Camacho USA’s challenge at the Epicurean Hotel project in Atlanta was twofold: help create the most efficient foodservice facility possible while deftly capturing the eclectic, distinctive vision of its client’s brand.
The Epicurean Atlanta began welcoming guests on September 16, 2021. The 16-story hotel is a member of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection and the second location of the Epicurean Hotel brand, a collaboration between Mainsail Lodging & Development and the legendary Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Florida.
Located in the midtown arts district, Epicurean Atlanta is anchored by three innovative dining concepts, all led by executive chef Ewart Wardhaugh.
Reverence, the hotel’s 2,886 sq ft, 127-seat (including 37 on an outdoor patio) signature restaurant, combines global cuisine with regional ingredients. There’s a 40-ft-long bar and 500-sq ft display kitchen with a full Hestan cookline.
Located in the garden setting on the ninth-level Sky Terrace, the 90-seat Aerial Kitchen & Bar is marketed as Midtown’s premier outdoor dining destination, serving South American and Mexican cuisine. The restaurant has a casual atmosphere with a blend of modern textures and industrial materials.
The 90-seat Office Bar is a sophisticated lounge with a bourbon-focused beverage program. The menu offers “elevated yet classic” bar bites and curated cocktails to create an environment suitable for all types of meetings. Eclectic dishes include Fried Chicken Flavored Popcorn and a Shrimp & Grits ‘Scotch Egg.’ The full-service kitchen measures 830 sq ft. There is also a 30-ft-long bar and personalized bourbon lockers and curated shelves.
In addition, the 70-seat Epicurean Theatre serves as a kitchen-classroom that can host special events of all sizes and is both interactive and educational. The area of the Theatre kitchen measures 1,800 sq ft, of which the actual work area is just 155 sq ft.
Atlanta-based architectural and interior design firm Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio was commissioned to oversee the hotel’s design. Camacho USA’s first contact with the client came in July of 2017 via architect Ron Gill, RA, LEED, AP, the architectural firm’s associate principal. Work on the project began a month later and the hotel opened for business on September 16, 2021. The final equipment cost of the project was about $995,000.
A major challenge on the project was to capture the vision behind the Epicurean concept while achieving maximum efficiency and profitability.
Tom Haines, vice president of operations for Mainsail Lodging and Development, said his company – a development partner, Marriott franchisee and operator – “prides itself on developing restaurant concepts that are not your typical hotel offerings. They must compete with other local, chef-driven restaurants. It is critical that the kitchen design supports that vision.”
“This is a boutique hotel with a focus on elevated food offerings,” explains Brett Daniel FCSI, BIM manager and project manager with Camacho in Atlanta. “Higher-end service. Something unique. An experience you won’t forget. Everything is foodservice driven; the focus is around the food experience more than anything else.” There were several challenges to be addressed. “The full layout needed to be an open-kitchen concept so everyone could be seen,” says Daniel.
“Finishes in the kitchen needed to be aesthetically pleasing, and we needed to make sure the cooks had more than enough working room, knowing they’d be watched. The large glass wall view into the kitchen needed to be smudge resistant.” Indeed, he adds: “The whole design was done with the chefs in mind, as well as the fit and finishes on all equipment selections.”
Daniel specified Energy Star equipment where possible and worked to keep water usage to a minimum. “We had a lot of input from operations,” he notes, plus dialog with architects about the aesthetics. Equipment placement was important – for example, “where to hide trash cans, making sure all of the wow-factor equipment was on display for guests to see.”
“As with big projects like this, our kitchen was designed three years before it ever opened,” Haines recalls. “To do this, we use a chef consultant to develop mock menus and concepts, so we know what kitchens to build.”
Reverence honors the ingredients and producers of the Atlanta region through a modern reinterpretation, Haines says. Its menu items change seasonally, but consist of seafood, heritage meats and market-fresh produce. “Our goal is to awaken appetites unknown in this tasteful ambience, whether that be in the comfortable lounge areas, outdoor patio, or right at the bar where it all happens.”
Collaboration was key
It was important that the kitchen designer collaborate closely with the chef consultant to ensure that the facility got the required fire power, storage requirements and overall flow that is needed, Haines adds. “The challenge is anticipating the needs and priorities of the chef who will ultimately operate the final project. Inevitably, there will always be a few changes in the design that the chef will make post-opening. For this project, only a few adjustments were needed.”
Collaboration among all parties was key to the success of the project, according to Daniel. “You need to have a close relationship and trust with the operator, to be able to understand their vision. They are driving a lot of this with their personal needs and wants. We have to be able to communicate and display those through our design. Give them what their heart desires and they will be happy. They have the ideas; we figure out how to implement them efficient and effectively.”
The collaboration worked as planned, and the vision was successfully captured. Daniel said feedback from the client has been nothing but positive, with executives “raving about the design. (It) has already been booked for several large public and private events. This was one of the most beautiful kitchen designs.”
“We could not be more pleased with the result,” says Mainsail’s Haines. Epicurean Atlanta’s guests have responded with “overwhelming praise, and in the first seven months of operation the hotel has already amassed impressive accolades and awards, including being named a 2022 AAA Four Diamond Hotel and a 2022 JEZEBEL Best of Atlanta Winner.”
Daniel’s message to colleagues is: “Be creative, have an open mind, think outside the box, and don’t copy anything already done.”