The Denihan Group is redefining what a hotel restaurant and bar can be, and Sims Foster, VP of Restaurants and Bars, is leading the charge. Lately he’s been spending his time in Miami Beach, helping launch spots at the new James Royal Palm hotel, including CATCH, Florida Cookery, and SL Miami. We chatted with Foster to find out how he finds the right mix for the hotel’s stylish clientele, and how important it is to appeal to local residents as well.
How do you decide on the particular mix of restaurants and bars you have at a property such as the James Royal Palm?
Whenever I look at a new hotel property and think about what kind of restaurants and bars we want to build, the first question is “What kind of place will the locals support and appreciate, and what can we do that fits with what the area wants and also be unique?” This often brings me to neighborhoods and chefs/operators who might not be on other hotel operator’s lists. In New York I’m constantly looking at what’s happening in Brooklyn or Queens. In Miami I was seeing what was happening in Brickell, the Design District, and ultimately the Miami Modern district, where I found Red Light and Kris Wessel (now chef at Florida Cookery). The other part of Miami that couldn’t be ignored was the “scene” aspect and the idea of having operators and a concept that would fill the need to have a spot that was experiential, energetic and would become “the place.” That’s where CATCH really shines. But unlike other operators in the genre, Mark Birnbaum and Eugene Remm from EMM Group have amazing service and food standards which will breed longevity and not just be white-hot for a moment.
And then there’s South Shore at the James.
South Shore is an intimate bar that focuses on rum. Can’t get more Miami then that.
What’s the thread that ties them all together?
The thread is that, hopefully, all the different restaurants and bars on the property will be places that local Miamians will find valuable and fit with their lifestyles. If that’s the case it’s amazing for our hotel guests as well because our guests want to eat and drink at places that the locals love. If they don’t have to go somewhere else to get that experience then I know we’ve got it right.
What have you learned about the type of guests the hotel attracts?
Today’s guest is super savvy with food. It’s amazing how much our guests do research and understand food and restaurants. Call it the Food Network influence if you like, but if you think you can just build a generic restaurant with some oversaturated chef brand name on the door—a chef who shows up once a quarter—you’re behind. Your guest is going to demand more and they deserve more. Don’t get me wrong, there are great chefs out there who are massive personalities, but they have to be an active part of the concept and they need to be interesting and right for whatever city and neighborhood they’re in. It’s got to be real and authentic.
You were a professional jazz musician in your twenties. Do you still play music? Is there anything from your musical background that you draw from when you do your job now?
I get asked that a lot. And the answer is I don’t really play much anymore. Which usually then gets an “awwww, that’s a shame” response. But I’m totally fine with it and I know I will again someday. But I find music in everything. Music is an amazing medium that requires precision and discipline as well as creativity and an open mind. And you have to figure out how to make something complicated make sense and connect with your audience. Almost every part of my work taps into each and all of those aspects. Plus nobody can argue with me when I ask to program the music at the hotels and restaurants. I just drop, “You know I have a degree in music, right?” and they let me do my thing.