French Quarter Holdings, Inc is a privately held hotel development company founded in 1993 by Ra’anan (Ronnie) Ben-Zur. Since its inception, French Quarter Holdings has focused on the acquisition and redevelopment of undervalued hotels, renovating, repositioning and preparing them for sale.
French Quarter Holdings combines years of experience in large-scale, complex hotel and resort redevelopment projects with the personal care and attention of a boutique company focused on delivering superior value to its guests, investors and partners.
Ronnie Ben-Zur, CEO
Ronnie Ben-Zur, CEO
Executive Officer and founder of French Quarter Holdings, Mr. Ben-Zur is responsible for overall strategy, equity investments, development, and financing. Mr. Ben-Zur brings a wealth of both domestic and international experience to each deal.
In Memory of Marc Leffman, COO
In my worst nightmares I was not expecting to be standing here today in front of you talking about Marc.
We all knew that Marc was fighting cancer but in today’s world of modern medicine and in Houston of all places we all believed that he would beat it. I think that we assumed that because Marc’s presence was so prominent in our lives, so important and meaningful that we could not have, and still cannot grasp the world without him. In addition his famous optimism was infectious and we were all caught in it.
Some people said that Marc and I made good partners because of his optimism which is a notable opposite to my pessimism. Personally, I do not think this was the reason why our partnership was so close and successful. The reason our partnership was successful is because I could rely on Marc. He was one of the very few people in the world that I knew that when he said he would do something, he would actually do it.
Many of you are familiar with my infamous motto (which as you know is not originally mine) Trust but Verify. I applied that to Marc too but it soon became clear that the verify part was not necessary. I could put a full stop after trust in his case. That is what made us good partners.
Marc started working for us in July 2000 and continued until July 2009. These were very intensive 9 years. At the beginning he was the GM for our JFK airport hotel in NY. When Marc took over this hotel he very quickly made his mark on it and 2000 was the best year we ever had in that hotel. The next year, 2001, started strong but just as we were thinking that the future would be good, and and even better, the world changed. September 11, 2001 effected many people much worse than it did us, but it also changed our lives forever. I strongly believe that you get the best measure of men when things are tough. When everything goes well everyone is great. It is when you need to make hard decisions, faced with tough options that the strong and good can be differentiated from the superficial and the hypocrites. That is when I got to know Marc. He was there for me, he helped, he was creative, he was willing to make personal sacrifices, he earned my trust and my loyalty then.
A few years later when Marc took over our hotel in Fort Walton Beach one could see the real measure of his hotel expertise. JFK was a very difficult hotel market. The fact is that after Marc left that hotel we went through seven GMs and not one of them could handle that hotel. But it was when he came to Fort Walton Beach that you could see his real talent. He took a diamond in the rough and made it a golden goose.
Marc was the consummate hotel person. I do not claim to know all the industry top people but I have met over the last 16 years many who would claim to be great hotel leaders. Not one of them came close to Marc’s inherent intuitive, strong understanding of the living and breathing organism called a hotel. He knew every vein, understood every nick and had solutions to all challenges.
Marc was not a young man in the traditional limited biological sense, but his brain, behavior and creativity put to shame many young people. It is said that as we grow old we take change badly and resist it. Marc thrived on it. I think he would be restless if it was not for the fact that we constantly were changing, moving renewing and bettering ourselves.
During the last two years Marc and I devoted our life to La Torretta Del Lago Resort & Spa. We spent so much time, so much thought and put into it our vision. The fact that this beautiful resort recently received the AAA 4-Diamond distinction was the crown glory of our achievements and will always be there to the glory of Marc.
Throughout the years I knew that Marc was not alone in his endeavors. I am a son of parents who worked together in the same business and my memories of this experience are not positive so I am generally against it when a couple works together. For years I chose to ignore the fact that Colleen was very much part of Marc and his work. During our work on this project Marc and I worked very very close. Closer than ever before. He was not in a remote hotel with me visiting once a week or so. We were together. I now appreciate how important Colleen was to him and how inseparable they were. Colleen was part of Marc and part of his success.
On July 7, 2008 I was with Marc when he received the call from the doctor telling him that the fluid in the lung contained malignant cells. Colleen was in Cleveland taking Juliana back home. I saw his face turn ashen. I went to hold him to let him know that he was not alone. A year later to the date he left us alone. He did that calmly, collectively nearly elegantly with Colleen at his side.
If ever there was a soul that deserved to rest in peace Marc’s is that soul. He was always kind to everyone, he never harmed anyone. If there is something on the other side it is clear to me that Marc is already a major part of it. I am sure he is already working to make it better and more interesting. The other side just received a major reinforcement player and their gain is our loss.
Marc worked for me for a good few years before I ever knew that he was Jewish. He never used that or pushed that in my face. I would like to finish by saying a few words from the traditional prayer that one says in Israel on sad occasions like this. The prayer is called H’Gomel. The one who relieves. It is in reference to God’s relieving the person from his pain and suffering.
