Hotels and resorts continue to position themselves as a destination for eating, competing with fine dining and quick service restaurants locally. Hotel dining has been getting a makeover in the realm of upscale restaurants and healthy breakfast transformations, but a new sector we are seeing is standalone dessert concepts making their way into hotel lobbies. From wedding cakes and chocolate truffles to gelato and frozenpops, desserts are making headway in hotels for guests and passersby alike.
To better understand the successes, failures and learning curves of opening a dessert-specific concept in hotels, we talked to Jordi Panisello, executive pasty chef at Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Chef Panisello highlights Fontainebleau’s two dessert shops, Solo and Fresh; Solo being a full-on dessert concept while Fresh is a light fare café with a vast gelato selection. Chef Panisello attributes a talented staff, fresh menu offerings and creative freedom to the success of Fontainebleau’s dessert concepts and offers advice on opening up dessert-focused shops in other hotels.

Kristen Payne (KP): When people visit Solo at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, what kind of menu offerings can they expect?

Chef Jordi Panisello (JP): Solo’s pastry team presents guests with a wide selection of patisserie made from the freshest ingredients, as well as handmade chocolates, beautifully executed custom cakes for every occasion, and even frozen confections and gelato. Besides coffee, tea and specialty coffee drinks, we serve breakfast pastries followed by sandwiches and salads for lunch. From hotel guests to visiting celebrities and locals, Solo is a top choice for delicious and decadent desserts and snacks.

KP: What about at Fresh?

JP: In addition to light fare, Fresh offers 32 flavors ofgelato, which we rotate regularly. Signature flavorsinclude vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies & cream made with Oreo® cookies, passion fruit, chocolate-hazelnut made with Nutella®, pistachio, cookie dough and rocky road brownie. Fresh also caters to those lying by our pool. We serve a selection of delicious sandwiches, salads, tacos and wraps.

KP: How long have these concepts been open?

JP: Both concepts opened in 2008.

KP: What was the inspiration behind opening up a dessert shop in your hotel?

JP: Solo was originally Chez Bon Bon when the hotel first opened in 1954. When the hotel was completely renovated in 2008, Solo was born. In a property like Fontainebleau Miami Beach where we have such an amazing pastry program in our restaurants and for banquet guests, it makes sense to utilize our resources to give guests the opportunity to take a break and enjoy something sweet alongside a cup of coffee without having to sit through a whole meal.

KP: What is your favorite flavor or item that you sell?

JP: I love our house made chocolates, gelato, truffles and chocolate cake. Everything is made so fresh. The flavorand textures are impeccable.

KP: What makes Solo and Fresh different from other hotel dessert shops?

JP: We customize all of our products and are constantly bringing out new items and flavors depending on theseason. We have our own gelato machines which gives us the liberty to meet guest demands and change our flavors based on seasonality or trends

KP: What drives/inspires you?

JP: Creating delicious pastries for our guests and visitors is similar to creating memories. You will always remember the best dessert you’ve ever had and I love creating those memories.

KP: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in the business?

JP: Make the products that your guests love to eat, not the product that may seem trendy or popular at the moment. It’s all about meeting the guest’s demands.

KP: What is one of your most rewarding experiences/greatest successes?

JP: We make our own candies such as nougat and caramels; we decided to display them on the counter so the guests have a visual of them right before they pay. Needless to say, our guests love them and they are one of our best sellers.

KP: What would you say the ratio of your customers is: hotel guests vs. non-guests?

JP: 85 percent are hotel guests

KP: Any advice to a hotel that is interested in starting a dessert concept on their property?

JP: My best advice would be to properly analyze your demographics and make products based on what their needs are.

KP: How hectic is a typical day at these dessert shops?

JP: Breakfast and lunch are the most hectic times. Guests flock to Solo for a hot cup of freshly brewed cofee in the morning and at lunch for one of our specialty sandwiches or salads.

KP: What do you think is the key to your success?

JP: We offer an incredibly high quality product. Everything is made in-house to provide guests with the best experience. We also employ a very experienced and talented staff of chefs that contribute their passion and creativity to our menu.

KP: What is the main thing you would want hotel guests to know about your shop?

JP: Everything is made fresh daily and completely from scratch. All of our chefs are given the creative freedom to suggest ideas for the menus. As chefs, we need to be able to express ourselves through our food; it keeps us happy and that happiness translates on to the food we prepare.

KP: What are your goals for the shop?

JP: We would love to add more space so that we can showcase a wider variety of products.

For hotels with an already existing pastry department, adding a dessert-focused shop is a seamless transition. Take note of what the most popular dessert items are in the hotel restaurant and use them as the focal point for launching a dessert shop. This offers hotel guests the opportunity to enjoy their favorite sweet treat at any time of day, not just at the end of an expensive meal. Positioning the dessert shop in high traffic areas as wellas displaying sweet treats in windows and throughout the hotel guarantees guests will stop in. Dessert-focused concepts can also attract clientele outside of the hotel when marketed effectively. These shops can help make hotels a destination for desserts by selling chocolates, truffles, wedding cakes and more that passersby canpurchase and take home. Dessert-focused shops have the capability to offer great return on investment using already existing talent and pastries.