Visionary Canadian Interior Designer – Alessandro Munge

Good enough was never good enough for me.

Alessandro Munge

Alessandro Munge
Alessandro Munge

A public space that unfolds the nodes and nuances of our souls and desires and satisfies our safety and care requires a dazzling and utopian thinker: one that is observant, innovative, and is genuinely attentive to public behavior, social pleasures, and thoughtful relationships. Driven by excellence, Alessandro Munge, the founder of Toronto-based Studio Munge, adheres to these principles and elements to craft harmoniously unique visual stories that transform a space into becoming the “it” destination.

Camden Cocktail Lounge - Studio Munge
Camden Cocktail Lounge Studio Munge

Dubbed as the Interior Designer of the year 2018, Alessandro Munge differentiates his creations by understanding observable behaviors and cultural inclinations. With an impressive roster of international clients, especially in the hospitality realm, Studio Munge evokes sophistication and beauty.

 

Westlight New York
Westlight New York

In anticipation of his latest projects such as Nobu Toronto, for celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and actor Robert De Niro (opening in 2020) to designing interiors for two Shangri-La Hotel and Resort locations in Nanning and Shanghai (opening in 2021), to the avant-garde interiors of the Lago restaurant by Spanish chef Julian Serrano on the top floor of the Bellagio juxtaposed Shanghai’s historic Puxi district, among many other global ventures, read below the exclusive interview:

Lago - Studio Munge
Lago – Studio Munge

Jupilings: How do you describe yourself-

AM: A naturally intuitive creative who cherishes authentic experiences through design. 

El Catrin - Studio Munge
El Catrin – Studio Munge

Jupilings: How do you challenge yourself with every new project-

AM: I challenge myself with every new project by starting with a completely blank slate. Rather than following one formula or repurposing the same elements and concepts, I look at what we’ve done before, and push myself to form something completely different and new.

Leuca by Studio Munge
Leuca by Studio Munge

Jupilings: It is quite challenging to work on projects on the other side of the world, do you have ground rules on managing expectations that can be applied universally-

AM: No matter the country, area code, language or time zone, effective communication is detrimental to executing a project successfully. We always take the extra time necessary to have weekly or daily briefings to ensure everyone involved is working towards realistic timelines and a clear vision. From international site visits to long conference calls, our expert project management team has been key in managing expectations. Their expansive design and construction knowledge as well as their constant dialogue with contractors, suppliers, and clients helps us monitor progress and ensures the holistic execution of our design intent.  

Nobu - Studio Munge
Nobu – Studio Munge

Jupilings: People, tastes, preferences… change, so what significant principles in your world of design are applied to make things and create concepts that are durable and time-tested-

AM: Our work is consistently concept-driven and developed around the emotional response we envision our end-users to experience within our spaces. Emotions are universal and timeless; they are not limited to trendy colours, finishes or forms. Whether our spaces align with your preferences or specific tastes, they will connect with you on a deeper level withstanding the test of time.

Jupilings: How do you motivate people working for you-

AM: Without the dedication of our almost 60 employees, Studio Munge would not be the dynamic force we are today. I want each member of that team to feel as excited to come into the studio as I do! Motivating every employee comes from leading by example, encouraging individuals to see their own potential while challenging their limitations, and building an inclusive, collaborative and inspiring work environment. Giving back and participating in events together fuels the fire; to name a few activities, we have shared lunches and engage with our community at design-centric events. 

Jupilings: How do you deal with setbacks-

AM: Setbacks are an inevitable part of life. What’s important is how you prepare for, react to, and learn from them; it can make or break you. When dealing with the unexpected, remaining calm and collected as well as optimistic is crucial. It allows you to focus on the most effective and efficient solutions without compromising the design intent. 

Mister C Toronto - Studio Munge
Mister C Toronto – Studio Munge

Jupilings: Who inspires you and why-

AM: For me, inspiration doesn’t come from one specific source. From one moment to the next, I’m inspired by new things and experiences all around me. These sparks of intrigue happen organically anytime anywhere I wander, like rough stone textures or the grooves in the sand made by the ocean tide. I’ve started to document more of those textures and moments on my own Instagram. It’s my way of keeping it all in one space and sharing those precious flashes of inspiration with my friends and community.

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 12.50.45 PM.png
JW MARRIOTT Parq Vancouver– Studio Munge

Jupilings: What is your signature personal style? 

AM: My Italian roots and love for fashion and art play a huge part in my personal style. I like to keep things relaxed, clean, elevated and effortless. I love sneakers and detailed basics that are minimal with an edge.

