Food & Drink

The Drake Hotel’s Jeff Stober Is The Anti-Businessman

Jeff Stober at the Drake 150 in the Financial District.

Jeff Stober is the Drake enterprise. But the Drake enterprise is so much more than Stober. Those are his words, not mine. Stober, the owner of the Drake Hotel and its arms (the Drake Devonshire, Drake One Fifty, the Drake General Store, and the newly opened Drake Commissary) does not speak in the “I.” He speaks in the “we.”

“We are completely authentic to a point of ad nauseam,” he says. “We are so authentic, grassroots, and focused on the neighbourhoods we’re committed to. We are connected to this whole family and infrastructure of people and events.”

This “we” Stober speaks of is everyone from his corporate team to his wait staff to ex-Drake employees to artist collaborators to anyone who has made a significant contribution to the enterprise. Again, his words, not mine. “We honour that,” he closes.

The newly opened Drake Commissary in the Junction Triangle

And that’s probably why everyone who is employed with the Drake actually loves the Drake… and Stober. His allure comes from his ability to be inhumanly attuned to his environment – the things and the people. He notices everything, from the fact that women in skirts can’t scoot too easily into the picnic benches chosen for the Commissary’s front patio (he was deeply regretful about this) to the group of four lunching two tables away (he went for a lingering hello). Stober doesn’t miss a beat. He’s a true master at the art of being present.

This unconventionality has roots. Stober was a CEO in the computing field for 15 years. His corporate life, full of budgets, rigid business plans, and predetermined approaches was exactly what he didn’t want his new venture to be. So when Stober purchased the Drake Hotel back in 2001, and people told him he was crazy to be buying a place outside of “the hotel grid,” he paid no attention. “I was very focused on doing the anti-business approach,” Stober explains. “The Drake Hotel was going to be in an unconventional neighbourhood – much of what we were going do was going to be unconventional, organic, and real.”

Even before the hotel opened, Stober was already hiring for unconventional roles – an art director and graphic designer (for their in-house art studio), an in-house curator and music programmer. Every person is a necessary force behind the cultural hub Stober envisioned, which has since blossomed into a great Canadian success story. At the crux of it all is Stober’s approach to empowering his people: “How do you treat [your employees]? How do you give them the tools to do their jobs more effectively? If they feel emboldened about what they’re doing, then they, in turn, will pass that on to whomever they’re touching,” Stober says.

A room at the original Drake Hotel on Queen West

While there are whispers of Stober’s ambitions to purchase property in the States, it’s never been confirmed. I ask him where the Drake sees itself within a global context: What is the Drake? Canadian? Torontonian? A brand that could potentially be brought to the world? “I will say with certainty that we are Canadian focused,” Stober says. “There’s so much opportunity in Canada and there’s so many cool cities and outposts.”That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to bring home a bag full of ideas from his next trip to Portugal (he flies out the weekend after we met). Just like he did with Barcelona, Boston, and all of his trips before that.

So when people tell him that the Commissary looks a little bit like East London or downtown LA, he can’t explain it. It must be the collective embodiment of his travels and his team. After all, the Drake isn’t just Stober. The Drake is a “we.”