After last summer’s interviews with Maui chefs Eric Faivre and Isaac Bancaco of the Grand Wailea, I’ve been more curious about the operations of a hotel, particularly when it comes to food and beverage services. Hotel restaurants are often more complex beasts compared to their traditional brick and mortar cousins, from the seasonal clientele with diverse tastes and expectations to the need for season-less products and ingredients. Most larger hotels offer multiple restaurants at opposite ends of the cuisine spectrum, requiring the ability to see – and oversee – an even bigger picture. So how does one make it all come together?
Miami’s popular Fontainebleau Hotel has a long, glamorous history of making it all work, from beach activities to beverage straws, and Beverage Director David Mokha works to ensure the hotel’s reputation continues to be held in high regard. With a background in restaurant operations, Mokha has helped to establish restaurants across the U.S., previous holding position as Wine Director of Emeril Lagasse’s Miami, Atlanta, and Orlando locations before joining the Fontainebleau. Named Food & Wine Magazine’s Sommelier of the Year for his wine selection at Fontainebleau’s Hakkasan, the native West Virginian oversees drink programs at the hotel’s five restaurants, two clubs, and several bars, where over 15,000 guests are served each week.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to pursue wine and beverages?
A: Throughout college I managed bars and also worked at a seasonal nightclub during the summers. After graduating, I started to explore my options in the business world. One of the first opportunities that interested me was to open a nightclub for a small, but growing company. This turned out to be the beginning of my career and I proceeded to open quite a few locations for this company throughout the United States while overseeing the operations of the existing ones. I knew from then on that I wanted to be a part of the hospitality industry.
Q: With your younger years in the Northeast, what about Miami, and the Fontainebleau, appealed to you?
A: I initially visited Miami because my brothers and sister had relocated here. I got hooked on the weather and the potential for the wine and spirits industry. The tourism fed the fine dining trend that was occurring in Miami. Since moving here, I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented culinary professionals in the industry.
Q: So let’s talk numbers. How many folks (bartenders, sommeliers, etc) are you overseeing on a daily basis throughout the hotel?
A: There are six sommeliers, two in Gotham Steak and one in Scarpetta and one in Hakkasan. In each of the other outlets we have a restaurant manager with great beverage knowledge that I liaise with to ensure the venue’s beverage program is consistent with overall standards.
Q: And how many people are you expecting to serve on a daily (or weekly/monthly) basis?
A: We currently serve more than 15,000 guests per week including LIV and Arkadia.
Q: Within one hotel, you’re overseeing multiple locations with multiple cuisines. How do you ensure consistent quality throughout each of the property’s restaurants?
A: The most important and best way to make sure everything is always at its best is to have a team that is trustworthy and equally as passionate about the quality. I can’t be on the property 24 hours a day and in front of every single guest, so I must have a team that is proud of working at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and also tries to make every guest experience perfect.
Q: The Fontainebleau clientele is a bit more upscale than most. How do you approach the interest in typical Miami Beach, tropical-style drinks?
A: I like to visit various restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels and see what they are doing. We also want to make sure there is something for everyone that visits the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. We get such a variety of guests and visitors that we constantly review our offerings to stay creative and unique without forgetting the standard drinks visitors come to Miami and the Fontainebleau to enjoy. In most cases, we like to take a classic cocktail and offer a unique twist for our guests. For example, the mojito is one of the most popular Miami drinks, so we put our spin on it and offer a signature cocktail, “The Bleauberry Mojito” (Bacardi, blueberry syrup, fresh pressed mint, fresh lime juice), for our guests that they can’t get anywhere else in Miami.
Q: After hours, are you a cocktail man or a wine man? What are you drinking right now?
A: Well, I am having some water at the moment, but my preferences depend on where I am and what kind of a day I had. Typically, I will almost always have wine with dinner. That being said I really enjoy tequila, especially sipping on Añejos and Reposados when I’m out with friends or at a local bar. A good tequila is complex spirit with many layers to it, that is very similar to a wine’s complexity.
*Photo credit: Fontainebleau Hotel