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Bedding A Celebrity Chef

Here's what you want to consider when seeking a noted partner for your hotel's F&B program.

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Francine Cohen
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As hoteliers embracing serious F&B programs you realize that (or at least designed it so that) guests visit your property as much for your dining options as your sleeping rooms.

With this in mind there are all sorts of things to consider when creating new dining concepts; particularly when it involves bringing in outside talent who bring their own spotlight with them thanks to the popularity of their existing restaurants and, often, television exposure. Certainly tapping that celebrity chef and/or existing concept to your hotel is a calculated move you hope results in dining dollars flocking to and staying on property because you’re offering guests something they already crave.

Finding the right name chef or concept to allow you to achieve that goal is an interesting process that requires some thoughtful consideration of your F&B philosophy. And due diligence. Most likely you wouldn’t marry someone without getting to know them well first, so why partner with someone who won’t see eye to eye and deliver your anticipated results. Your guests won’t be happy. Neither will you.

Keeping guests and the bottom line happy was the goal at Revel, the newest boardwalk hotel to go up in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The approach there was to stock their sit down dining options with, as the website notes, “A curated collection of Iron Chefs, Michelin chefs, James Beard Award-winning chef, and concepts from New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Names like Alain Allegretti, Marc Forgione, José Garces, Michel Richard, are familiar ones to diners from Atlantic City feeder markets, making the promise of success almost a guarantee.

At Atlantis, Paradise Island, expanding upon a known entity was also a recipe for success; though this time it was about a restaurant group, not a chef. Virgil’s, a down-home bbq concept from the folks who serve up Italian food family style at Carmine’s and deli at Artie’s, is now offered as a result of extending the existing, and satisfying, partnership. Ian Reid, SVP of Food & Beverage explains how and why the relationship with Alicart restaurant group has expanded to satisfy guests, “My team and I evaluated what cuisines were currently being offered at Atlantis and identified Virgil’s Real BBQ as the perfect way to incorporate a dining experience that we didn’t offer anywhere on property. It was important to craft a mouth-watering dining menu that would be familiar to our guests and to add another great value option to our Atlantis meal plans.”

He continues, “Virgil’s Real BBQ is being developed in the old space that was home to the Waters Edge restaurant for many years. The new Virgil’s Real BBQ at Atlantis will consist of an 11,000 square-foot indoor space and a 3,000 square-foot outdoor patio. Noted interior architect and designer, Jeffrey Beers, translated the restaurant’s road-trip concept into an authentically Southern space centered around an 18-ft tall copper beer tap tower and social bar scene unlike anything else on-property. The Waters Edge space is the ideal spot to embark on a new culinary milestone between Atlantis and Alicart that will benefit guests and locals alike with a unique culinary concept that offers great food and exceptional value.

Value on both sides was a driver for Alicart to get more involved on the island resort. Jeffrey Bank, CEO Alicart Restaurant Group, comments on the existing partnership, “It’s an incredible opportunity for Virgil’s. Kerzner is a great company and the Atlantis is an incredible resort to partner with. After having our Carmine’s restaurant open for six years now at the Atlantis, it was an easy decision for us to partner again with Atlantis for another culinary adventure. We are excited to be a part of the largest BBQ restaurant in the Caribbean, (maybe even North America) with 650 seats, indoor and outdoor dining and private dining rooms.”

Though the dining room may be vast, it’s not so big that the intimacy of a productive working relationship gets lost in the shuffle. Bank explains why he brought another one of his sold out concepts to the Caribbean resort, “Our relationship is the strength of each other’s brands. Atlantis has proven to be a great partner over the last couple years. Very similar to Atlantis we have the same core ideals in value and striving for perfection for families, food and service. The Atlantis has a saying in customer service to “blow the guest away” and Alicart has a saying for the guest to experience “The WOW Factor” of Carmine’s and Virgil’s.”

Chef José Andrés has a reputation for impressing with his restaurants, giving the SLS group one strong reason to collaborate with him. Matt Erickson, VP of Restaurant Operations for sbe, notes, “Having an opportunity to work with a talent like José is truly a privilege. Beyond being one of the planet’s culinary icons, he’s just a wildly artistic man whose sensibilities can have such a profound impact. In addition to his meticulous approach to cuisine, he’s just as meticulous operationally which makes him such a great collaborator.”

The operational prowess that Andres possesses is what enticed the hotel group to ask the chef to serve as the culinary director at their South Beach property where they’ve counted on him to put his unique and innovative stamp on the SLS Hotel South Beach’s breakfast, lunch and in-room dining programs, thereby touching guests staying at the hotel as well as the locals.

Atlantis’ ongoing partnership with Alicart achieves the same goal. Says Reid, “Virgil’s Southern barbeque concept, with an exclusive family-style twist, will not just appeal to Atlantis guests, but will also find echoes in the local Bahamian market. The potential to reach two key consumer groups of Atlantis was a key contributor to the final decision.”

Finding a way two satisfy these two groups - the temporary guest and the local diner who could give your restaurant a top spot on their regular rotation - is worth considering. It’s what drives all f&b planning for the SLS group and why they carefully consider utilizing the expertise and skills of someone like Andrés while tapping internal ideas and staff at the same time. Erickson notes, “We’re not limited by one approach or another. Since day one, José has been so much more that the brilliant chef that he is. He’s been integral to the SLS Hotels brand overall and also like family to those of us at sbe that have worked so closely with him. On the other hand, you have Chef Danny Elmaleh who’s evolved into a rising star with concepts like Cleo and Mercato di Vetro as a pivotal member of the sbe Restaurant Group. For us, it’s about creating relationships with passionate individuals who share our vision and love for hospitality.”

Deciding to bring in a familiar face or name restaurant that people already flock to can be a “yes or no” question; deciding why and who, takes a whole lot more consideration.
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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