We at Center Hotels love the story about how we came about. Our story is honest and inspiring and that is why we like to share how we started and how we became what we are today.
The sweet beginning
The owners Kristófer and Svanfríður both come from Akranes, a small town in West Iceland. They first met at the age of 10 and then (a few years later) married in 1975. They have three children, Maron, Sara and Anna Ólöf. They studied in Sweden for 6 years, Svanfríður in nurse anesthesia and Kristofer in economy and regional planning. When they moved back to Iceland in 1987 Svanfríður started her career as a nurse and Kristofer in consulting.
HOSPITALITY ADVENTURE STARTS - 1994
Kristofer’s father, Oliver, worked as a live-in night porter at a guesthouse in Reykjavík called “The Guesthouse Flókagata 1”. When the owner of the guesthouse offered grandpa Oliver an opportunity to buy the guesthouse he turned to his son Kristófer who with his wife Svanfríður decided to purchase this little guesthouse in 1994 and that was the start of their journey in hospitality. Svanfríður left her job as a nurse and took care of all the day to day running of the 14 room guest house, grandpa Oliver was the night porter and the children started by helping with cleaning and serving breakfast when not in school before learning the trade of being in the reception. It was a completely family run operation whereas every member of the family got to start at the very basics.
SMALL GUEST HOUSE TURNS INTO - CENTER HOTELS - 1998
4 years after taking over the Flókagata 1 guest house, Kristófer and Svanfríður purchased their first hotel, Hótel Skjaldbreið, located on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in the city center of Reykjavík. The stately building that was originally built as a pharmacy where the pharmacist lived, worked and produced medication became a hotel with 33 rooms. Quite a lot of alterations had to be made to change the building into a hotel and so during the renovations, Kristófer almost managed to chop his hand off whilst trying to remove a broken window. Thankfully Svanfríður being a nurse knew a specialist nerve doctor who performed groundbreaking surgery on his arm. Kristofer was back at work the next day. You can say that we worked fingers to the bone, literally to get Skjaldbreið up and running.
TIME FOR HOTEL NR. 2 - 2001
3 years later, in 2001 we opened our second hotel, Klöpp in a building that was previously occupied by Iceland's National Public-Service Broadcasting Organization [RÚV]. The building went from serving news to the nation to offering a good sanctuary with 46 rooms for guests wanting to enjoy Reykjavík. The hotel was located in a few minutes walk from Skjaldbreið and so, as we had two hotels in the city center both hotels got the name Miðbæjarhótel / Center Hotels and the journey to offering a chain of hotels all located in the city center of Reykjavík became a reality. By this time the family began to extend with the arrival of staff members working at the two hotels that instantly became a part of the Center Hotels family.
THIS ONE PRINTED ON OUR HEARTS - 2007
We love buildings with a story to tell and the city center, so we couldn’t be more excited when opening up hotel number 3 since it was not only located in downtown Reykjavík, it also had a story. Þingholt hotel used to be a printing house called “Ísafold” from 1942 to 1994 and even published the National newspaper [Morgunblaðið]. The building is located at Þingholtsstræti which is one of the oldest streets in the city center of Reykjavik and was/is a quite posh place to be at. Since the location of the hotel was quite posh we wanted our hotel to fit well in and so we decided to change it to a boutique hotel. And so, Þingholt became a true gem in the city center with 52 beautifully decorated rooms in sleek style where each and every room has its own identity.
DOUBLE TROUBLE, THIS WAS A BUSY YEAR - 2008
2008 was a busy year but fun and demanding at the same time. This was the year the bank crisis hit the world and at the same time we managed to open up two new hotels. Again, like we tend to do, we found a property with a story to tell. This one used to be an engineer’s school [Vélstjóraskóli] located in a beautiful spot right by the harbour in Reykjavík. The building was built in 1933 and was designed by the well known architect Guðjón Samúelsson. When the building became ours we changed it into a 104 bedroom hotel and for the first time we opened up a restaurant. Our first restaurant was SKÝ Restaurant & Bar. But 2008 was not finished yet since the same year, we were offered the opportunity to take over a hotel that fit perfectly to our chain of hotels. Plaza became our hotel number five and was located literally in the heart of downtown Reykjavík, at Aðalstræti, the oldest street in Reykjavík. Like our other hotels, this one also had a story to tell and since we seem to have a thing for news and printing, this one fit perfectly since it used to be a news hotspot that was built for the National newspaper offices and print house [before they moved to Þingholt]. Plaza offers an amazing view over the city center, and after our renovations it became our largest hotel with 255 rooms.
BANKING ON A NEW DIRECTION - 2015
As obvious as it is - you really need to have a need for adventure and to take a chance to build a chain of hotels as Kristófer and Svanfríður have done. And so during their free time they like to live in the now and sail around beautiful seas. And that is what they decided to do - finally their dream to sail around the world was something they could treat themselves to after all their hard work. So, in 2015 they went for it, leaving the control of the hotels in the hands of their daughter and trustworthy staff members and went on to explore the world. During that time a new hotel was opened up, Miðgarður. The hotel was originally built to host banking operations and so the Agricultural Bank of Iceland [Búnaðarbankinn] and the Agricultural Credit Department were located in the building. Miðgarður underwent major renovations before opening in 2015 and started off with 43 rooms, but after we had made all the changes we wanted for the new hotel, it had 170 rooms, a restaurant we decided to call Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar, a secluded garden and a beautiful spa.
AMAZING THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE ALL 'POOL' TOGETHER - 2019
Laugavegur hotel, named after the street the hotel is located at became our hotel nr. 7 in 2019. Like our other hotels, this one has a story to tell. The story is about it’s location. The direct translation of Laugavegur is “Pool Road”, which used to lead to the hot springs where the locals would go to clean their laundry way back when. Now turned into the main shopping street in the city center and the home of our newest hotel addition. During the opening of the hotel, we decided to take a few steps back and take a look at what we had accomplished in these 25 years and found it was time to refresh the look and layout of our brand and so we did. Laugavegur became the first hotel we present in our new look and feel. With 102 rooms, two restaurants and a hotel full of information, stories, quotes and sayings about Iceland, Icelanders and all that is Icelandic which is what we want to tell our guest to make them feel a part of our Icelandic family, Icelandic traditions and the Icelandic spirit.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT AND CREATIVE - 2021
Then to what’s in store for us. After a very challenging year 2020 our work in progress at the moment is Grandi, our hotel number 8. Located in the new creative harbour district, Grandi was previously home to the machine shop for Héðinn, a well-known marine engineering and steelworks company. Now, being changed to a spectacular hotel with 230 beautiful rooms, restaurant, cafe and meeting rooms. We can’t wait to open that treasure up and welcome our guests to a wonderful location to stay at while they enjoy what Reykjavík and Iceland has to offer. It's been a long and fun journey for the whole family whereas all three children and later on grand children have at some point taken part in the family business. Maron with technical requirements, Sara as the Director of Sales & Marketing and now the CCO, Anna Ólöf in the Sales department and the reception, Kristófer junior as a part of the sales team. And of course all the extended family members which includes our 350 wonderful employees helping us serve our guests by creating a memorable and unique Icelandic hospitality experience that captures the essence of the island and makes our guests feel welcome, valued and truly at home.