Canadian Connection to Tequila – Interview with Eric Brass, Co-Founder of Tequila Tromba

Eric Brass, Co-Founder of Tequila Tromba
Eric Brass, Co-Founder of Tequila Tromba

Ever since the Nahua tribe tasted the sweet nectar of the blue agave blessed by the goddess Mayahuel, and in time, the spirit became part of Rolling Stones’ hedonistic ways tequila embodies joy and pleasure. Fast forward, this drink has become a refined sipping spirit as consumed in Mexico, and thanks to enterprising individuals such as Eric Brass, indulging in supreme quality has become affordable for everyone.

Eric Brass, the co-founder of Tequila Tromba, partnered with one of the world’s most respected master distillers, Marco Cedano, has created a brand representing formidable pedigree and authenticity, producing boutique crafted batches of high-end tequila. Launched in 2012, Tromba has grown to the #2 premium Tequila in Canada and number #1 in Toronto and has expanded in the prominent tequila and cocktail scene in the US and other parts of the world. A favorite of cocktail sippers and knowledgeable bartenders with a creative mind, Tequila Tromba has a balance of substance and smooth taste.

Eric Brass shares his insights on Tromba’s story, his determination, and how to savor the spirit.

Tequila Tromba - Blanco

Tequila Tromba – BlancoJupilings: How would you describe yourself-

EB:  I’m someone who loves to take the path least followed. I think people too often lean on the conventional paths with the least amount of resistance. These paths offer a lot of comfort and stability, but they also can offer the least amount of reward. I prefer to take an unconventional approach and be involved in the process. More often than not, I’m actively working on growing the business, so you’ll rarely find me sitting for too long.

Jupilings: How did Tequila Tromba start-

EB: I went down to Mexico on exchange with school and fell in love with Tequila. I always had the misconception of Tequila being that terrible shot at that horrible bar at the seedy hour of the night. I tried good tequila for the first time and was amazed.

When I returned to Toronto, I’d preach my new love for Tequila but found no products that spoke to me and my demographic. Most brands were either “cheap and low quality” or were too expensive and personified a bottle service, chest beating, look how much money I’m spending type attitude. There was nothing that spoke to my demographic and me nothing that was authentic and craft with a real story and pedigree behind it that had both substance and style.

Thus the idea of Tromba was born. A product that is authentic, ultra-premium and inclusive.

I had “no business” starting Tromba. I had zero experience in the nightlife, bar or alcohol world, no valuable relationships and no money. I started Tromba on a dream: against all the odds, with a couple of bottles, $10,000 and a backpack.

Tequila Tromba Blanco
Tequila Tromba Blanco

Jupilings: What makes Tequila Tromba different from other Tequila brands-

EB: There isn’t one specific element that makes Tromba different. It’s the complete process. Tromba’s distilling team are Marco and Rodrigo Cedano – father and son duo who have been making tequila their entire lives. Marco was the original master distiller of Don Julio, and Rodrigo was effectively born on the agave fields. Tromba is distiller owned, so it’s really unique that these guys are not only making Tromba but are owning Tromba. We have a rule at Tromba – no gringos in the kitchen which mean every single step of the production process is overseen by Rodrigo and Marco, from the harvesting of the agave, cooking, fermentation and distillation. Marco invokes the old traditional methods of how things have been done while Rodrigo, the younger asks why can’t we do it a new way, adding innovation.  We call it modern craft, and it works.

Tequila Tromba Blue Agave Field
Tequila Tromba Blue Agave Field

Jupilings: What makes the perfect tequila-

EB: Much like great wine, Tequila has a strong terroir element, which means that the taste of the final product has a lot to do with the soil, climate and terrain that imparts flavour into the blue agave plants.

The craft of production is also a really important element when it comes to creating a great tequila. We age our tequila in Jack Daniels Barrels, which help to create the golden hue of a Reposado and Anejo. Marco and Rodrigo overseeing every step of the production process, and that attention to the small details is what makes Tromba such a great tequila.

In all, there is no such thing as perfect tequila. It’s truly dependent on people’s tastes and personal preference. Tromba’s taste profile is sweet, soft and citrusy which may be perfect to some but not for someone that prefers a more vegetal earthy taste.

Tequila Tromba Distillery
Tequila Tromba Distillery

Jupilings: What are the top tequila myths that need to be debunked-

EB: The idea that you need Salt and Lime to take shots of tequila. The combination is less a pairing and more a tactic to mask the taste of bad quality Tequila.

Another myth is about the worm or scorpion in the bottom of the bottle. The worm is not a mark of quality. Instead, it’s a cheap marketing gimmick for Mezcal, a product similar to tequila, but not made in the Jalisco Highlands, the only area that can legally produce tequila.

