YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable 2015

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I spent the past week in Orlando, FL with an inspiring group of CEOs from the food and beverage industry. The roundtable is a once a year gathering of presidents involved in or interested in the industry. The network consists of over 1800 leaders doing everything from farming to production to distribution to food service/restaurants. It cuts across industries, from my world of beer, wine and spirits into the vast world of food (we merged the Global Beer, Wine and Spirits network with the Food & Beverage Network in 2013), so the network is truly from Farm to Fork and from Grape to Glass. A roundtable of thoughtful leaders from so many diverse areas is as much about learning from each other as it is the specific resources and education programming.   I come away from my 7th such meeting with a renewed vigor for pursuing my business and life goals, and an appreciation for the many friendships, old and new, I have through YPO. Here are some of the highlights:

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I’ll start with the integration of outstanding dining experiences with world-class beverages. We enjoyed a beautifully done dinner at Il Mulino at the Walt Disney World Swan (Walt Disney World Swan, 1200 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32830). Il Mulino is world famous and their flagship restaurant in Greenwich Village remains top rated in New York’s elite dining scene. The Orlando Trattoria version is well executed. Of course, the making of a perfect meal is all about pairing the right flavors with each other and with the right beverages. Banfi Vintners, one of the largest importers of wine and a major producer of Italian wines was the perfect resource for our evening. I’d like to give a special shout out to Bill Whiting, Wine Education Director from Banfi who gave a delightful narrative to the wines and business as we progressed throughout the evening. All of the pairings were enjoyable, but my personal favorite was the 2009 Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino with Primo Piatto Tagliatelle (Lamb Ragu, Mirepoix, Pecornino). Wow.

menulogo-BLK il mulino Orlando dining room IMG_4969 IMG_5013

We went in a completely different direction at Fulton’s Crab House (A YPO company, Levy Restaurants) and a thoroughly enjoyable evening of one of Oregon’s greatest wine producers, Sokal Blosser. A special shout out to YPO member and winery leader, Alison Sokal Blosser who not only educated our group on the Oregon wine business and her wines, but entertained us with personal stories growing up in the vineyards in a wine family.   As a Pinot Noir fanatic, I was certainly in my element as Alison shared their outstanding 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and then dipped into the very limited production Goosepin block 2010 and 2011. Capping off the evening was a special treat of her 2013 Dessert Riesling. It was, on the whole, an enjoyable evening interacting with members.

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On our final evening together, we were able to visit member and Chef John Metz Jr.’s Marlow’s Tavern. As they describe it “Marlow’s Tavern features the “Best of the Best” in American tavern fare served in a modern atmosphere.” I would call it a modern gastro pub and simply a great place to enjoy high quality food in a very relaxed atmosphere. John and his partners now have 13 Marlow’s in Atlanta and 2 in Orlando. Craft cocktails accompanied the expertly executed appetizers and my friends at the Belhaven Brewery from Scotland provided us with some Belhaven Black Stout and Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA.

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From Marlow’s we moved on to a tequila pairing dinner at the vibrant (one might say ROCKIN!) Rocco’s Tacos. Our friends at Brown-Forman were the perfect partner as we enjoyed a full range of their Casa Herradura tequilas. Thanks to both Michael Ring and Greg Stewart of Brown Forman. The tequilas matched the courses nicely but the final offering of Selección Suprema Extra Anejo, aged 49 months on oak was spectacular. This is a true sipping tequila.

IMG_5008roccos tacos

The educational aspects of the meeting were a mix of in industry (Food & Beverage) and outside industry but all focused on “president level” education. In other words how do I perform better as a president and how do I make my organization more effective. I share here a few non-confidential highlights from the many outstanding educational sessions:

