eye on sartorial design has evolved into a collection of unique robes from pinstripes to kimono-style, reflecting each hotel’s individual aesthetic.
Leading with heart
On a sobering note, the 80s and the AIDS crisis rocked the San Francisco community including beloved members of the Kimpton family. Bill personally paid for employees’ funerary expenses and, later, we launched a Red Ribbon campaign to benefit the National AIDS Fund and honor their memory. We also received a 100% score on the Human Right Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the first hotel company to do so and it’s a benchmark we’ve kept up for 16 years since. It’s a testament to Bill’s legacy of heartfelt care and the unwavering support he had for employees to always be true to themselves.
Earth-friendly from the start
Aside from breathing new life into storied buildings, Bill wanted to make sure that our operations were kind to the environment long before being green was the norm. He established significant eco-friendly best practices that we dubbed “Earthcare.” After his passing, we kept up our commitment to sustainability by initiating partnerships with the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy. Wine Hour began incorporating Wines That Care, wines hand-selected by Kimpton sommeliers for the producers’ dedication to sustainability or local and global causes. All Kimpton restaurants also abide by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, offering only sustainable seafood selections on our menus. Many of our hotels are also LEED certified, which is the ultimate badge of honor for green buildings.
In summary, Bill was one-of-a-kind and the best kind of maverick. Many of our best known programs can trace their history to Bill’s zest for a life well lived and all the meaningful ways he extended that deep, heartfelt care to his employees and guests. So on Kimpton’s 41th birthday, we toast to his memory and legacy. Thank you Bill, for everything.