Jupilings: What makes tequila a good spirit-

EB: Tequila is one of the healthiest spirits you can consume. Aside from its low calories (69 calories per ounce), there are no refined sugars in tequila. It’s also gluten-free and vegan. To top off the amazing help benefits of tequila, it’s also the only spirit that actually increases endorphins. It’s an upper that increases your mood, rather than making you sleepy.

 Jupilings: What cocktail trends with tequila have impressed you-

EB: I love putting tequila into traditional non Tequila drinks – subbing out gin, vodka etc. for Tequila.  Tromboni (Tequila Negroni), Mexican Mule and Tromba soda are three of my favourites.

Jupilings: What are the most important qualities that are required to be a master distiller-

EB: Being a master distiller is both an art and a science. To make a quality spirit, a master distiller understands the fine balance of patience, the best balance of ingredients and possesses a palate that can discern the good from the exceptional.

Tequila TROMBA - Anejo
Tequila TROMBA – Anejo

Jupilings: Do you have advice for aspiring entrepreneurs to get ahead in your industry-

EB: Passion and persistence are paramount.

Tequila Tromba Blue Agave Field
Tequila Tromba Blue Agave Field

Jupilings: What’s one branding lesson you’ve learned in your career-

EB: Everything has to revolve around a reason for being and a why you exist.  Once you stray from that and take shortcuts – you are asking for problems.

Jupilings: What are your favourite bars in the world-

EB: Would be like picking my favourite child.

Jupilings: Best piece of advice you’ve been given-

EB: Energy and persistence can conquer almost anything.

Tequila Tromba Agave Field
Tequila Tromba Agave Field

Jupilings: How do you deal with setbacks-

EB: Like our motto, you take life by storm. You need to be adaptable to the situation, no matter its highs and lows. Take a moment to step back, evaluate and make a choice based on informed reasons.

Jupilings: What is your life motto-

EB: Take life by storm!

Tequila Trombone Anejo
Tequila Trombone Anejo

Talk with Janet Zuccarini, Visionary & Owner of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group

One of the brightest stars in the eatertainment industry, Janet Zuccarini knows how to successfully integrate food and vibes components to create remarkably welcoming eateries.  A talent, an empowering mentor, and a visionary, she runs exhilarating restaurants where unpretentiously perceptive to charmingly elegant people enjoy the fresh and tasty food.

Janet Zuccarini - CEO & Owner of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group
Janet Zuccarini – CEO & Owner of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group

Savvy with finance with years of experience living in Rome, savouring ethnic dishes, Janet Zuccarini is the owner and CEO of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group and a resident judge at Top Chef Canada. Janet’s restaurants, Trattoria Nervosa, Gusto 101, Pai Northern Thai Kitchen and Kiin, Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen are among top laid-back favourites serving wonderful, flavour-filled foods and delicious cocktails in Toronto. Her LA Hotspot Felix Trattoria has been awarded  “Restaurant of the Year” by Eater LA,  “#1 Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire magazine, and one of Los Angeles Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2017, finalist at James Beard Foundation Award, is the dope place frequented by Leonardo Di Caprio and Frances McDormand.

Felix Trattoria - LA - Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.
Felix Trattoria – LA – Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.

Jupilings: How do you describe yourself?

JZ: Positive. Tenacious. Hard-working. Fun. Zest for life. Lover of food, business, and travel.

Jupilings: What qualities made you successful in the hospitality industry?

JZ: Being in the restaurant business isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the most challenging industries you could choose as an entrepreneur. When I opened my first restaurant over twenty years ago, I worked sixteen-hour days, seven days a week. I did everything from the bartender to bookkeeper to bussing tables and seating guests. Knowing every angle of your business, and knowing it really well is a huge advantage when it comes to making those big decisions. As a restauranteur, you have to expect challenges, and then have the passion for keeping pushing forward. If you have a genuine love for the work you do, no roadblock or setback will get in the way of your goal.

Trattoria Nervosa - Toronto- House with a rooftop patio offering a chic & chill setting for classic Italian dishes & drinks.
Trattoria Nervosa – Toronto – House with a rooftop patio offering a chic & chill setting for classic Italian dishes & drinks.

Jupilings: What are the branding principles in hospitality/lifestyle that you want to manifest in your restaurants?

