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Onsite aquarium is a water world
of seafood sourcing at Miami’s
By John Paul Boukis
Guests may tour the facility, and usually they come away “speechless,” says Jeffrey Klein, VP operations,
F&B, for the Fontainebleau. “We get a lot of private groups of 20 to 25 who want to walk through,” he says.
“The first question is always, ‘How do you do it?’ We take them and show them.”
Not every property boasts a dry-age
room and butcher shop to go with
its patisserie and chocolate room.
But the Fontainebleau Miami Beach splashes
out of all compare with its marine biologist
checking in on 2,000 gallons of onsite tanks
filled with lobster, shellfish, eel, and more
than 800 pounds of live fish brought into
the property daily. It’s a Vegas-size operation
with 11 F&B venues and more than 1,500
guest rooms, in a distinctly un-Vegas location
on 22 acres of primo oceanfront.
Dining venues include Gotham Steak; Scott
Conant’s Scarpetta, the only four-star Italian
restaurant in South Florida; and Alan Yau’s
four-diamond Hakkasan. The ocean may be
calling outside, but it’s also sloshing around
down below in the 2,000 square feet of tunnels
that link the various food outlets.
“We call it ‘Water World,’” says Jeffrey Klein,
VP operations, F&B, for the Fontainebleau.
Massive fresh- and saltwater tanks allow Executive
Chef Thomas Connell to supply all the
F&B outlets with an enviable daily harvest of
seafood. “We have three tanks just for lobster,”
says Connell. “Each holds over 200 gallons of
water, with the lobsters segregated by size.”
A tank could hold 80 to 100 lobsters, and as
fast as they arrive, the tanks are emptied and
reloaded. The daily moving and loading operation
is coordinated by Carlos Ladines, chef de
cuisine butcher, and his staff of five fishmongers
and butchers. Each of the 11 venues puts in
an order every evening based on sales the night
before, along with banquets and catering. And
at 5 a.m. the team starts producing, cutting,
and transferring the daily catch onto ice.
“My outlets have their fish six hours from
tank to table,” remarks Connell. “Branzino
sells very well. Lobster will always move, and
all of the shellfish goes.” The crew does not
sous vide any fish, due to questions about
histamine buildup, so everything is prepared
daily from catch to table.
Klein elaborates, “Our number one reason
for keeping the product fresh onsite is the
high quality it gives us. And the second reason
is consistency. Every day here is a Saturday
in terms of business volume. The ocean, the
weather—it all affects what you get and how
much. So we work with a lot of vendors—
many local, but some West Coast, northeast
coast, people who go out to different areas and
pull different products.”
It’s a high-volume, 12-month operation.
“Everyone talks about a slow season, but we
have none; our demographics just shift,”
Klein says. “The business has been fantastic
with financial groups, pharmaceutical—our
transient is through the roof. Local travelers
are finding it a great destination. We see a lot
of Latin American and European travelers in
In terms of operating procedure, “we don’t
want to make money off ourselves—the store’s
goal is to sell all of the product and clear neutral
at month end.” And the Fontainebleau team
leverages the property’s reputation for quality
to keep costs in line. “We can bargain with our
vendors,” Klein says. “With our quality comes a
reputation: ‘I serve the Fontainebleau.’”
Connell stresses the importance of food
safety to the program’s success.
“We have a marine biologist here weekly,
checking saline, bacteria, temperatures, keeping
the environment natural, making sure we
have the product sustained correctly,” he says.
As for the potential of a smaller hotel facility
scaling the concept down with success,
Connell sees both opportunity and challenges.
“I’ve done it before on a smaller scale in
restaurants, just focused on lobster. We would
play around with baby turbot and branzino
and live prawns for show. It’s a great eye-catcher
in the right setting.
“It’s all based on the quality of the product
you’re going to get. As soon as you remove it
from the sea, it deteriorates. With your own
tank, it’s going to stay fresh. For us it’s a huge
benefit. With the exception of lobster, a lot of
times it turns out to be more décor and design
instead of function and use. It’s not easy; it
takes a lot of due diligence, skill, and money
to do it right and safely, or the risks become
much higher than the rewards.”
While the Fontainebleau does not advertise
the presence of the water world below, it
becomes a hidden wonder for the inquisitive
guest or meeting planner to discover.
“They’re usually speechless,” says Klein.
“We get a lot of private groups of 20 to 25
who want to walk through. They’re astounded.
The first question is always, ‘How
do you do it?’ We take them and show them.
A lot of our leaders are really good with kids.
And once they’re in the underground world
here, the aquarium is something else to show
them. Kids make those purchases for mom
and dad. Show them something cool, and
mom and dad are happy.”
John Paul Boukis helped develop the American Hotel
and Lodging Association’s publishing division and is a
founding editor of HOTEL F&B. He is based in Tampa.