That prayer is said by a close family relative and I had the misfortune to have to say it only once in my life. Maybe I can say that I am fortunate to have said it only once in my entire life to-date. I was 20 years old and I said it in front of my father’s open grave. A very traumatic experience. I have prayed to God since then not to make me have to say this prayer again. I admit that the main focus of my prayers was my children. Let them say it on me rather than the reverse. But here I am today and I feel the need to quote at least a short part of that prayer.
By the way I forgot to mention that Marc was a gifted speaker. He could stand here today and wing a tremendous speech and we would never know that he just did it on the spur of the moment. I am not like this. I had to write it down and I had to speak it out in order to be able to deliver it this morning. In doing so I tried to say these few words in Hebrew before translating them but I could not. I simply could not control my tears when saying them so I am not going to try and say them in Hebrew.
Here is my free translation of the final words of the H’Gomel prayer:
HE WHO BRINGS PEACE TO HIS HEAVENS HE WILL MAKE PEACE ON US AND ON ALL OF ISRAEL – AMEN.
In Memory of Mike Kauffman
The last few weeks were pretty hard even on me. Writing these two farewells in a space of a week is emotionally very draining. I was not sure I could do it again after last Friday. And what I did do probably does not do justice to Mike but I will do my best.
On Friday June 5th at about 7:00 am I had a call on my cell phone. It was Mike’s cell phone. I knew it must be a problem. Mike never called me. He usually sent me e-mails. My first thought was that there was a fire at the resort. Why? I am not sure. I come from an insurance background so that is the kind of issue that I thought would make Mike call me at 7:00 am.
As you all know it was not a fire, at least not a physical one.
I answered the phone and the police detective told me the news. I was so surprised, so shocked that I responded by asking him “are you sure?” What was I thinking? That he will say to me “you know what let me check again” and come back and say “oh no it was a mistake he has not deceased?” Unfortunately I was not thinking and this was not a mistake. The shock was unbelievable, unbearable.
Mike started working for me in October 1998. I was flying back from Israel to the US so I was not there when he started. He lasted one day. By the time he finished hearing stories of how bad I am he decided to leave. .
I guess he reconsidered because when I did make it back he met with me and decided that after all I can not be as bad as his predecessor told him I am, and he lasted nearly 11 years. It took Mike time. He never made rush decisions or made his mind up quickly. He was methodical and systematic. Once he made up his mind he was nearly stubborn about it. So it took him time but he became a true believer in our cause.
I am a hard worker and I spend many hours working every day of the week, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. I do not pride myself or judge myself or others based on the hours that I or they work. However I will say that I probably put in more hours than everyone else. The “probably” is only due to the doubts I had regarding this statement when it came to Mike.
Mike was very hard working, always on the job always working always there to answer an e-mail question or an urgent need by phone. If there was anyone that put more hours in than me, it was Mike.
Throughout the years I tried to convince Mike to take off weight. There were talks, there were suggestions, I even offered him a financial deal whereby he would get paid so much money for each pound he would take off on a long term basis. We all know that if anything could convince Mike, money was it. But it did not work.
Mike was a CPA and was very careful to mainatin this title. It was important to him. He knew tax and he new accounting but there was nothing he knew more about than spreadsheets. When we needed to anaylze a new deal it was Mike to the fore. When we needed to do a projection Mike was the man. The speed with which he woud do that was almost too fast. I remember many happy days with Mike, Marc and I sitting usually over weekends in the office and anaylzing deals, working on spread sheets looking at what Mike was doing and he doing it at the speed of light. I will miss those momnents. They were precious and they were what made us D… B… S….
I remember many sleepless nights analyzing with Mike the various alternatives that we had in the negotitions with the Union in NY. I would leave him with the tasks to do and by the time I woke up and got ready to go to my negotiations with the unions he would have the results for me. One time he had to work through the night and came to me wth some questions when I was in the exercize room at the JFK hotel. Mike was wearing just an undershirt and shorts. It was not a pretty site I can tell you that!!! But he was there still awake all night doing the job because I needed it in the moring for my session with the unions.
JFK supplied us with lots of work and when our renovation in 2006 got into trouble again Mike and I were sitting every weekend and preparing the construction schedules, the budgets the coordination, talking to Marc on the phone calling John Cooper at Fort Walton Beach and Mike was always there, dependable, patient and willing to take the chllange on.
I think we all knew that in his heart of hearts Mike was not at peace with himself. He came to me only about 2 years ago and confessed that he was gay. He was so uncomfortable that he defined it as non-practicing gay. He knew that I do not care, he knew that I have a gay son that I freely speak about, it is no big deal, it is nothing. But he could not all these years be comfotable enough with himself to be able to admit it officially. I think he felt better about it after he did tell me. We were then already consumed in this large project that we all spent so much time on and so much of ourself in. He died while still consumed in this project.
In the last few months Mike excelled in what he was doing. This was not an easy time for him and for us from a buisness point of view but he found interest, drive and a new challenge in what he was doing. He was the most content and happy that I ever knew him.
Our relationship had its ups and downs but got better over the years. It is such a great pity that it was when Mike, after all these years, was happiest in what he was doing that his heart gave in.
May his soul rest in peace.