JZ: I’m fortunate to have seven successful restaurants under my belt, with two set to launch in 2019, which is incredibly exciting. One thing I’ve known from day one is that you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to restaurants – something seen in all of my concepts. For example, with Felix in Los Angeles, we knew we had to make it a destination restaurant, and that meant partnering with an exceptionally talented chef and locking down a piece of property on one of the most sought-after foodie streets in the world. With Chubby’s we wanted to bring the warmth and vibrancy of Jamaica – a place that I fell in love with after going there many times on vacation – to Toronto. The strategies for those concepts are vastly different from Gusto 101 or Nervosa which are designed to be neighbourhood fixtures that withstand the test of time. The one common thread that ties all of the restaurants together is the idea of a transporting experience, complete with delicious relevant food, inspiring design, and soulful hospitality. As long as I am grounded in these three pillars, I feel free to innovate and expand wherever my imagination takes me.

Kiin - Toronto
Kiin – Toronto inspired​ by delicate royal Thai cuisine, this marble-tiled restaurant serves artfully composed food.

Jupilings: What are the elements you consider when it comes to conceptualising a new venue?

JZ: Location is certainly key. When we made the jump from just a few restaurants to a global restaurant group in 2015, we solidified our mission to build the most culturally relevant and celebrated collection of restaurants and innovative culinary experiences in the world. Location plays a massive role in bringing this mission to life. Whenever possible, I seek to purchase the real estate in which my restaurants are housed. I believe that design is equally important as incredible food, and purchasing real estate affords me the opportunity to invest in infrastructure and have full control over the details. With any concept, our goal is to create a transporting experience.

Chubby_s Jamaican - Jerk chicken, curries & Jamaican snacks, plus tropical cocktails, served in a resort-like setting.
Chubby_s Jamaican – Jerk chicken, curries & Jamaican snacks, plus tropical cocktails, served in a resort-like setting.
Gusto 101 - Toronto - Southern Italian classics with a global twist in an industrial setting plus wine on tap.
Gusto 101 – Toronto – Southern Italian classics with a global twist in an industrial setting plus wine on tap.

Jupilings: Regarding your latest venture, Felix Trattoria, in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, what sentiments you want to capture & what kind of experience your audience will gain?

JZ: As my first international endeavour, Felix has a special place in my heart. When the opportunity to open a restaurant on Abbott Kinney fell in my lap, I knew I had to bring my A-game. Felix is deeply rooted in the culinary traditions of regional Italy combined with the fresh ingredients grown by California’s greatest family farms. When you walk into Felix, we want you to feel like you’re at home – everything from the food to the atmosphere feels comforting, but in the same breath, extraordinary. Our Chef, Evan Funke, brings the time-honoured tradition of pasta fatta mano or handmade pasta to Felix, resulting in some incredible dishes. We’re so grateful to have been honoured as both “Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire Magazine and “Restaurant of the Year” by Eater LA. The transporting experience at Felix is next level, but you’ll just have to try it yourself to see.

Felix Trattoria - LA - Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.
Felix Trattoria – LA – Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.
Felix Trattoria - LA - Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.
Felix Trattoria – LA – Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.

Jupilings: Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

JZ: My first job was working with my father who brought the first espresso machine to Canada, and I would, as this tiny 12-year-old, haul espresso machines from restaurant to restaurant to help my father out in his business. Seeing how hard he worked first-hand instilled within me a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. I remember he would always say, “Janet – whatever you do, work for yourself!” Reflecting on where life has taken me, I’m sure his words were a massive influence on the career path I’ve chosen.

Jupilings: As a female entrepreneur can you, please share five tips to achieve one’s career or entrepreneurial aspirations in the hospitality industry?

JZ: Male, female, it doesn’t matter – we’re all just humans here. If someone else in the world can succeed, why can’t I?  All it takes is a big dream, and the grit, hard work, and passion for making it a reality. But advice specific to hospitality? You better want it and want it bad. This business isn’t an easy one, and you have to be prepared for things to go wrong. At the end of the day, if things go sideways, it’s going to be your passion for what you do that will give you the confidence to get back up and make it work.

Gusto 101 - Toronto - Southern Italian classics with a global twist in an industrial setting plus wine on tap.
Gusto 101 – Toronto – Southern Italian classics with a global twist in an industrial setting plus wine on tap.

 

Jupilings: What’s one branding lesson you’ve learned in your career and ventures?

JZ: Authenticity is always central to everything I do. Beyond having incredible food and design, knowing your brand voice is one of the most important things to have locked down – know who you are and who you aren’t; speak to your audience, not at them; and be authentic. Especially with social media, everyone feels like they play a part in your brand. We have thousands of loyal customers both on and offline, and they will let you know if something isn’t right. That’s why when it comes to hiring, I’m very selective with who is part of the team. From the person who manages our Instagram accounts to the server that brings out the plate of food, each team member is an extension of the brand. I’ve learned only to hire awesome, and to invest in those people to ensure they have the tools and training to bring each brand to life.

Jupilings: How do you deal with setbacks?

