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2012 Innovators: Chef Jose Garces

jose garces smallCreative partnerships within the hotel industry can translate to innovation at its best. Just ask “Iron Chef” Jose Garces, renowned for his modern interpretations of Latin and Hispanic cuisine in his 15 restaurants in five U.S. cities. In the last few years, he has demonstrated that joining the hospitality world can be a mutually beneficial business—for both restaurants and individual hotels.

From his first on-property tapas establishment, the strikingly stylish Mercat a la Planxa at Chicago’s Renaissance Blackstone hotel in 2008, Garces experienced firsthand the value of collaboration. After all, the ideal hotel partner can elevate a restaurant brand, while simultaneously introducing travelers and locals to his inventive gastronomy.

Since then, hotels have become key destinations for this James Beard-award winning chef who is also a familiar face on the Food Network.

In 2012, Chef Garces entered into several more diverse markets, including Atlantic City, N.J., where he opened two high-end restaurants, Amada and Village Whiskey, in the long-awaited Revel casino on the famed boardwalk. Garces was also mindful to offer a fun, budget-friendly eatery, and spiced things up with an authentic Mexican street food truck, Guapos Tacos. The adjacent funky margarita bar, Distrito Cantina, pours more than 100 tequilas.

Earlier this year, Garces arrived on the Southwestern scene, joining Joie de Vivre and the Sydell Group at their new Saguaro hotels in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Palm Springs, Calif. At the Saguaro Scottsdale, Garces operates Distrito Cantina and Old Town Whiskey, a frontier-style saloon, serving artfully crafted cocktails and domestic spirits along with classic American cuisine. Meanwhile, the Garces Trading Coffee kiosk serves up his roasted java and fresh baked goodies. In the California desert, at the Saguaro Palm Springs, Garces oversees room service and the casual poolside fare while managing two restaurants: El Jefe, a Wild West-inspired Mexican hotspot and margarita bar, and Tinto, which offers small tapas plates and other delights from Spain’s Basque region.

“Working with the hotel operators we do, including Joie de Vivre, Sydell, and Revel resort and casino, we’ve been able to reach brand new audiences in three states we previously did not operate in,” Garces says. “The gaming, spa, and entertainment crowds have found their ways to our restaurants—before and after their outings—and we’ve really enjoyed serving them.

“By working with hotel brands,” he adds, “we’ve become more well-rounded, expanding our operations outside of the restaurant setting, and now providing service to the property’s pool area, in-room dining, banquets, and more.”

Garces believes that his involvement with the hospitality industry has sparked his creativity and innovation on many levels. “Each time we’ve expanded to a new property, we’ve taken our original concepts and evolved them,” he says. “It’s challenged us in so many ways, like asking, ‘How do we get our taco truck, Guapos Tacos, into the casino?’ When we succeed, it has been very rewarding.”

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