Upwardly mobile 20 September 2019 The founders of coffee and brunch chain Caravan are on the move, taking their business model to new Chelsea restaurant Vardo
In this week's issue... Upwardly mobile The founders of coffee and brunch chain Caravan are on the move, taking their business model to new Chelsea restaurant Vardo
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Brits abroad: Daniella Hunter and Charlie Stuart Gay

18 July 2016 by
Brits abroad: Daniella Hunter and Charlie Stuart Gay

The owners of luxury eco-boutique hotel Sanará in the beach resort of Tulum, Mexico, tell Janet Harmer about their brand with a conscience

What was the driving force to becoming hotel owners?

Alongside our careers, we wanted to build a luxury hotel as a social enterprise business in order to create wealth among the staff, their families and the local organic growers that are our vendors. Our guests are the growing number of people who care for the planet while being able to create and circulate wealth.

Tulum is located so close to Cancun that it allows us to travel very easily to meetings in North America and Europe.

Describe the style and setting of Sanará

Sum up the spirit of SanarÁ¡

SanarÁ¡ literally translates to 'it will heal', and this epitomises the spirit of SanarÁ¡.

What are the key facilities?

Our yoga studio may be one of the best studios anywhere in the world, right on Tulum beach, overlooking the Caribbean sea. The Real Coconut restaurant, with its philosophy for digestive health, sits on the other side of the property, while our Wellness Centre with five treatment rooms and meditation roof terrace is at the heart of the hotel.

What were the biggest challenges in developing the hotel?

Our architects handled all the construction and the Mayan crews worked tirelessly to compete the project on time. The biggest challenge was sourcing some of the interior components. We took at least five big bags with us each time we travelled to the US, and filled them with all manner of items, such as light fixtures, bulbs and linens.

Explain the social enterprise element of the hotel

We are passionate about running businesses with social benefits and look for win-win scenarios, whether it is supporting our staff with sustained income and training; wildlife and bird rescue programmes; or supporting Mayan scholarships at the local school which we co-founded.

The Real Coconut allows us to go even deeper into social enterprise. We are not content with just purchasing ingredients from producers that we have no contact with. For instance, knowing that almost all coconuts come from Asia, taking four to six weeks to arrive by boat, led us to found the Belize Sustainable Development Corporation to produce coconut, yucca, and plantain products, which are indigenous to the region.

Describe your typical guests

Tulum attracts a high-end, conscious traveller, who is looking for something convenient, yet slightly away from the crowds and all-inclusive resorts.

How well has the hotel been received?

The hotel has already won three awards in Mexico, including from the Association of Architects in Mexico City. Our guests are passionate about SanarÁ¡ and we have many returning visitors. They especially love the Real Coconut. At the start, we didn't have a chef, so I [Daniella] started crafting a menu of all the food I love to eat. We put the menus on our website and people started to book rooms, often based on the menu!

What are the future plans for the hotel and restaurant?

Because of the positive response we have had to our food, we are now opening restaurants in the US. Our first will be in Los Angeles, followed by Austin. We are also now producing our tortillas and tortilla chips, with seven different flavours, and these will soon be available in the US, followed by the UK early next year.

The SanarÁ¡ brand will continue to expand into other locations. Our next stop is Belize, where we are working on two projects - different from Tulum, but equally as enchanting.

Career highlights

A former concert promoter, member of Cher's management team and media producer, Charlie Stuart Gay has extensive experience in humanitarian and social enterprise endeavours. He founded FANetwork, the first live concert broadcaster inside Facebook, and is the author of Hear: Navigating Life's Amazing Maze.

Danielle Hunter fell in love with the Riveria Maya area of Mexico in 2001 while working as an underwater photographer. Eleven years later she and Gay decided to relocate to the resort of Tulum.

Together, with the support of Toronto-based David Woolfson, friends and family, they launched Oxygen Beach Investments to open SanarÁ¡, at a cost of $4m (£2.8m).

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