JZ: Having been in this industry for some time now, I’ve developed a thick skin for any setback that comes my way. Especially when it comes to the restaurant industry, you have to expect the unexpected – but having an indomitable spirit is what allows me to keep going. Sometimes setbacks can be your greatest opportunities. Whether it was a hard lesson that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life or a mistake that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, I try not to be afraid of setbacks as I continue to build my company. I remember when we were building Gusto 101 we ran into some troubles with the construction of the foundation. This roadblock turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to us as it led to the creation of a basement with a private wine cellar – one of our most celebrated features in which we now host private dinners.

Jupilings: Who inspires you and why?

JZ: One of my earliest inspirations for business was my father who owned his own espresso machine company. Working alongside my father taught me about entrepreneurialism and the hard work it takes to run your own business.  My father was also one of those people who knew how to make people feel special – I have fond memories of homecooked meals growing up where my friends and family would pile around the table to devour anything my parents would serve us. This sense of soulful hospitality is something that is deeply instilled in me and is something I make a point of incorporating into every restaurant I open.

Felix Trattoria - LA - Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.
Felix Trattoria – LA – Evan Funke’s take on traditional Italian cuisine, with pasta made on sight, right before your eyes.

Jupilings: What does it mean to be a woman today & what are the unique traits that women bring to your industry?

JZ: Today women have a lot of opportunities, and being a woman shouldn’t be seen as a disadvantage. If anything, it’s an advantage – women have an intuitive sensibility around details that most men just don’t possess naturally. This is a massive strength for me when it comes to considering everything from the ingredients of each dish to the unique design details of my restaurants. Something as small as having purse hooks under each bar or good lighting in the bathroom are features that can so easily be missed but make a massive impact when it comes to overall experience.

Yes, society puts pressure on women to follow a certain path – go to school, have a career, get married, have kids – but now, more than ever before women feel empowered to take a path less travelled. When I was younger, I asked my father for the wedding money he had been saving to help with a down payment on a condo. He even made me sign a paper saying I wouldn’t come back to ask for wedding money down the line. Years later, I sold that condo and used that money to buy into the partnership at Trattoria Nervosa. I’ve never looked back since. Don’t be intimidated to enter into a male-dominated industry – it is just an opportunity to put your own unique stamp on the way things are done.

Jupilings: What is your life motto?

JZ: The greatest determiner of success is grit.

Elegant Interior Design​ & Luxury Experience at Don Alfonso 1890 – Interview with Nadia Di Donato, Vice President & Creative Director, Liberty Entertainment Group

Nadia Di Donato, Vice President & Creative Director- Liberty Entertainment Group
Nadia Di Donato, Vice President & Creative DirectorLiberty Entertainment Group

Love and passion are the foundations of southern Italy. The jewel-toned sea, the mighty Mount Vesuvius, the whisper of a rushing wind carries you to this fiery landscape where a halo of calmness cuffs your soul. A place where the rich aroma of local cuisine redolent of legends and traditions is the jet-setters’ playground. Don Alfonso 1890, run by the Iaccarino family, in the heart of Sant’Agata in Amalfi Coast, is that charming place for nobility, food connoisseurs, and lovers.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto
Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

Thanks to Nick Di Donato, President, and CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group, and Nadia Di Donato, Vice President & Creative Director, the Michelin star awarded Don Alfonso 1890 has enriched Toronto’s fine dining experience. A match made in heaven, the culinary romance, and the upscale sophistication of Amalfi Coast merged with the expertise of Liberty Entertainment Group is brought to the hip and sparkling Toronto. The narrative, the Mediterranean flavors, the phenomenal culinary, the creativity, the exceptional service, the remarkable art unleashes the Proustian effect. A revival of an impression from our past life, a lost memory, a heartwarming movie, a desire, or merely living a splendid lifestyle has been introduced in our modern and booming metropolis. The elegant restaurant is an oasis for titans of the financial district, visionary moguls, charming clans, or driven patrons.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto
Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

The exclusive interview with the Nadia Di Donato sheds lights from the concept to execution of the Don Alfonso’s 1890 interior design process.

Jupilings: What are the branding principles in entertainment/lifestyle that you want to manifest in your creative designs-

NDD: For individual venue: Firstly, I want to establish the intended perceived image of the restaurant in the first 30 seconds of entering and then the subsequent emotional response to the entire experience. My design is not limited to space itself; it extends through the many layers from artwork; to furniture; to tableware; to the menu and collateral design; to wardrobe. The details create the “design magic” that is at the essence of customer experience.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

By design, These establishments are either located in historically designated properties or in signature neighbourhoods throughout the city. These classic shells provide a particular opportunity to juxtapose traditional elements with a new modern design which has now somewhat become signature to Liberty Group.