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  • Celebrity Chef and Top Chef season 11 fan favorite Nina Compton, gave a personal account of her journey as a chef from growing up in St. Lucia to chopping carats in the back of kitchens to a becoming major TV celebrity. I have had the opportunity to enjoy the four-star food at Scarpetta in the Fontainebleau where Nina was chef de cuisine until June 2014. She has a great energy and I cannot wait to try her new restaurant she is opening soon. Details to come once it is announced!
  • We had an only in YPO discussion on family business with four leaders from YPO companies who are all in the same family. It was fascinating watch their interaction and how they have tackled the jugular issues any family business faces in success and succession.
  • WPO member, industry leader (and recent National Restaurant Association Chair) and Executive Chairman of Miller’s Ale House, Phil Hickey gave us compelling insights into the election results and the importance of each of us to be involved politically. There are a lot of bad for business movements that are well organized and need to be countered by the people that actually create the businesses that support jobs and the economy. If we don’t do it who will?
  • A leading expert in risk management, Richard Shanks of Aon Risk Solutions, gave a compelling if not disturbing talk on the risks to the food supply and what leaders in industry are doing to mitigate and prevent problems. This is a topic that anyone in the food and beverage business at every level (farming, production, retailing, serving) need to be knowledgeable in and prepared for.
  • Richard Van Warner of the Parquet Group, a leading restaurant consulting firm, gave a talk that brought the risks of not handling a problem, in a timely and well-considered way, to life. His war stories and examples of what not to do were entertaining and at the same time a wake up call to everyone in the room.
  • If we did not have enough to be concerned about with the food supply risks and the PR issues in handling problems, the truly scary world of cyber security came to life in Tom Noonan’s talk. Noonan is Chairman of Tessentee Capital and a WPO member, and has had a lot of experience dealing with cyber threats. His deep dive into the Target fiasco was telling. People are involved in every business. People are the biggest risk. In many cases, the very basic, simple steps that can be taken, and need to be taken to encrypt sensitive data and manage the outside access to the web, are simply ignored. Any company leader not taking this serious threat at the CEO level is risking not only their job, but their company.
  • The recent changes President Obama has made with regard to Cuba, has made it a very interesting topic indeed. We enjoyed a briefing by business intelligence experts Javier Ortiz and Marty Martin of Crane & Crane Consulting. The bottom line is Cuba is opening up, but there is a lot of uncertainty on how fast. It has unique potential as a destination for Americans with its close proximity to the US, natural beaches and friendly people. I think there will be a lot of investment flowing into Cuba from all over the world as the relations with the US continue to normalize.
  • Marshall Chiles of Humor Wins gave us a methodology for injecting humor into our presentations. It was a fun (and humorous) walk through the mind of the comedian. I don’t think any of us will give up our day jobs, but the approach he shared can certainly liven up our presentations. Thanks Marshall!
  • Our behind the scenes tour of Disney’s EPCOT Center “Land Exhibit” was interesting. EPCOT has had a sustainable farming operation for over 25 years and continues to do extensive research on best practices. With the world’s population growing at the current pace, it is clear that food supply and conservation of clean water is going to be among the biggest concerns going forward. I don’t think enough people are thinking about this or doing anything to prepare for it. I’m glad Disney is playing some part and I hope they think of more ways in which to spread the word.

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  • We had an interesting talk from a senior executive at Disney, Elizabeth Ann Williams General manager F&B for Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Walk Disney World Resort -who shared the “DISNEY WAY” = Safety, Courtesy, Efficiency and Show.   Her passion for the EPCOT Food & Wine Experience was great to see, as it is one of the coolest events in our industry and Elizabeth had a hand in its creation.
  • Michael Pavone, a friend and YPO member, gave us an updated summary of his “Trends in Food & Beverage” report his agency puts together annually. It is always an interesting check on the pulse of what is happening in F&B.
  • In her “inside the mind of the millennial woman” (my title), Cindy Judge of Sterling-Rice Group shared insights and observations of the largest generation to date, that is increasingly driving decision making globally. As the father of three millennials and one of whatever comes after that, her research rang true. Anyone leading a business, who does not take into account this generation and their ways of making decisions around brands and life, does so at their own peril.

 

3 or 4 Cornellians at YPO F&B 2015

3 of 4 Cornellians at YPO F&B 2015

As always, the biggest benefit of YPO comes from the interaction and learning among the members. As event champion for the 2016 F & B Roundtable in Napa Valley, CA, I’m looking forward to putting another world-class program together to build upon this year’s successful event.

My 2015 Superbowl Ad Recap

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That was a great Super Bowl! Well, as great a game as it could be without the Colts in it. That said, I’m sure many of you joined me watching the actual big game – the commercials. I did not evaluate every one, but the most notable discussions (I posted on Facebook and Twitter as the night went on and had lots of interesting interaction) I recap below.

My comments denoted with @smokewallin. Where others commented or tweeted I list their Twitter handle.

