“I had them bring you a breakfast menu and a lunch menu. I didn’t know what you’d want, because it’s kind of a late breakfast,” says Michael Mueller, shortly after I’ve arrived at the NYLO Dallas South Side hotel to find him already seated and drinking coffee.

It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and the lobby/bar/restaurant (all are parts of the same contiguous space on the first floor) is quiet and empty, except for a few employees. The waitress is at my side just as soon as I’ve settled into my chair, offering their $14.99 buffet if the menu isn’t to my liking. I make a snap decision (French toast), and she leaves to place the order.

“Nothing for you?” I ask Mueller.

“Oh, I ordered already,” he says. “I always get the same thing. They know.”

“I get calls from guests all the time. I get complaints, I get compliments.”

Carrollton-based NYLO runs five boutique hotels—three in Dallas-Fort Worth—aimed at travelers looking for a more unique experience than can be had at a cookie-cutter chain. The company targets customers for whom design aesthetics, access to great food and drinks, and entertainment are just as important as having a clean bed for the night. It’s a psychographic rather than a demographic approach.

“For us, age does not matter. Income does not matter. We’re looking for people who are interested in design, in music, people who are highly active, into sports, into going out, into going out to eat, people who are looking for a more emotional experience out of their hotel,” Mueller says. Take a look around the rougher, exposed urban design sensibility that the interiors of each of the NYLO hotels embrace, and it seems strange at first that Plano, perhaps the most sub-urban of all Dallas suburbs, is where the first NYLO was built. 

“Our whole business plan is based on the premise that people appreciate design and entertainment and value and a local experience everywhere, not just New York,” Mueller says. “They appreciate that just as much in Plano, Des Moines, suburbs of Chicago, wherever we may go. It’s not something that just should be offered in big, gateway cities.” 

NYLO’s plan for expansion includes a hotel opening next summer in New York’s Hudson River Valley. From there, the company hopes to roll out one or two new locations each year.

Our food arrives: my thick French toast topped with powdered sugar and golden raisins and his strips of steak, two fried eggs, side of diced potatoes, and slice of toast. His coffee is refilled. As we begin to eat, I tell him how surprised I was to have gotten in touch with him so easily. To set up our meeting, I’d found a number under his name on the NYLO corporate website and expected the phone to be answered by an assistant. I was taken off-guard to find myself speaking immediately to Mueller himself.

“We see that as another one of our advantages, being accessible,” he says. “I get calls from guests all the time. I get complaints, I get compliments. They can’t call the CEO of Starwood directly. You won’t even get five levels near him.”

Mueller knows Starwood well because he spent years working for the hotel and resort company before leaving in 2004 to start NYLO. While at Starwood, he devised a business plan for a new mid-priced boutique hotel brand, but decided it wasn’t something that could be launched the way that it should at that large, slow-moving company. “By the time it went through the process, it would have been so watered down, it wouldn’t have been interesting to me,” he says.

My French toast tastes overly stiff, like it was frozen and thawed out. I find myself glancing longingly at the appealing steak on his plate. It looks like it beats any hotel-restaurant breakfasts I’ve ever had, which is of course the point.

NYLO’s sheen of hip luxury belies just what an efficient operation it’s set up to be. South Side is the smallest—at just 76 rooms—of any of the company’s hotels (in Plano, there are 150 rooms). But SODA, its poolside, rooftop bar (SODA is an acronym for South Dallas), has drawn solid business. Because food and beverage service is designed to be a more important revenue stream than at many other hotels, Mueller says that NYLO can break even with only a 40 percent occupancy a night, compared to the industry standard of 55 percent. That was helpful during the darkest periods of the recent economic downturn.

“During the recession, our bars were very active because people didn’t stop drinking. People stopped traveling, but the locals were still out drinking. Probably more so because they couldn’t travel,” he says. “It’s a lot cheaper to have a couple drinks with your wife than to hop on a plane and go to Vegas.”