Today, with an impressive collection of uniquely designed venues ranging from casual eateries, nightclubs, elegant restaurants, large banquet facilities and its crowning jewel Casa Loma, under my creative direction, the Liberty Entertainment Group has gained recognition as one of North America’s top hospitality companies.

Jupilings: What are the elements you consider when it comes to design and to conceptualise an entertainment venue-

NDD: One of the most interesting projects that a designer can take on is designing a restaurant. It can be daunting and stressful to come up with concepts. At times I find myself stumbling upon some “design magic” through the exploratory process. Narrowing it down to a final design concept and then seeing it through the build process to customer enjoyment which is a very rewarding experience.

Conceptualisation: All design components revolve around clearly defining my target market. Every detail departs from that one notion…”How do I want the customer to feel.”

Once I have that clear understanding in mind, I establish the identity of the restaurant by pairing a design style palette (ie, furnishing, coloring, lighting, construction materials) with a visual components package (ie: tableware, uniforms, signage, logo, menus, marketing collateral, etc) which I use as my framework to ensure the overall image of the restaurant is cohesive and consistent. This phase is the most crucial part of the overall process. It results in a design vision that guides the entire project.

Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

Personal design style: I see interior spaces more through the eyes of an artist rather than as a technical interior designer. I’m always thinking out of the box and very hands-on working closely with my construction team (whom I’ve been working with for over 25 years. When I walk into a raw space, I always consider the existing elements that can be utilised in my design. Since most of my design projects are located in historically designated buildings, I have an immense appreciation and respect for the intricate details of historic design and always juxtapose original with new.

Personally, I am an art lover and a believer that fine art is like an accent piece of jewellery. Signature to my design is my inclusion of individually curated or commissioned art pieces tailored to reflect the personality of the space, elevating the dining experience by adding originality and intrigue.

Jupilings: Regarding your latest venue Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto, what influenced Liberty Group to introduce Mediterranean fine dining experience-

NDD: Firstly our roots are Italian; therefore it was a natural fit to partner with Chefs Alfonso and Ernesto in this special restaurant. It is the first restaurant of its kind in Toronto to showcase father and son world-class Michelin star chefs. A display of incredible talent in a beautiful space unlike any other in the city. (If I’m allowed to say so myself 🙂

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto 

The intention was to elevate the bar in the local hospitality industry in hopes of establishing a new standard of dining and capture the attention of critics on a global scale including the recognition of soon to be Michelin rating in Canada (Michelin to date has not published in Canada). (Word has it that they will be doing so as of November this year. We like to think that perhaps with Don Alfonso in Toronto; we were partially responsible for this finally happening.)

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto 
Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

Jupilings: What sentiments you want to capture in Don Alfonso 1890 ’s ambience-

NDD: When I experienced Don Alfonso 1890 in the Amalfi Coast, the concept that resonated with me the most was the simplistic yet intricate contrast in the food. The contrast between classic ingredients prepared with a fresh, clean, organic, sophisticated approach. That is what I wanted to capture in the space.  The contrast between the historical setting of this original mid-19th-century building provided the perfect backdrop to juxtapose a fresh, clean, sophisticated modern approach to the interior space. Everything in the restaurant from art installations, furniture, upholstery, lighting, linens, uniforms, menus, dishware, glassware, silverware and accessories are custom designed to reflect the above.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto
Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 

A few design details listed below:

Reception:

I chose a Desk rather than hostess stand for a more inviting Concierge-style reception.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

A newly designed 30’ waterfall feature with intricate Italian porcelain inlay adorns the bar area to give the sense of water of the Amalfi coast.

Temperature controlled champagne room featuring our extensive inventory of fine champagne.

Original wine cellar built in the mid 19th century houses our broad range of wines.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto 

Open concept Kitchen designed for transparency and guest interaction takes up 50% of the restaurant floor plate. Guests are walked through the kitchen at the end of their dining experience.

Design: 38” counter heights for clearer sight line from the dining room into the kitchen

Material: sleek Carrera laminate in 5’ x 10’ porcelain sheets used for counters ideal for cleanliness and durability.

The main dining room is designed to showcase our chef eight-course tasting classic and contemporary menus. Round tables and fine linen were intentionally used to facilitate fluid formal dining service. Custom Cartier style chairs ergonomically designed for maximum comfort.

