What you may want to consider when courting a celebrity chef or existing concept
By Francine Cohen

Undoubtedly, hiring a celebrity chef or bringing on a familiar concept to be a spotlight restaurant on property is a calculated move. One designed to leverage their popularity and benefit from their exposure and ability to draw in guests. Finding the right name brand chef or restaurant group to partner with your hotel can be an interesting process and requires quite a bit of consideration in terms of how you are going to run your f&b program and what you want to represent to the outside world when people think of dining with you.

Bringing that known entity on board can be a very good idea that results in a mutually beneficial partnership, but, as always advised before getting into bed with someone, doing your due diligence makes the decision an even better idea. And one that will enable you to insure your partnership is in keeping with your brand’s philosophy.

At the family friendly resort, Atlantis, Paradise Island (www.atlantis.com), a new restaurant came on board (Virgil’s – www.virgilsbbq.com) that was an extension of an existing, and satisfying, partnership. Ian Reid, SVP of Food & Beverage explains how and why the relationship with Alicart restaurant group (www.alicart.com) 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.”

This new addition went into an old restaurant space that existed on the property. Virgil’s took over where the Waters Edge restaurant left off, offering diners an indoor space that’s 11,000 square feet and a 3,000 square-foot outdoor patio. Reid describes, “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.” He describes the location as, “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.”

Virgil’s sister restaurant, Carmine’s, was already a compelling part of the Atlantis culinary picture with its signature family style menu. 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.”(www.carminesnyc.com)

Bank explains why he came back to Atlantis with another one of his sold out concepts and how he expects to keep expectations and satisfaction high, “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.” To insure this happens both Atlantis and Virgil’s have been rotating staff to acclimate training the staff to the Virgil’s concept. Bank explains, “Virgil’s will send chefs down on a two year rotation to support the staff on quality of food. Every month in addition, a member of our opps team from NY will visit.”

Creating that sort of seamless and top level experience is also the goal in Miami where
Chef José Andrés, known around the world for wow-ing guests in his restaurants (www.thinkfoodgroup.com), was invited to join the culinary efforts at SLS hotel group as their culinary director (www.slshotels.com). 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.”

Collaborating on this level means that the hotel can create an atmosphere that Erickson describes as one that, “comes without the ‘velvet rope’, making guests feel welcome to discover and explore our concepts without worrying about whether or not they’re on a list. It gives us an opportunity to create something timeless as opposed to trendy.” With the chef helming this effort, putting his unique and innovative stamp on the SLS Hotel South Beach’s breakfast, lunch and in-room dining programs, the hotel is counting on touching guests staying at the hotel as well as the locals.

Alicart and Atlantis thrive together in their abilities to touch guests who sleep at the resort as well as the ones who stop in just for barbeque. 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.”

Like their colleagues at Atlantis, the f&b powers that be at Atlantic City’s newest hotel, Revel, made a similar decision when they cultivated a boldfaced list of concepts and names to offer to their guests’ dining options; names like Allegretti, Forgione, Garces, and Richard.

Celebrity chefs, award winners, proven successes all have their own appeal. Deciding whether to embrace a known entity may seem like an easy decision, but in reality, unlike reality television, isn’t just about a familiar face.