Interesting Comments and Un-categorized:

@smokewallin: Pretty close.. RT @jack_welch: Product Managers….every day try to design a perfect product like NFL

@smokewallin: Really? RT @adage: Whoa RT @LoctiteGlue Hey, @BUDWEISER! Stop bidding on our ad keywords. Love, Loctite

@smokewallin: Wix.com websites.. Farve & Carve… nice ad! Worked

Farve & Carve

NASCAR

@smokewallin: Nice @NASCAR @nbc ad at end… @DISupdates coming soon! #SuperBowl #superbowlcommercials

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BUDWEISER:

The horses saving the puppy from wolves was beautifully done.  There was a lot of push back from the craft beer world on the This BUD’S FOR YOU slaming craft beer. My sentiment was ABI (Anheier-Busch Inbev) is simply playing to their strength and their core audience with the through-back ad.   The PacMan ad for Budlight did not work for me though.

@smokewallin:Big Beer fights back Craft beer .. @Budweiser “Let them sip their Pumpkin, Peach Ale we’ll be brewing golden suds” nicely done4 target!

This buds for you This Buds for you horse

@smokewallin: I think @Budweiser bringing back old school works better than Pacman @budlight hard to see how it connects #upforanything #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: Play to your strength? RT @businessinsider: People are slamming Budweiser ad that mocks craft beer http://read.bi/1BR2DGF 

@smokewallin: Play your strength? RT @adage: Look what came back at the #SuperBowl: An old slogan http://trib.al/oYGzM1N 

Here is one example of the craft beer world reaction from the Ashley V Routson aka “BeerWench”

https://twitter.com/TheBeerWench Hazzah ‪#craftbeer! Budweiser has officially admitted to being threatened by us, albeit passive aggressively though a Super Bowl commercial.

Soft Drinks

Coca-Cola a big win with their positive message. Love the reply to negative tweets and see message. Oh and thanks for the retweet Coke! Pepsi with their half time extravaganza with Katy Perry did well. Most seemed to like the show and it was well executed.

@smokewallin: Coca-Cola #makeithappy nice sentiment. #superbowlcommercials

@smokewallin: Thx RT @CocaCola: @SmokeWallin #MakeItHappy is more than a # Reply 2 negative Tweets + see! http://bit.ly/1BgZw8b 

Coke happyimages-4

AUTOS

Fiat had the best ad, hands down. The little blue pill told a whole story in a short spot. Loved it! Liked the Harry Chapin ad (and song), but the message might be mixed up a bit… I expected the kids to leave at end and become a race driver, just as the dad was hanging it up – it would have matched the story of the song. Mercedes-Benz tortoise and the hare was cute and effective.

@smokewallin: The @FIATUSA 500 and the little blue pill… told a whole story.. nicely done! #SuperBowl commercials

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Mercedes-Benz USA nice touch on old tortoise and hare fable.. tortoise gets the “girl”.. cute

@smokewallin: Nissan Kid growing up with Racing dad while Harry Chapin Cats In the Cradle plays… worked #superbowlcommercials

nissan racing growing up

@smokewallin: This land was made for you and me.. @Jeep Nice touch making it international! @FIATUSA #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: Ok, Being a Dad… @Toyota USA hits home… Nice.. but did all these companies discuss the Dad theme? #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: concur RT @adage: We’ve reached Peak Dad with that one. #withdad @nissan #SuperBowlads

@smokewallin: the BMW i3 ad with Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric flash back to what is the internet was cute. #superbowlcommercials

Fast Company @FastCompany @BMW‘s #SuperBowl ad takes @katiecouric and Bryant Gumbel back in time: http://f-st.co/t3jR3wa  by @jeffcbeer

katie and bryant - BMW electric

The Kia ad with Pierce Bronson was actually pretty good as well.

Insurance

Nationwide was a fail mainly because it was such a serious ad and using a horrible thought like losing a child to an accident did not fit Superbowl. The American Family Insurance ad with Jennifer Hudson was cute, but pretty short and kind of got lost.

@smokewallin: Didn’t like Nationwide Insurance kid who will never grow up- I get it but not really mood of the Superbowl to me. #SuperBowl commercial

 

Medicine and Soap:

Dove was a great feeling ad, but kind of letdown when it got to the product. Jublia did not work and was not cleaver.

Dove

@smokewallin: exactly RT @marcmalkin: That dad’s commercial was good until they showed it was for soap. Kinda killed the emotional buzz #SuperBowl

 Jublia

@smokewallin: Jublia… uhm.. no. #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: My sentiment… ugh RT @adage: Talk about turf toe. @kenwheaton gives Jublia commercial 1.5 stars.

jublia toe

Vegas – Insights, Casinos, Fine Dining, Nightlife, Zappos & Adventure

Vegas collage ypo jan 2015

There is something about Vegas that brings everything good and bad in America front and center. Though I’ve been many times, my adventure in Vegas last week was extraordinary. It combined the expected – great restaurants, nightlife and gambling with the unexpected – awe inspiring nature, mind blowing business culture, and valuable take home business insights.

