The Hamptons are in full swing now, and Sylvia Wong is feeling it as the owner of the Roundtree Hotel in Amagansett. For the New York lawyer, becoming a hotelier was a difficult one, but a natural transition given her love of travel.
After earning a law degree from NYU, Wong began her career at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a major city law firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions, representing clients who have acquired or sold businesses.
“As a young attorney, it was an incredible learning experience working with some of America’s best attorneys who are intelligent, creative, and client-focused,” she said, noting that while it was challenging, it helped her lay a strong foundation to build up competences in the legal and economic area as well as personal development. “I look back on those years with fondness.”
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, where she led the company’s global ethics and compliance program.
Then, in 2015, another turning point: Wong was hired by Western Technology Investment, a private investment firm with a large real estate portfolio. As the business looked to grow, hospitality became an organic expansion of their holdings, and Wong’s too.
“Travel has always been one of my passions,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to visit many incredible places around the world. Many fond memories come from visiting interesting places and staying in small hotels that offer understated luxury and excellent service.”
It wasn’t Wong’s original plan to open a shop in the Hamptons, but a random online property listing changed all that in early 2019. At the time, the current hotel was a family estate called Gansett Green Manor. and one winter weekend, she took the Hampton Jitney to see it firsthand. “The jitney stopped right across from the property. I vividly remember the freshness of the air – it was a beautiful, cool day. As soon as I started exploring the property’s grounds, I fell in love with it immediately,” said Wong, who co-invested with WTI in the purchase of what would become the Roundtree. “The expansive lawn and surrounding farmland provide such a peaceful and tranquil setting,” she added. “However, it is just off the main drag, close to the wonderful shops and restaurants, and just a short walk or bike ride to miles of beautiful white sandy beaches.”
Wong was also drawn to the property’s history. “It was the homestead of one of the first four families to settle in Amagansett around 1650 – we have a barn and several cottages that are hundreds of years old.”
After purchasing the property, the renovation process turned out to be quite a feat. “There was so much work that needed to be done and having so many historic buildings on the property made the process all the more arduous,” Wong said, noting that the pandemic had created a number of additional hurdles.
“About midway through the process, New York state suspended most construction projects apart from a very narrowly defined group of projects and we couldn’t determine if we could proceed, so out of caution we stopped without knowing when.” we could finish or even resume our work.” Ultimately, they were able to complete the renovation work just behind their original schedule. In 2022, the Roundtree also unveiled the Beach House, a complex of two apartment buildings just minutes from the main property that once belonged to playwright Neil Simon.
The site’s overhaul has been “equal parts unnerving and exciting” as the pandemic exacerbated the challenges of opening a hotel.
“Not only did we need to ensure our guest experience was how we wanted it, but we also had to figure out how to create an environment where our guests felt safe and how best to keep them safe. In the early days of the pandemic, there was no rule book to follow,” Wong said.
Fortunately, when the hotel opened its doors in June 2020, everything fell into place.
“We took a simple approach – doing what we would normally do when hosting friends and loved ones. When we opened we didn’t have any reservations. We were so busy we didn’t even have time to worry,” she said. “As soon as the first guests found us, we encountered enormous appreciation and support.”
In its first year of business, approximately 80% of its guests were from NYC and the tri-state area. Well, that makes up half of their guests, with the rest trickling in from the West Coast, Texas, Florida and “lately quite a lot from Europe.”
“For those who have a lifelong dream of opening an inn, Wong finds her secret recipe in remembering the little things.
“In my opinion, passion, authenticity and attention to detail are some key success factors,” she said. “You have to love what you do. It’s a demanding job, but it won’t feel like it when you enjoy it. Do your research and use the resources that are available to you in terms of personal learning experiences, connections and mentoring opportunities.”
The entrepreneur also emphasizes the importance of learning from life experiences “to create a vision for what you want your guest experience to look like and what you want guests to take away from their time at your property.”
In creating the Roundtree, Wong had countless people say, “That’s how it’s always done.” Still, relying on her own intuition to tell right from wrong was invaluable.
“It’s important to listen to advice, but then make your own decisions,” she said. “Ask questions, be curious and trust your gut feeling.”