Chef-Created Fare Fuels Rooftop Revenues at Kimpton Solamar
Shareable menu items help boost the bottom line at Upper East rooftop.
"We have a joke that nobody wants to eat a charcuterie board or a Tomahawk steak sitting by the pool,” says Joshua Liberman, GM of JSix restaurant and Upper East rooftop bar at Kimpton Solamar Hotel in downtown San Diego. “That’s kind of our guide when developing dishes for Upper East. The menu should be approachable, with items you can easily eat by the pool or while enjoying our rooftop.”
While massive amounts of meat might be at a minimum on the Upper East menu, shareable, portable plates created by Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay—who oversees both JSix restaurant at street level and Upper East on the hotel’s 4th floor—are a hit with Upper East’s target demographic of young professionals living in downtown San Diego, and in-house guests experiencing the rooftop and surrounding skyline.
“At JSix we’re very market-driven so the menu changes constantly, but upstairs we want to make sure we have approachable bites that look and taste great, and if they sell well, they’ll stay on the menu,” explains Sinsay. “The Upper East menu has the same philosophy of food quality as JSix. For example, a simple item such as guacamole and chips has to be responsibly sourced and use local avocados and other premium ingredients. So we offer the best version of guacamole, the best version of hummus, the best version of ceviche, and a lot of other handmade little bites that someone would want to nosh on upstairs.”
Upper East opened in mid-2017, the final piece of a property-wide renovation that started in 2015. Before Upper East, the 232-room Solamar’s rooftop was called LoungeSix, which operated for more than a decade. It “had a pretty good run, but we needed a rooftop that complemented the hotel more and reflected where we are in the East Village of downtown, so we named it Upper East,” Liberman says.
The customer demographic at Upper East is in the 27-to-40 range, reflective of the active young professionals populating downtown San Diego. “The food upstairs is a bit more social than it is downstairs at JSix, and most of the menu items were created to share with friends. Nobody is ordering a big plate of hummus for themselves. They want something that allows them to walk around the pool and utilize the entire space,” says Sinsay.
Food makes up 14% of the sales at Upper East, and top sellers include the aforementioned guacamole topped with cotija cheese ($10); lumpia, which is a long, thin Filipino food similar to a fried spring roll filled with pork (a nod to Sinsay’s Filipino heritage, and also a top seller at JSix) for $12; and a lobster roll on a Filipino pandesal bun. “We use four ounces of Maine lobster, then toss it with Meyer lemon, fresh herbs, some Old Bay, and mayonnaise. It’s super simple but a good value for the price,” Sinsay explains.
Though you won’t find charcuterie boards or Tomahawk steaks at Upper East, guests craving meat will find the Upper East Burger ($18) which has bone marrow ground into the mix to enhance the flavor and features Sinsay’s homemade “6,000 Island” sauce. “It’s one of our top sellers, done in the style of an In-N-Out burger, but it’s not exactly like an In-N-Out burger, because we add our own touches,” says Sinsay.
When Upper East opened last year, Liberman and Sinsay experimented with what F&B (see sidebar about Upper East drinks) might resonate with guests—40% of whom are local—since there wasn’t a track record of tried-and-true tastes at the new venue. While the current menu is boosting the bottom line (menu sales at Upper East account for 50% of total F&B revenues at Solamar), there were a few misses on the road to rooftop relevance.
“We tried doing an elote (Mexican grilled street corn) and we cut them down so they were little bit smaller and more manageable, but we found that nobody really wants to eat corn on the cob by the pool,” notes Sinsay. “We also tried chicharrónes (crispy Mexican fried pork skin), since it was one of my favorite food memories as a kid growing up in South San Diego. There was an ice cream man who would come around our neighborhood, and he sold chicharrónes with Tapatío hot sauce and lime. So we served it in the style of how I used to get it as a kid, but that didn’t take off.”
During the busy summer season (capacity at Upper East is 450 people), Solamar operates with a core of two bartenders, two servers, a manager, and up to two cooks in the satellite kitchen at Upper East, where some of the menu can be easily expedited, while the rest of the dishes come from the JSix kitchen on the first floor. “Upper East is only on the fourth floor so it’s not like we’re riding an elevator up 40 floors every time to deliver food,” Sinsay says.
As the 7,500-square-foot rooftop continues to evolve alongside the menu, Sinsay and Liberman say they’ll keep experimenting with Upper East’s F&B, because guests have shown through sales and feedback that the menu is as important as the view.
“We’re surprised at how well the menu does up there, because there isn’t any history of what’s worked before,” says Liberman. “We try to push the envelope with new items, and Kimpton allows us to take initiative on our ideas. We don’t have layers of management to go through just to change one thing on the menu. It’s just Anthony and I making decisions on the fly based on what our guests are telling us, so that allows us a lot of creative freedom.”
Beverage benefits for rooftop guests at Upper East.
Gogo Yubari & Frosé
While the food menu at Kimpton Solamar’s Upper East rooftop bar in San Diego (see main story) is a hit with guests looking for locally sourced, shareable bites to enhance their view, the beverage menu anchors the operation with a mix of creative cocktails, San Diego craft beers, and playful promotions that attract customers to the fourth-floor space, making up 86% of the venue’s sales mix.
Liquor comprises 56% of beverage revenues, and all craft cocktails “are seasonal and made from scratch. We don’t use batch cocktails,” says Joshua Liberman, GM of Upper East and JSix restaurant on the first floor. “Our top sellers include Gogo Yubari ($14), which is Kikori Japanese whiskey with lemongrass and tiki bitters, done in the style of an Old-Fashioned, stirred with a large ice cube. Kikori isn’t an aggressive whiskey, so it’s great for sipping poolside.
“Another hit for us is our Frosé ($14), a frozen rose cocktail with dry rosé wine, Bacardi Tangerine rum, strawberry, and lemon. It’s simple but tasty, and that’s the approach we take with our entire beverage menu.”
San Diego is one of the country’s craft beer capitals, so local brews are rotated frequently on tap and in bottles and cans, making up 23% of beverage sales, with Societe Brewing’s The Pupil IPA ($8 draft) the top seller.
Finally, happy hour promotions attract large crowds, especially on Wednesday, when Upper East has Veuve Around the Clock, where guests can buy a glass of Veuve Clicquot for $5 at 5 p.m., $6 at 6 p.m., $7 at 7 p.m., and $8 at 8 p.m. Regular price for a glass of Veuve is $25 at Upper East, so the deal draws “90% local customers,” notes Liberman. “There’s great word of mouth in the neighborhood about it, and we’ve seen a huge increase in food sales during that time as well.”—MC