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Putting Out Fires: Denise Luna, General Manager, Virgin Hotels, New York

In the shadow of the Empire State Building, maverick entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson opened his first New York City outpost last year. In the making since 2015 with hundreds of millions invested, the 39-story gleaming glass tower has 490 guest rooms with calming, clean-lined interiors, serving as a contrast to the buzzy and vibrant public spaces, which include restaurants, nightclubs and an outdoor pool (with cocktail bar). Think: lots of Insta-worthy backdrops and pops of Virgin's signature red!

Denise Luna Virgin Hotels

The place has quickly become a part of the fabric of the trendy NoMad area (home to other scene-y hotels The Ned, an Ace Hotel and a Ritz-Carlton), yet a destination in it's own right with restaurant Everdene, a combo of a see-and-be-seen lounge with music and events, three-meal a day restaurant, and the signature Shag Room–wink wink– a ’70s-style lounge that’s a staple of all the Virgin Hotels.

Suffice to say, it's a big job running what Branson is billing as the new Virgin Hotels flagship property with further hotels in Miami and London on the way. Which is why he turned to Denise Luna, a Queen's native who has worked her way up, running properties in nearly every borough of New York City and across the Hudson in Weehawken, NJ. She's also a mother of two, a dog lover, and a volunteer firefighter. Wait, what?!? Seriously. Yes, she's a busy lady, but had time for a quick chat with us about her role running the Virgin Hotels New York City.

the library at Virgin Hotels New York
the library at Virgin Hotels New York

What is your management mantra or philosophy or style?

What we're doing is creating memorable experiences, so let's have fun with it!

In your 27-year career, you've worked with many of the big brands––Sheraton, Wyndham, Marriott––what makes working at Virgin different? 

Virgin embraces all teammates to be themselves and they celebrate that. They really stand on their culture of Diversity, Equality & Inclusion, and it’s great to be a part of this community. 

While you've only been at the hotel a few months, what has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

I just hit 3 months actually! My biggest challenge has been working with such large hotel and learning all of the mechanics that come with it. 

How long have you been a volunteer firefighter and what is the most unexpected skill you have learned as a volunteer firefighter? Does it help you put out "fires" at work?

I've been a firefighter for 3 years. Firefighters must be able to communicate effectively under any kind of stress, and we always need to be able to provide clear instructions. Communication is the key to success in everything we do.

pool bar at the Virgin Hotels New York
pool bar at the Virgin Hotels New York

Quickfire with Denise

What is your morning routine?

I give thanks, check-in with my kids, put on a sweatshirt and my headphones, listen to old school hip hop, R&B, or Latin music, and walk my dogs. After that, I usually do a quick workout, or dance while I talk to my plants. I feel a connection with my dad who passed away 2 years ago through caring for my plants and garden, which he was very passionate about as well. This was the last thing my dad taught me.

What do you do for self-care?

I love to dance - it makes all of my problems go away. I also love juice to help detox. My favorite recipe for juices includes beets, garlic, celery, dandelion roots, ginger, and turmeric with a hint of cayenne pepper. Sometimes I can barely drink what I make!

Any books, podcasts or TV you are into right now?

I love self help and personal development books. Two I loved and turn to time and again: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz and The Power of Letting Go by John Purkiss. I also really enjoy listening to music as it allows me to multitask, wind down, and relive special moments.

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