The mezzanine area is designed in contrast to the main dining room. The custom furniture and design exudes a more casual atmosphere conducive to the al-a-carte menu and molecular drink program. Fabrics and furniture styling is an eclectic combination of cowhide, leather, and linen sofas and chairs custom designed to dining height. The extensive 38’ kitchen/bar showcases food and drinks preparation at all times.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto
Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

Jupilings: What kind of experience your audience will gain at Don Alfonso 1890-

NDD: Don Alfonso 1890 is the first restaurant in North America from Michelin Star Chefs Alfonso and Ernesto Iaccarino exposing our audience to a menu of Amalfi coast flavours in an interior accented by priceless art.

Housed in the historical Consumer’s Gas Building the interior design offers a sense of glamour and opulence yet comfort and relaxation. Not only is the experience captured through the surroundings, but it is also about the artistry in food design, custom designed plating, the finest linens, every last detail is intended to transport guests on an extraordinary gastronomical experience unparalleled to any other in the city.

Commercial photograpy
Commercial photograpy

Jupilings: What does intelligent and elegant design mean to you-

NDD: Intelligent design is an interpretation of the function of space and successfully transforming that space into a showcase. Since my background is in graphic design, each project is an art piece. Design should be timeless, sophisticated, clever and primarily relevant to the intention of the restaurant. The most important element is using colours and materials that translate to the intended feel of the space rather than those latest trending palettes.

Jupilings: Best piece of advice you’ve been given-

NDD: Interior design is like fashion, it changes. Stay away from anything that might date itself or will be so flashy or interesting that it’s going to take away from the intended experience. It is best when you feel it, but it doesn’t get in the way. Also, not really specific to design, I was once told not to take my work too seriously as I’d miss all the fun. 🙂

Jupilings: As a female entrepreneur and creative individual, can you please share five tips to tap into one’s potential to achieve one’s career or entrepreneurial aspirations-

NDD: Find a career to which you are adapted by nature, and then work hard at it. That is about as near to a formula for success as one will ever get.

When creating and innovating, work is play. Never take yourself too seriously. Don’t be afraid of thinking out of the box. Never accept the notion that it can’t be done.

Never be afraid of taking risks. If it doesn’t go well. It will be your most valuable lesson.

There is really never a right or wrong to a design style. Whatever your approach, hone it and own it.

Be blind to the difference between a male or female entrepreneur. There is no difference:) I never believed there were obstacles because I am a woman.

80% of my work is construction. I am always surrounded by men. And I’ve never been phased by it one bit 🙂

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto 

Jupilings: What’s one branding lesson you’ve learned in your career and ventures-

NDD: In hospitality, You can’t be all things to all people. The most important and expensive lesson I learned was not to ever waiver. Research, focus, execute from A to Z and stay true to what you set off to do. This has been the tried and true formula for the success of the Liberty Group. Although a diverse portfolio, each venue is expert in and very specific to its particular concept.

Jupilings: How do you deal with setbacks-

NDD: In any situation, I will always see the cup half full. There is no problem that doesn’t have a solution. I never sweat the small stuff. Moreover, I never dwell on a problem.

No one is immune to setbacks. Trust me I have had many. Whether personal or professional it always made me a little wiser, stronger, and better for it.

Trust that you are capable of doing amazing things—and even more so if you have to work through tough challenges.

I never blame. Exploring the way forward is much healthier than trying to blame someone or something. Stay focused on the bigger picture, commit to it and no matter what, see it through from start to finish.

Jupilings: Who inspires you and why-

NDD: On a personal level, my husband and my two sons truly inspire me every day. Their ambition, perseverance, focus and accomplishments constantly give me the drive to accomplish slightly more than I did yesterday.

As a designer and businesswomen, I draw inspiration from the experiences I’ve acquired through extensive travel. The privilege of interacting with the diversities of various cultures has defined my creative style. My designs are often an infusion of elements inspired from all corners of the world.

Jupilings: What does it mean to be a woman today-

NDD: I have been extremely fortunate to come from a pedigree of very strong independent, accomplished women. Also, am grateful to have been provided opportunities denied to many previous generations of women, being able to spend time with my children and travel, while working and creating a successful business.

I have always felt that no matter the gender, there are no limits to what someone can accomplish through determination, hard work and focus.

Today, the sky’s the limit for women across the world. Being a woman in 2018 means being a warrior for constant change. I stand on the shoulders of the brilliant women before me. Every day I try always to be aware of what they have afforded me, and I am grateful for the tools I was given.

Today women are empowered to find out where the struggles for equality still lie, and have a responsibility to reach out to those who need support, and speak out about the areas of inequality that persist.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

Jupilings: What is your life motto-

NDD: If you can see it in your mind, you will hold it in your hands. Keep working. Stay persistent. One day you will wake up exactly where you want to be.