First, renting a house off the strip was a first for me. We used AirBnB and had a 7 bedroom mansion that was a little dated (furniture/fixtures) but was perfect for a group that wants to spend quality time together and have options away from the Casinos. The back and forth was a 10 minute ride and really no issue for anything we wanted to do. I would rent the place again in a second and if you want the link to the house, just contact me.

I’ll bet most of you who have gone to Vegas never leave the strip. That was my feeling until a few years ago I visited (and got married in) the Valley of Fire State Park and well, wow. So now it is a must to get out of town and enjoy the incredible nature surrounding Las Vegas itself. Hiking in the Red Rock Canyon Park is a must do and only about 25 minutes away. Further out is the Valley of Fire (60 min) but well worth the ride. We opted for an ATV ride through the park, which was exciting and enjoyable. We had some nice stops along the way to take in the beauty in between our daredevil ride. Kudos to Adrenaline ATV Tours! –They have a totally professional and cool staff and great equipment made it enjoyable all around. I highly recommend them.

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The week of my visit there were many conventions in the city, but the two most notable were the Shot Show with 67,000 attendees and the Adult Entertainment Expo with 25,000 attendees. The SHOT Show® is the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show and Conference for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting accessories industry. The AEE is well, if you don’t know I won’t discuss it here. Naked people shooting guns you might ask? You can be the judge of what is good or bad, but it is indisputably interesting.

Vegas has arguably the highest concentration of fine dining anywhere in the world. I visited several of note:

  • Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan- I agree with their own description: “Touted aestiatorio-miloss one of North America’s finest Greek restaurants, Estiatorio Milos by restaurateur Costas Spiliadis features fine Mediterranean cuisine at its best and has a longstanding reputation for serving the freshest, most pristine seafood imported daily in New York City and Montreal.” My group did family style and enjoyed everything served. Appitizers of particular note – The grilled Octopus and Greek Meze Plate with Tarama, Tzatziki, Htipiti, manouri cheese, olives & cherry tomatoes blew us away.images-3
  • Katsuya at the SLS Las Vegas- Their description “KATSUYA MARRIES MASTER SUSHI CHEF KATSUYA UECHI’S FRESH TAKES ON JAPANESE CLASSICS WITH DESIGN ICON PHILIPPE STARCK’S SLEEK AND SULTRY INTERIORS.” Among the top sushi restaurants in the country, I put it right up with Nobu, Sushi Ran and our regular favorite Sushi Den.
  • Rao’s at Caesar’s Palace- As they describe it “Step in to a legendary institution—or at least the Vegas offshoot—when visiting Rao’s. The original Rao’s in New York City opened in 1896 and is one of the oldest family owned restaurants in the city, and at 12 tables, is one of the hardest places to get into.” Great family style Italian. Particular favorites include the Sausage & Peppers, Meatballs, the Roasted Red Peppers and the Penne Ala Vodka. Everything is solid and traditional.
  • Buddy V’s Restorante at the Venetian- As they describe it “Buddy Valastro, of TLC’s Cake Boss, has brought his first restaurant to Las Vegas at The Venetian. Buddy V’s Ristorante, a partnership with veteran restaurateurs Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla, is inspired by Valastro’s family gatherings and features recipes passed down from his mother, grandmother and aunts.” Well worth the trip!

Our nightlife included visits to The Sayers Club for live music (awesome) and LIFE for craziness (also awesome in a different way) both at The SLS Casino Vegas as well as a great comedy show at the Flamingo by Vinnie Favorito. Don’t go if you are easily offended, he literally offends everyone, every race, religion, size, shape, origin or whatever. By the end, it would be hard to be mad as he left no stone unturned in his attacks. Its quite an enjoyable show and highly recommended.

zappos logo

One of the coolest things I’ve done in Vegas to date was to visit the offices of Zappos, the online shoe company bought by Amazon in 2009 (I know the date well as I won a prize for remembering the date from the video presentation). Zappos made the reputation and built their business around uncompromising customer service. As they put it – “Customer Service Isn’t Just A Department!

We’ve been asked by a lot of people how we’ve grown so quickly, and the answer is actually really simple… We’ve aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible. Internally, we call this our WOW philosophy.”

