Interview with Jaime Kowal, the founder of The Desert Collective

There are some people who have the vision and the courage to jump into the unknown and start building something new. One of those people is Jaime Kowal, the creative force behind, The Desert Collective, a collection of unique spaces and some of Palm Spring’s most popular spots.

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t was love at first sight when Jaime visited Palm Springs in 2013. The Canadian photographer was charmed by the desert city; its colors, landscape, and architecture, which inspired her to stay for awhile and actually, with her projects, kick off the Palm Springs revival.

Being very business-smart, Jaime first set her eyes on a mid-century residence complex; that is today known as The Amado, a tranquil boutique accommodation with 5 suites, pool, and outdoor lounge area complete with firepit.
With its mix of desert elements and Nordic simplicity, The Amado has become a must-stay-at-least-once place when in Palm Springs. Shortly after, she ventured out to open Bootlegger Tiki and Ernest Coffee with her partner Chris Pardo. So why not kick you day off at Ernest Coffee with delicious Stumptown Coffee and freshly baked pastries and end it at retro-cool Bootlegger Tiki a hip, retro tiki bar with juicy cocktails. The Dessert Collective for sure knows what people need. In 2015, The Junipero, a Mediterranean-Moroccan-inspired 6-rooms property, opened its doors, welcoming everyone who loves good design and is on a lookout to experience more local Palm Springs. Jaime’s latest project The Ferg, in cooperation with her childhood friend, the actress and producer Anna Hardwick, has led her to expand her hospitality imperium beyond Palm Springs, back to her native Canada. We truly admire Jaime’s sense for business, but even more her go-get-it attitude and her boldness to challenge herself. So even between all the stuff she has going on, Jaime found time to chit-chat with us and let us in on her secrets to productivity, where all her ideas come from and what’s the best way to make a guest feel at home.

From Vancouver to Palm Springs. That’s quite a climate change. How did you get there? Tell us a bit about your journey?

the-amado_58I came to Palm Springs on a family holiday and never left! I fell in love with the endless sunshine, the pink glow of the sunrise on the mountains in the morning, the strong clean lines of the mid-century architecture, the history and the excitement of a growing city. To me, Palm Springs had a lot of potential and was on the cusp of something new and exciting. I met my business partner Chris Pardo and he informed me of the plans for new hotels, restaurants and business development and the entrepreneur in me was sold.

Your first project, the Amado, the 5-suite, self-catered boutique accommodation, is already a Palm Spring’s institution. Where did the idea for The Amado come about?

I had my eye on the community culture, rapid growth and sharing economy of Airbnb and really wanted to try the platform. When I saw listing for The Amado, I knew it would be an ideal spot to create the ultimate Palm Springs getaway. When I purchased the property, it was quite run down, so I did extensive renovations. The property is a classic example of mid-century architecture and is perfect for group celebrations. It’s very intimate and centrally located. It’s been a wonderful project and continues to grow and evolve. Currently, we host a lot of creatives and musicians, and we’re starting to attract a lot of artists and holistic health practitioners looking for a place to host retreats. I love that we can provide a beautiful space for art and healing to occur.the-amado_03

Within three years you opened The Amado, Bootlegger Tiki, Ernest Coffee, The Junipero in Palm Springs and recently, The Ferg in Picton, Canada. Where does all these energy and motivation comes from? What fuels you to create?

I’ve always had a lot of energy and am happiest when I’m juggling different projects, ideas, and conversations. I love building something new and seeing how the pieces come together. It’s a balance of directing ideas but also allowing things to happen organically. I’m particularly inspired by finding an architectural gem that needs a bit of love…seeing the potential in the building and creating an inspired space that ultimately acts as a backdrop for all kinds of special life events – anniversaries, parties, family reunions, creative retreats… I’m really interested in the psychology of space and how design can influence conversation and community.

It’s hot in here. The Bootlegger Tiki is The spot for cocktails and fun after a hot desert day.

With so many projects going on, do you have any advice on productivity and staying organized and focused?

I think self-care is the biggest factor in creating a productive day. My days are really demanding and social, and if I’m not eating well or staying out too late – I really feel the drain on my energy. I really like feeling strong and clear, and so I make a concerted effort to eat healthy, nutritious food, go to bed early when I can, practice yoga, spend time with family and friends, take little vacations – all these things help support my overall productivity and creativity. I also have systems in place to keep myself organized. I’m trying to stay focused and complete one project or item before I start the next, which can be somewhat of a challenge for me. 

Meet, mingle. sip on a coffee, listen to live music, the Ernest Coffee is where to kick your day off.

How does your typical day as entrepreneur look like, from am to pm?

