It's officially been one year since José Andrés unleashed his Los Angeles sensation The Bazaar at SLS in South Beach. Andrés' Latin-inspired dishes are the main buzz around here, though the Phillip Stark-designed space, split into the Rojo and Blanca dining lounges, doesn't hurt either. Behind these rooms, and many other restaurant workings, is general manager Giancarlo Pagani, who "jumped at the opportunity" to be on The Bazaar's team and has been with them since the launching of their Miami outpost. Here's what Pagani has to say about one year in at the restaurant, his challenges and some changes:
How did you get involved with The Bazaar?
I started working with Chef Michael Mina when I was 16 years old and assisted in opening a handful of restaurants from Las Vegas to Detroit to Miami with the group. In 2008, a few months before the opening of XIV, Michael Mina had asked me to move to my hometown of LA and assist in the opening of XIV as a Captain. It was a great opportunity and the most exciting opening I had been a part of to date. It exposed me to sbe, a company that was setting the standard for hospitality in Los Angeles and had great plans of expansion in the US and abroad. During the same time as the XIV opening, another restaurant in the sbe family was opening just a couple miles down the street at the new SLS hotel, this was the Bazaar by Jose Andres. Right out of the gate, The Bazaar by José Andrés received a 4 star review in the LA times among multiple other prestigious awards. I had the chance to dine there during the opening and was completely blown away by how cutting edge and avant-garde this new concept was. 2 years into the opening of Bazaar, sbe and the current General Manager of the Bazaar had parted ways and that's when I received the call from my Vice President of Restaurants, Matt Erickson, at sbe saying he wanted me to join the Bazaar team along with the new general manager, John Kolaski. I jumped at the opportunity!
How do you communicate and collaborate with Jose Andres?
Chef Jose Andres is very involved with everything that goes on at the Bazaar. He makes sure that he tests and approves any new recipe for cocktails and dishes before they hit the menu. Chef Jose is also very active on social media and we love sending him tweets during service. He is also very quick to respond to guests when they post while in the restaurant. There has been times where a guests posts something that isn't 100% positive and literally within seconds I will get an email from Chef Jose saying "what is happening?!" so that I can fix any issues and make sure our guests leave happy. It is pretty amazing to work with a leader who is so passionate about the guest experience.
What were some surprises – pleasant and unpleasant – about the opening?
I must say that this has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding openings I have been a part of since I started in this business. With every curve ball thrown our way, the team did a phenomenal job considering the expectations of being the follow up to the 4 star, award-winning Bazaar by Jose Andres in Los Angeles.
What are some of the challenges you faced when opening the restaurant?
Before sbe came to Miami, everyone told us that it would be impossible to deliver the experience we were planning to deliver because of the lack of service professionals in South Beach. We had job fairs for 2 months going into the opening and interviewed over a thousand candidates, but what we found is that there is some serious talent in South Beach and we grabbed as many of them as we could. To this day, I haven't had to hire any additional servers on the team since opening. We love our staff and are proud to humbly say that the people who told us there wasn't a strong workforce in Miami were mistaken.
What is the hardest part of your job now?
The hardest part of my job now is making sure that the young food runners, server assistants, bar backs, and line cooks are learning and growing as much as possible so that they can be the next servers, bartenders, managers, and sous chefs. Our culture is to promote from within and we rarely like to hire someone to fill a senior or lead position. We recently promoted one of our best servers, Lou Sentenat, to sommelier and he is amazing! It makes me proud to see our team grow.
A year later, what has changed at the restaurant?
A year later, we are excited to have added 4 additional seats at the tapas bar in the Blanca dining room allowing our guests to engage with our chefs as they prepare many of our avant-garde dishes. It also gives us the ability to take more walk in's on busier nights and is a great option for the single diner. These 4 seats are my personal favorite in the restaurant!
What's been your biggest success at The Bazaar?
After a year in, I honestly think our greatest success was in creating a team that works so well together through thick and thin, both the front of the house and the back of the house. I have a great relationship with every one of our team members and they make coming to work every day such an exciting and fun experience. They are competitive, yet humble and truly care about each of our guests who always leave having had a unique and memorable experience.
And finally, what are your future goals at the restaurant?
They say to never show all of your cards in the beginning so for the first year we haven't utilized the beautiful space called Sam's Lounge, which sits on the mezzanine level of the Bazaar. We are in the process of creating a unique cocktail and light bite experience up there to be announced later this year.
· All Coverage of The Bazaar on Eater Miami [ ~EMIA~ ]