We took the ZapposInsights Cultural Tour and added in the Q&A session. I’d like to give a special shout out to Erika Newman aka @ZCulture_Equine who guided our tour with ease and grace and to Jon Wolske aka the Evangelist @bassred who led our Q&A session warmly. The people really do believe in their motto and live their culture. Their core principles guide their every action and EVERYONE is empowered to make decisions as long as they are consistent with them.

zappos offices

Tony Hsieh the CEO is well known but here is a little background on his story: In 1999, at the age of 24, Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) sold LinkExchange, the company he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265 million. He then joined us as an advisor and investor, and eventually became CEO, where he helped us grow from almost no sales to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually, while simultaneously making Fortune magazines annual Best Companies to Work For list. In November 2009, Zappos.com, Inc. was acquired by Amazon.com in a deal valued at $1.2 billion on the day of closing.

I really found it interesting that the #1 hire was Fred Mossler from Nordstrom. Fred brought knowledge of the shoe business. But I can remember back at Cornell doing case studies on Nordstrom (formerly Nordstrom & Wallin but that is for another day) and their famous customer service. It was one of the most used examples in the 1980s of who to do retail right. In particular their shoe department was famous for service like no other. That Zappos is all about service and started in shoes has Fred’s Nordstrom finger prints all over it. Pretty cool how old school excellence inspired a next generation disruptor.

Here are the 10 core values:

Zappos Core Values

 

While it was infectious to be around such a motivated team, I don’t think this exact culture would work for many businesses. That said, their commitment to core principles, from top to bottom is a difference maker. Any organization that can distill its core values and get its entire work force believing in them (whatever they are) would out perform any normal organization. I think that is the critical insight that Zappos gives – if you can build a core team who all believe in the core values and remain true to them, you can do extraordinary things. Asked several times does the culture make the company or do the people make the it… we got the same answer from different people – they hire people that are consistent with their values. They DO NOT try to hire people and then change them to work within the Zappos culture. It really is all about fit at the front end or they don’t hire you. Simple yet powerful.

Going from next generation internet retailer with a cult like culture to one of the top luxury hospitality operators gave me further insight into what makes for excellence, in any industry. We had the good fortune to experience a VIP corporate tour of the Venetian and The Palazzo. What an incredible operation. These properties and the Sands Expo & Convention Center are the Las Vegas properties of Las Vegas Sands Corp (NYSE:LVS). The Venetian® Resort~Hotel~Casino and The Palazzo® Resort~Hotel~Casino are in addition to being the world’s largest Five Diamond rated resort, the properties offer not only luxury and entertainment but when combined with Sands® Expo and Convention Center, The Venetian | The Palazzo also make up the largest LEED certified building on the planet, a testament to our commitment to sustainability. As they describe it, their values are:

“Our integrated resorts have become premier destinations for travel enthusiasts around the world. Why do they insist on us? Because they know they can count on unmatched service, a luxurious atmosphere, and superb hospitality every time. They also know that at the heart of our company are unshakable values. We’re committed to listening to our guests and employees, to considering the environmental impact of our decisions, and to contributing to the well-being of the communities in which we do business.”

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The tour took us behind the scenes of an operation that not only has all the visible food and beverage offerings to customers but also serves over 3,500 employees as much as 3 meals a day. It is quite an operation and Executive Chef Olivier Dubreuil took his time explaining how they feed so many team members and serve such a large-scale operation. The large scale sous-vide (French for Under Vacuum) that enables them to slow cook meats slowly for banquets of 1000s of people was mind blowing. Thank you Chef for your commitment to excellence and the care you took explaining and showing us your operation.

John Caparella President and Chief Executive Officer, The Venetian| The Palazzo which along with the convention center and shopping mall form a $1.25 billion revenue business within Sands Corp, shared some of his personal insights into being successful in a luxury gaming operation. Its pretty basic, he said “I look at business as a 3 legged stool. They consist of customers, employees and profits. It only works if all three legs are solid and working together.” In other words, the customer is everything but that only works if your employees, the team that is responsible for serving them, are happy and bought into the mission of excellence. What follows when executed properly are profits. Here is an interview of John by his friend Chuck Wolfe on leadership and emotional intelligence. It was great spending time with John and his team! Thank you.

Well that’s all I may write about from Vegas… I hope you enjoyed and do let me know what you think.

 

Cheers

 

Smoke

 

Pubs, Cocktails & Restaurants – Adventures in NYC

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I keep thinking about what Tony Abou-Ganim shared about bartending being a legitimate, sought after profession today, from the transitional job it once was (see my post from January 13). It also made me think about how various hospitality businesses are run and if the ownership/management gets it. As I traveled over the past week, I had the opportunity to experience a wide range of incredible places. Here are some of my observations and thoughts on who “gets it” in New York City:

First an aside re New York itself… I’ve spent a lot of time in the City over the years. As a kid, I lived in Hoboken, NJ and would take the PATH into the City often. Yes that Hoboken, but it was WAY before it was cool or expensive! I remember the City being pretty tough and dirty.