I’m an early-bird. I’m up at 6 am and love to work on a project with a hot cup of coffee before the phone starts ringing. I either jog or take my dog to the part so she can run around before it gets too hot and head back for a big breakfast and to read the news. I am a photographer first and foremost, so I’ll spend most of the week on the editorial or commercial shoots on location and then head back to the studio to edit. In between, I schedule meetings, phone calls and emails to manage the business side of things related to everything else. We’re always growing and evolving so I’m constantly working on the businesses in some way. I try to hit a yoga class around 5:30 pm and will meet friends for cocktails and dinner after that. And then we do it all again 😉

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work? What’s not so great?

I love seeing people rise to the challenge of their job – finding their strengths and being proud of what they are creating and achieving. I manage about 25 staff between all the properties, and many of our staff have been with us since the beginning and have been an integral part of this wild ride. I love seeing a project come together and will always embrace a happy accident in design or photography. I love a great vintage find, meeting a guest or client who becomes a great friend and traveling for inspiration. I find my inbox to be a source of stress because I’d like to respond more quickly than I am often able to.

What are the biggest challenges in growing a business?

I have found the businesses grow quite easily in the sense that there is a lot of energy behind them and so there is this natural flow and evolution. It’s like riding a wave. However, that said I think the biggest challenges are physically creating an entity and idea from nothing. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to create something that is unique and high quality. There are a lot of false starts. There are always surprises from an administration and accounting standpoint, an enormous time commitment and I’ve often had to ask contractors to do things over when they aren’t up to the standard which can be stressful.

In your opinion, the best way to make a guest feel like at home?

the-junipero01It’s a combination of things – the overall design and intention behind the space; impeccable cleanliness; a warm welcome from our staff and attention to detail through little things like quirky succulents. We provide Bluetooth speakers and smart TVs so our guests can listen to their own playlists and stream their favorite tv shows, and providing high-quality amenities that one would have at home such as coffee, tea, olive oil, balsamic, sea salt and yoga mats. I think an element of surprise is always helpful too! We provide bubbly to our guests that have bought out the property, and we’ve just partnered with an amazing local Southern California company called Happy Spritz to leave mini bottles of aromatherapy in the rooms so you can freshen up and escape the heat of Palm Springs!

You have a 30 min break, what do you do?

Eat!

What’s next on your to-do list?

I’m doing a lot of landscaping at my own home and also working on renovating our new Joshua Tree property which we are designing as a yoga retreat. Stay tuned…

Tell us your five favorite food spots in Palm Springs…

ICE CREAM & SHOPPE  – An adorable ice cream shop, you’ll also find a curated selection of cool gifts (and a #palmspringsisbetter neon sign). Open late for those tipsy cravings too!

CHEEKY’S  – The best breakfast and brunch in Palm Springs – just be ready to wait in line! Or head there at opening (8am). Don’t forget the bacon flight…yup, that’s a thing.

KING’S HIGHWAY – Ace Hotel’s retro diner designed by Commune offering a variety of unique and tasty dishes. Try the 5 Leaves Burger and the date shake! Stop by for bingo on Monday nights and karaoke on Tuesdays.

PALM GREENS CAFE – If you’re cleansing or looking for a green juice this is the spot! Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner this menu features health-conscious dishes and full service or takeaway.

RESERVOIR – Fresh and tasty modern Southern California cuisine located at Arrive Hotel. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night.

Want more super insider recommendations by Jaime? Check out this local’s guide!

Do you have any weekend traditions…

I love driving up to Pioneertown and hitting Pappy and Harriet’s for some BBQ and live music with friends. We go as often as we can.

Favorite weekend breakfast?

Workshop has an amazing brunch, tasty mimosas, and a lovely patio.

Beach or mountains or desert…

I absolutely love the desert and find so much beauty in the arid, endless landscape… Hence The Desert Collective and my move to Palm Springs! I also lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico at one point and felt very inspired there as well.

Book tip…

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is really inspirational. Their first book Half the Sky impacted me strongly. They are exceptional journalists, and outline complex global problems very clearly but more importantly offer solutions.

Your way to relax…

A couple of craft cocktails at Bootlegger Tiki!

Best kept Palm Springs secret…

We provide a lot of references for our guests staying at our properties, including massage therapists, yoga teachers, and caterers. I am a huge fan of Stephen Lee and his delicious, organic food – our guests rave about him. He is a gem.

What do you love most about California?

Everything! I love how geographically diverse it is – you can head to the ocean, to the mountains, to the desert, to the forest…the people are so extroverted and creative, and this endless sunshine is a strong backbone for a lot of my creativity….

*All photography by Jaime Kowal.

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2 Responses
  • Ellen
    November 8, 2016

    Terrific article about an amazing young woman.

  • Jamey Stillings
    March 27, 2017

    Great to finally read through this wonderful article about Jaime’s energy, endeavors and talent! Keep up the positive approach to life, Jaime!

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