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Destination Dining

Driving the locavore message home

Monday, September 19, 2011
Francine Cohen
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When Hurricane Irene swept her way up the Eastern Seaboard earlier this month it forced everyone to pretty much stay put. Though this forced quiet time may not have been exactly the vacation that those staying overnight at the Andaz Fifth Avenue had planned, one couldn’t get on their plane home saying they didn’t have a true New York experience. This is all thanks to the food & beverage program cultivated by General Manager Jonathan Frolich, who has embraced the brand’s mandate to live local and offers his guests a genuine taste of New York.

Frolich has been with the hotel since it opened last year and is a driving force behind the hotel’s dining and drinking outlets that are intended to fulfill guests’ needs as well as draw in area residents. In creating the shop (the Fifth Avenue-facing restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a retail outlet stocked with locally produced delicacies) and the bar downstairs (a subterranean cocktail haven/dining haven featuring a shared plates menu and designed with comfort and rugged sophistication in mind) he says, “We deliberately curated freestanding outlets that we think can compete with the best cocktail bars and restaurants in New York City.”

He notes that their success in drawing in a New York and New York-loving crowd is “not just by circumstance, but based upon ongoing strategies and tactics. We look at the full year’s menus and break them down by season so that they resonate with stories of New York farms with which we have collaborations.”

Finding the almost 40 food vendors and farmers with whom they collaborate to create a defining New York food experience came via much research and (don’t be jealous) a lot of taste testing.

“Chef and I love food and often go out for a meal and a few cocktails to see what’s doing elsewhere,” Frolich explains. “We find innovation and creativity in many areas; for instance, retail shops or galleries that might not be typical F&B venues inspire us. We started off designing the restaurant and bar based on some simple fundamentals – we wanted local food to drive everything. We spent time visiting farms and I’ve milked cows. We wanted to put our money where our mouth was.”

He continues, “When we first started I asked our designer, Tony Chi, to share with us his ideas about who in town were the single best purveyors in their category; best cheese cake, pastrami, smoked fish, pickle guys, etc. And we took a road trip around New York City to begin sourcing. It was a long process diving into the types of products we wanted and determining who the great purveyors were. It was a process of elimination that took a long time and there were no shortcuts.”

What Frolich did in his single (yet long) day of research was put together a collection of the city’s best food offerings for his guests, allowing them to have a local experience without having to experience the effort it takes to go from shop to shop, farm to farm. He comments, “In addition to the menu we built the shop’s retail items around the same local philosophy as well. You’re staying with us and so, while you may not be able to go upstate for jams, we have. And we have them for you.”

It’s that sort of unexpected availability that allows Frolich to deliver on his guests’ desire to touch their location and have a sense of place.

“In order to really fulfill the promise of freshness how can you get something shipped from around the world?” he said. “Local relevance is imperative to what our particular guest is looking for in their experience.”

Though you may not have to entertain your guests with stories of the local dairy farmer’s antics in order to take their mind off the pounding hurricane outside the hotel’s windows it is still never a bad idea to stock your pantry and gift shop with local foodstuffs that will forever connect them to their stay. Here are Frolich’s thoughts on how to do it right, hurricane or no hurricane, in New York City or anywhere else in the world:

1) You can't just come in here and copy and paste. When we're talking about local you've got to be local.

2) Will this work in Wisconsin? Yes, with Wisconsin products. You've got to be relevant to your location.

3) While local is important you have to think about your customer and what they want and how. For example, think about what the food and beverage strengths are in your area; while our menu is 100 percent local our wine list is just 2 percent local wines.

4) Integrate other disciplines in the hotel besides just food. For instance, from a design perspective it’s great if you’d like to support local and up and coming artisans.

Francine Cohen    Francine Cohen
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Francine Cohen is hotelinteractive.com’s editor. She covers the notable people, news and trends that make the hospitality world so vibrant. Recent guest judge appearances at the Cape May Food & Wine Festival Iron Chef competition and Saborea Culinary Festival in Puerto Rico have led to ongoing speaking engagements. ...
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