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Wallin family in NYC circa 1980

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NYC circa 1980 taken by JSW

Visiting during my years at Cornell with my Long Island friends and then later in the early 1990s for business and meetings (mostly with Seagram), NYC was rough and dirty but still a blast. These were the Mayor David Dinkins years when NY was not functioning very well. Then came Mayor Giuliani and everything changed. The guys who would spit on your window as you came out of the tunnel were gone, the broken windows where boarded up, the trash was cleaned up. NYC fundamentally became a world-class city and was treating itself with respect. This continued throughout the 2000s under Mayor Bloomberg but toward the end, I thought I noticed some deterioration in the streets, more trash lying around etc. I was staying in the city during the 99% marches on Wall Street “Occupy Wall Street”. They all seemed pretty unfocused and I expected it to last weeks, which it did. I put all of this off to the downturn and not much else.

Fast forward to this past week in NYC… it is interesting and somewhat disturbing. The city is amazing and the hospitality industry, in which I inhabit, incredible as it has been for a long time. The new Freedom tower stands out to me as a symbol of strength and resilience.

Freedom Tower - NYC

Freedom Tower – NYC

However, I couldn’t help but notice how much trash was all over the streets. It also seemed like there 2015-01-20 09.38.03were more “street” people hanging about. I did not feel unsafe, but was wary nonetheless. NYC friends, is this just me or is it much worse than it has been? I can’t help but think the era of Mayor de Blasio is not starting out good for the city for lots of reasons. I do hope it is not a move back to the Dinkins years. That would be bad for everyone there and all of us who like to visit.

I had a series of meetings and a strategy planning session/workshop with a major international drinks client of mine. As part of this, I surveyed a number of accounts (doing my “work”). Here are a few that stood out:

  • The lobby lounge at the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Building is one of my favorites for experiencing NYC at the top. Literally, it looks down at Columbus Circle and out to Central Park. There are few better high-rise locations for a cocktail (or tea) and a majestic view. What struck me here was the new towers looking down over the Park., several, since the Iast time I can remember, that look incredible. Clearly the ultra 2015-01-21 12.38.18high-end condo market is thriving. One went recently for $100.5 million, I wonder how much this 2015-01-21 11.46.26is Russian, Chinese and other international buyers? The lounge itself has an air of sophistication and elegance. Even though I spend a lot of time in places like this and I worked at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, it still makes me a little cautious and aware of my dress and my party’s behavior. Service was efficient if not warm. Cocktails and beverages all prepared to perfection. Nothing really to complain about here (prices aside, but if you complain about those, you don’t belong). Along the lines of one of my favorites, the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram building, a must stop for anyone wanting elegant, high end NY.
  • Cambell Apartment – Grand Central Station – cool lounge tucked away behind Cipriani’s in Grand Central. I have actually been next to it no less than 50 times and yet never knew it was there. It seems all my friends did, so I’m not sure how they kept it a secret from me. As long as you don’t mind a jam packed bar at 6pm on a Tuesday, a 2015-01-20 18.04.54short wait for a table and a loud atmosphere this is a cool spot with a rich history and an incredible architectural setting.   Service was right on time, even as busy as it was. For more intimate discussions or meetings, better off elsewhere.   As the NYT puts it “Tucked away in Grand Central Station, this classy lounge is the restored private office of early twentieth-century tycoon John W. Campbell…”
  • Whole Foods, Columbus Circle – Ok we have Whole Foods in Indiana and I’ve been to many dozens around the country, but there is something about the NYC version that is just simply awesome. If you are not a foodie, you might become one by visiting this store. It has a incredible presentation of food that makes it feel like a gourmet market, which I guess, it really has become. But just when I thought I’d seen it all, I got to the back of the store and discovered the in-store Pub… yep, a full on British style pub with draft beer and wine and tables. As a colleague said next to me “I’d come to this Pub anytime”. What a great execution of the blending between retail and hospitality. I would say to my friends running bars and restaurants, be aware. This is no joke.   And of course the increasingly ubiquitous ability to fill up a growler of fresh craft beer was prominently being promoted.
Whole Foods Columbus Circle Pub

