Hospitality alum Zoltan Payerli on the Nobu rooftop, overlooking the Chicago skyline

The Nobu brand is famous for its Japanese restaurant and celebrity sightings, counting stars like the Kardashians, Leonardo DiCaprio and JLo as regulars. Its new location now sparkles in Chicago’s West Loop, with Roosevelt alum Zoltan Payerli as general manager.

“As a Chicagoan, I couldn't be prouder of being a part of the development of this property in the growing West Loop neighborhood,” Payerli said. “It displays the beauty of Chicago so well.”

Nobu Hotel Chicago, which opened in July 2020 with its high-ceilinged rooms and jaw-dropping rooftop views, has been years in the making. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and backer Robert De Niro first broke ground on the location back in 2016.

For Payerli, who earned his hospitality degree in 2010, his new role also comes after years of learning the ropes at hotels across America.

Learn more about the bachelor’s in hospitality and tourism management.

Exploring Chicago hospitality at Roosevelt

As a student, Payerli worked the front desk full-time while he earned his hospitality management degree. “I know it’s tough to be a full-time student and full-time worker — I’ve been there,” he said. “But experience is everything in the hospitality industry.”

At Roosevelt University, Payerli learned by actually going out the hospitality industry, bringing back knowledge from its bars, hotels and tourist attractions.

“The city gave me a lot of answers to my homework or projects, and I believe Roosevelt recognized that enough to promote students to explore,” he said. “Not too many hospitality programs are surrounded by the people and resources that Roosevelt University has to their advantage.”

Payerli remembers how Dr. Carol Brown brought fun to their thesis preparation course, Professor Brian Margulis’s jokes during hospitality accounting, and the knowledge that Professor Bill Host shared in his marketing class. The alum still keeps one of his textbooks in his office.

“I was fortunate to have great relationships with many of the hospitality faculty,” he said. “Every course brought knowledge and insights and helped me develop.”

For Payerli, his success in management comes after a long time in other hospitality positions — working “crazy long” hours, picking up odd shifts and getting a beer with his coworkers afterwards. He says those early roles keep you humble and spark innovation as you become a leader in the industry.

“There’s no rush to jump into management immediately after graduation,” he advises students. “It’s so important to gain knowledge in the positions you hold, versus just holding a position until something better comes along.”

After earning his bachelor’s in hospitality, Payerli worked at Waldorf Astoria properties in Florida, Arizona and California before making his return to Chicago in 2017.

The grand opening of Nobu Hotel Chicago

As general manager, Payerli directs hotel operations and has led the hotel through its long-awaited 2020 opening.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the construction: Many suppliers postponed or limited deliveries, which created bottlenecks for other projects. Payerli and his team brainstormed creative solutions and worked long hours as they barreled toward their grand opening date.

“Our main focus is the safety and security of our guests and team members,” he said. “We invested a lot into PPE equipment, sanitizers and disinfectants while still ensuring our accommodations are to the comfort and quality of the guests needs.”

Now open on Randolph Street in one of the city’s most popular strips, Nobu Hotel Chicago boasts an intimate first-floor dining experience, spacious suites and a stunning rooftop for socially distanced guests.

“Nearly everything is picturesque, the food and beverage quality is stellar, and the technology is up-to-date. How could you go wrong?” Payerli said. “I truly believe that brands like Nobu are the future of hospitality.”

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