The Drake Hotel wins impressive award

By Chuck Fieldman

Jim and Tely Nagle took one for the team more than two years ago when the coronavirus pandemic pretty much shut down the hospitality industry all over the world. Rather than listen to the advice of some advisors, who suggested they furlough the approximately 120 employees who worked for them at the Drake Oak Brook Hotel, the Nagles kept their team together by keeping everyone employed. With guests not staying in the hotel, most of the usual work usually done at the Drake wasn’t necessary. So, the Nagles called an audible and had everyone take on other jobs at the hotel, mostly to help with the remodeling of the award-winning facility. “We had people doing all kinds of work they had never done before, but it kept them employed with their health insurance,” Jim Nagle said. “I think it made everyone feel appreciated, which they are, and now they still feel part of our family.” And that feeling of family among the employees of the Drake is immediately present when listening to those employees talk about working there, especially since the pandemic began.

“They really care about everyone who works there,” said Anna Majus, the Drake’s director of banquets, who has worked at the hotel for the past 51/2 years. Majus said Jim Nagle’s inspiration to employees has been incredible. “He’s not just an owner, he’s a leader who listens to our ideas,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone who cares more about employees than Tely and Jim. People want to work here because they are so loyal. We all feel like family. Nobody wants to leave. They created an amazing culture here.” The loyalty that the Nagles have shown to their employees, who gladly have returned it, had a lot to do with the Drake recently being voted one of the best hotels in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, a luxury and lifestyle travel magazine published by Condé Nast. The Drake Oak Brook Hotel was voted No. 2 in the Midwest, No. 11 in the United States and No. 47 in the world in the Condé Nast Traveler 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards. It’s not the first time the Drake has received an award, but the status of the Condé Nast Traveler accolade takes it to a new level.

Jim and Tely Nagle managed to keep their team together through the pandemic

“The other awards we have won have been exciting, but this one is really extra special because it’s the gold standard,” said Jim Nagle, who along with his wife purchased the Drake in 2013 and reopened it two years later. The Nagles certainly are entitled to take a bow for having received the Condé Nast Traveler award, but Jim Nagle deflects most of the credit to the employees, or “the team,” as her prefers to call them. “Our team really is the reason for this,” he said. “They are very loyal and take a lot of pride in what we do here. They always do whatever they can to make sure everything we do is something we can be proud of. People who stay here always are commenting about their wonderful experiences with our team. You can have a beautiful hotel, but it really is having a great team that makes things special.” Franco Sanfelice, the main carpenter at the Drake, has worked there for six years. And he agreed with Majus’ take about employees being very happy to work for the Nagles. “Everybody loves being here, and nobody wants to leave,” Sanfelice said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride since the pandemic started, but a good one because of the way we have been treated.”

“He’s not just an owner, he’s a leader who listens to our ideas.”

Sanfelice said all employees immediately took to working together for whatever needed to be done with the hotel’s remodeling. And his expertise in carpentry made him a valuable resource when remodeling took center stage. “The only way we could keep everyone was if they helped with the construction,” Jim Nagle said. “Everyone really did want to work together and get things done, and (Sanfelice) was very generous in teaching others.” Enrique Mexicano worked at several other hotels before coming to the Drake about seven years ago to work as a bartender and with banquets. And he said life at the Drake for employees is very different than what he experienced in previous jobs. “The owners treat us like a family, and it feels very good because you don’t get that kind of appreciation at most other hotels,” Mexicano said. “Everyone who works here takes a lot of pride in their work, and we always want the guests to have a great experience.” The pandemic-caused shutdown at the Drake happened in March 2020, a month after the hotel received designation as part of the Autograph Collection, a group of independent upper-upscale to luxury hotels within the Marriott International portfolio.

Jim Nagle said he is particularly proud that the Drake has received recognition when it’s being compared to many well-known, big city hotels in consideration. The Drake was the winner as Top Hotel 2020 and again in 2022 in Illinois in the World Travel Awards. Other 2022 nominees were Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, Kimpton Hotel Monaco Chicago, Nobu Hotel Chicago, Pendry Chicago, The Langham, Chicago; The Peninsula Chicago, The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago; Viceroy Chicago; W Chicago – City Center and Waldorf Astoria Chicago. “We’re virtually the only hotel with any of these awards that’s in a suburb,” Nagle said. “I think the big thing that separates us from other great suburban hotels is our outdoor space, which we’ve fixed up.” The history of the Drake in Oak Brook goes back to its original opening in 1962. In 2009, the hotel fell prey to a Ponzi scheme, shutting the doors.

But the Nagles purchased the hotel from the Institute in Basic Life Principles, an Oak Brook-based organization that planned to use it for seminars and as a dormitory. Before that plan fell through, the hotel, which was then known as the Wyndham Drake Hotel, was a victim of the recession and other factors. A previous owner, an affiliate of Chicago-based investment firm Wextrust Capital LLC, purchased the hotel in 2008 for $20 million. Wextrust was later accused of operating a $100 million Ponzi scheme, according to a Tribune report. Both principals were sentenced to serve time in prison. “It was always our goal and dream to get to the point where we could win an award from Condé Nast Traveler, but we didn’t think we’d get to this point this quickly,” Nagle said. “There are a lot of great hotels out there, but at the end of the day, people make people happy. And that’s what our great team does every day.”

*Photos courtesy by Drake Oak Brook hotel