Whole Foods Columbus Circle Pub

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Whole Foods Columbus Circle

  • I surveyed numerous stand-alone pubs including St. Andrews (Scottish) and The Beer Authority (vast craft selection). These were both well done. St. Andrews is definitely ground zero for NYC Scottish Pubs. They carry and fantastic Scotch selection as well as my favorite Scottish beers from Belhaven Brewery (at least 6 on tap). Some of the other ones I visited were pretty standard pub feel with nothing really to write about or bring me back other than convenience, if I was on that particular block in need of a pint. One cool place was the
    St. Andrews Pub

    St. Andrews Pub

    2015-01-21 00.18.58

    St. Andrews Pub

    William (as in William Shakespeare). This is a boutique hotel, lounge and downstairs is a British Pub. We held some meetings on site and enjoyed uniquely crafted cocktails in the upstairs lounge. This lounge has an exclusive yet strangely warm feel. If you are looking for a great place to meet up with a small group of friends for well crafted drinks in seclusion, this is your place!

  • I had a terrific lunch in Raffles restaurant at the Lexington Hotel. An upscale diner, it hit the spot with high quality food. Also the rooms are perfectly fine at this 4-star hotel that had a great sale going on during my visit. I would stay again (at the <$200 price point).
  • Keen’s Steakhouse for dinner was as expected, a solid steak and sides. Service was normal and the place was packed on a Tuesday night. Apparently in 2013, Zagats gave it a food rating of 26, and rated it the # 2 restaurant in the Garment District, and the 7th-best steakhouse in New York City. I don’t know about that but it’s a solid choice for traditional USDA prime steak in midtown.
  • Biggest surprise in NYC was in Brooklyn. Now I’m admittedly one of those visitors who rarely venture outside of Manhattan. So it was a completely new experience for me to take an UBER over to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg and experience such a delightful spot as Radegast Hall & Biergarten. A German beer hall, R&B had two large rooms, great beer selection and incredible cocktails served by delightful wait staff, bar tenders and management.   I tried the cheese beer soup. What’s not to like? It was great, but definitely a share dish. There are two options for food, one in the back room – a grill where you build your own brat or burger and the other from the main kitchen. I ordered the Grilled Smoked Pork Chop with Sautéed Tuscan Kale, Parmesan served with a Spiced Apple & Pear Chutney from the main kitchen along with several sides for the table including brussel sprouts, cabbage and mashed potatoes. All were fantastic. The Pork chop was a 10/10. Kudos to Executive Chef Eric Francou “who draws upon his culinary training in France, London, Belgium and his Italian ancestry to bring new ideas and flavors to his patrons at Radegast Hall & Biergarten”.  The place has live music 7 nights a week and does not take reservations. A special shout out to new manager (and a sommelier) James Herman, who has such positive disposition to life that it’s infectious! I really liked your take on moving from the sommelier world to beer and cocktails. James is a great example of the next generation of professional in the hospitality industry. James, thanks for the creative cocktail using the Belhaven and Scotch. Did we settle on a name?

    Radegast Hall & Biergarten

    Radegast Hall & Biergarten

Next up my review of Vegas – Casinos, Restaurants, Nightlife and Fun

 

 

Mixing It Up With – Whisk(e)y, Wine, English Ale, Mixology, Chefs and National Hospitality Providers

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Every once in a while, I take a step back and recognize just how cool this industry is and what a privilege those of us in the food, beverage and hospitality world have. This is not to say all of you in other industries are not cool or that ours is so much better. It is simply a fact that this one is a lot of fun.

I spent the past week mixing it up with celebrity mixologists, chefs and a whole bunch of smart industry people who are making their mark in their own ways. The Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, CA did a fantastic job of hosting our group.   A special thanks to Director of Food & Beverage, Jocelyn Kraus and Executive Chef Carissa Giacalone.  Aside from the amazing food and beverage we experienced, one thing that struck me from these industry leaders is the appreciation of history and those who came before us.

In his excellent presentation on his journey in mixology, Tony Abou-Ganim “THE MODERN MIXOLOGIST” offered his insights on the industry as a whole, both past and present and how the industry evolved right before his eyes. I loved his personal stories of getting started bartending and his open appreciation for the individuals who helped him along the way. That’s really what makes the hospitality industry special. The people are what make great service and experience. The people who come before you and help you along the way, are the foundation for everything that you get to do and be.

