Inside Graduate Hotels: How Ben Weprin's Vision Transformed University Town Hospitality

Laura Parker

At a time when most hotel chains blur into indistinguishable beige sameness, Graduate Hotels offers a much-needed reprieve—a vibrant, living scrapbook of local lore and university charm slowly but surely leaving its mark on the hospitality industry.

The brainchild of Ben Weprin, founder of AJ Capital Partners, Graduate Hotels began as a bold experiment in transforming university towns’ often dreary accommodations. Weprin’s eureka moment happened in 2010 when he saw potential in the then-bland hotel landscape of these academic hubs. His first venture, renovating Chicago’s Hotel Lincoln near DePaul University, was a revelation. The uninspired decor and sterile ambiance were soon replaced by vibrant local references that turned the hotel into a love letter to the community. The hotel’s eventual success inspired Weprin to replicate his concept, giving birth to the Graduate Hotels brand in 2014.

Graduate Knoxville

What sets the brand apart is its meticulous attention to detail, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic, and unwavering commitment to capturing the essence of each location. This isn’t your grandmother’s bed and breakfast adorned with random antiques—each Graduate is more like a carefully curated tapestry woven with threads of local history, alumni memories, and university traditions.

“We dedicate an enormous amount of time and energy to connecting with alumni and community members before, during, and after the design process to get the inside scoop on the university traditions, lesser-known stories, and hidden gems that make our spaces so special,” Weprin explains. The goal? To ensure each guest leaves feeling like they’ve just been given an insider tour of the town’s best-kept secrets.

Graduate Oxford, UK

As the brand continues to explore new markets and expansion opportunities, its goal remains the same: to offer guests an authentic and immersive experience that feels like a secret handshake with the local community. “If guests walk away feeling more connected to the community or like they learned something during their stay, then we’ve done our job,” Weprin says.

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