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Tony gave thanks to the legendary Dale DeGroff “THE COCKTAIL KING” who gave him an early appreciation for loving what you do and taking pride in it. It was not so long ago that everyone bartending or waiting tables was doing it to get the next “real” job. Today, there are a whole generation of young people who are pursuing their passion with the explicit goal of being an excellent mixologist, brewer, wine maker, hospitality professional. Dale also recommended Tony for the newly created Director of Beverage role at the newly opened Bellagio way back when, that changed his life forever. Dale gave us a true appreciation for the great mixologists of the 1800s and pre-Prohibition era. His entertaining and spirited history of bitters was fascinating to experience, as we tasted 6 different modern bitters.

Craft of the cocktail by DeGroff Dale Degroff  IMG_5101

Tim Kirkland “THE RENEGADE SERVER” gave us incredible insights into the simple nuances of what separates truly exceptional hospitality service operations from merely good ones. His observations on customer service have direct application to training and inspiring front line crews to sell more and serve better. Michael “Bumby” Bombard “Straight Up Solutions” shared his learnings in cocktail menu development and presentation including a valuable discussion on glassware, ice and a drill down into garnishes. Its all about the presentation.

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We had the opportunity to share some of the finest beers in the world with my industry friends. Anyone who has visited an English pub would recognize Old Speckled Hen, the #1 English Ale.

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It was fun to introduce this quirky English brand to the hospitality folks in attendance. Judging from the response, there will be some Hen coming to a restaurant near you soon.

Chef Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen and Master Mixologist & Chain Accounts Manager for Beam Suntory Philip Raimondo shared a fun presentation of “Bar Redux” – in which they discussed new ways to train hospitality operator staff, jazz up your drink program and bring your bar layout up to date. Of course, Phil also served as lead pianist and singer for the groups late night escapades, all legendary, none reportable.

IMG_5111 D'Lish Eggs by Kathy Casey

In Whisk(e)y “Boot Camp” we took a tour around the world from Scotland to Ireland to Canada and the US and back to Scotland. Led by the knowledgeable William Grant & Son’s Whisky Team, this fun survey of different styles of whisk(e)y was enjoyable and informative. Interesting facts – top Scotch whisky export markets 1. USA 569$, 2. FR 330$, 3. Singapore 288$, 4. Germany 138$ 5. Spain, 6. Taiwan. Among my favorites were the Glenfiddich 15 Solera and The Glenfiddich 18, but there were many other excellent ones including The Balvenie 21 and Irish Tullamore Dew. Monkey’s Shoulder was interesting too.

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After the whisk(e)y tasting, several chefs joined me to taste some Scotch along side some BELHAVEN beer, Scotland’s #1. The BELHAVEN BLACK was particularly popular among the culinary set as an accompaniment to the fine sipping Scotches. We all decided this would be an excellent way in which to offer guests an enjoyable and true Scottish experience.

IMG_5094 IMG_5096 Belhaven Best

Celebrity Chef Rick Moonen (rm seafood at Mandalay Bay) shared inspiration at the final dinner as he gave us a fireside chat tracing his culinary roots to the great NY French restaurants and today with his focus on sustainably and seafood. Rick shared his great successes as well as some of the tough times he experienced during the downturn and how he had to be resilient and reinvent himself and his restaurants to survive. I love what he is doing with mixology and cannot wait to go check out his newest iteration in Vegas (RX Boiler Room)! We played a tasting game, whereby we all tasted different ice cream creations of his and had to guess the flavors. It was quite difficult but enjoyable. Apparently he does this regularly with a group of sommeliers in Vegas but instead of 3 types, he gives them 16 types to guess. Yikes!

IMG_5113 rm ice cream creations RX Boiler Room

As always, “The DUTCHESS”, Jen Robinson was the hostess with the mostess and kept everyone moving and staying on track at the Executive Hospitality Exchange West #HEEWEST. Thanks Jen for an enjoyable experience once again and I look forward to our next adventure together!

HEEWEST Selfie selfie 2 HEEWEST

There are many other great stories, but alas, not for this post (not mentioning any names Mike Tolley “Beverage By Design”). It was great spending time with some of the leading hospitality accounts and learning how they are thinking about their businesses and how to compete and differentiate. There may be no more competitive environment than that of the restaurant and bar business. Many of the most successful in today’s environment are differentiating on service and their unique offerings. In many cases, the beverage side of the house offers the best opportunity to achieve this. I look forward to further discussions on this front with savvy operators and brands that want to activate their business.  My next such opportunity will be at the YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable in February where I have the privilege of being Co-Champion for the event. We expect 60+ F&B CEOs for an educational and enjoyable week hosted by Disney.

As Jack says… all work and no play, makes Smoke a dull boy …

 

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