Commercial photograpy
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto

Interview with Liz Biden, The Renaissance Hotelier

Liz Biden
Liz Biden

Gone are the days when female travel adventurers had to bond her breasts with linen bandages or step into her machismo and disguise as Ferdinand Magellan to explore the wildlands. Mutually, willing to take new chances and cultivate compassion by learning from diversity is not limited to genderless, male, female, or other preferred sexual identities. That being so, experiencing unfamiliar exclusivity is a privilege for an array of individuals and never ceases to be cool.

A luxury traveler embraces uniqueness, recognition, attention, and is motivated to indulge in an unforgettable experience knowing that it will improve the lives of inhabitants of the destinations. South Africa, the oasis of glittering sea, craggy mountains, wildlife encounters, and luxury wellness with a holistic experience offers the sophisticated traveler the opulence of self-reflection and the external splendors of connectivity to the surroundings.

A harmonious blend of nature and luxury
A harmonious blend of nature and luxury
Savour the champagne air...
Savour the champagne air…
The main sitting room at Birkenhead House. The ideal spot to relax and watch the whales go by.
The main sitting room at Birkenhead House. The ideal spot to relax and watch the whales go by.

South Africa is a canvas of spectacular landscapes, best safari destination, a multicultural nation, rainbow cuisine, seductive wines, and notably turbulent history transformed by hope and “ubuntu” qualities of compassion, forgiveness, and humanity to build a just and caring society.

Liz Biden, the renaissance hotelier, is the founder of South Africa’s most luxurious havens. She is the owner of The Royal Portfolio collections of exclusive hotels, lodges, and private residences in South Africa. Her accommodations fulfill the guests’ emotional needs with stimulating design, impeccable service, lavish and thrilling adventures. Her collections reinforce self-actualization and underline respect for local communities. A destination favored by celebrities such as Sir Elton JohnMichael JordanRenée FlemingRichard Gere, and many others shows her hospitality approach is founded on caring and commitment to excellence. An avid supporter of local artists, she has transformed Royal Portfolio hotels and residences into an art gallery displaying some of South Africa’s most well-known artists, including John MeyerBeezy BaileyDeziree SmithShany Van Den BergSasha HartsliefDenby MeyerRicky Dyaloyi and William Kentridge to name but a few.

Mark Williams
Royal Malawane Safari Lodge. Client: The Royal Portfolio. Stylist: Nathalie Williams.

Talk with Liz Biden

Jupilings: What set you off on your entrepreneurial venture-

LB: I began the Royal Portfolio at age fifty when I sold my fashion business. I retired for two days and then made a proposal to my husband that I was going to convert our holiday homes into private hotels. We were very fortunate to have a beautiful place in the African bush. We wanted to share all of our incredible memories and experiences with others, and so we decided to convert our family home into a luxurious lodge which is now Royal Malewane. We then did the same to Birkenhead House which had been our beach house for twelve years, and La Residence which was our smallholding in Franschhoek. We spent many years looking for the perfect spot in Cape Town and were thrilled when the opportunity at The Silo came along. It completed our circuit around South Africa. Since then we haven’t looked back and have continued to share more unique South African experiences with our guests, our friends and our growing family.

The terrace, beautifully lit up in the warmer summer evenings
The terrace, beautifully lit up in the warmer summer evenings

Jupilings:  You style and design every room, what are the elements that you consider when you start the process to create a relaxing and joyful environment-

LB: The ultimate goal is to provide our guests with beautiful, comfortable and exciting interiors. I want our guests to leave with an extremely positive view of our beautiful country and to return home as advocates of South Africa. I love to promote our local creative talent to the international travellers staying at each of our wonderful properties. I like our properties to be timeless and to stay true to the iconic destinations in which they are located. The destination-specific design is a key part of the guest experience. Every room is different, and each space is unique. I first need to get a feel for space – to spend time in the space and watch space and light evolve throughout the day. I tend to start by introducing a piece of furniture, fabric, carpet, or painting into space. Something that I love or that has really caught my eye. One of these items will then guide the subsequent design process, and the room will take shape from there. I love to mix things up – to place something serious next to something fanciful, something new next to something old and something expressive next to something more muted. I also love art. Art is what really brings the space to life and gives it personality. However, for me, the key is the comfort. Our guests need to be able to enjoy space and to feel as if they are at home. Not like they are in a museum.

Vineyard Suite 3 is the favourite of owner Liz Biden.
Vineyard Suite 3 is the favourite of owner Liz Biden.

Jupilings: What does luxury mean to you-

LB: For me, luxury means providing value and superior, personalised service, and creating unique experiences for our guests. Increasingly, guests are looking for special moments to share with their loved ones, and so it’s up to us to create and offer those exceptional experiences at each of our hotels. Luxury means comfort and the opportunity to share breath-taking experiences with family and friends.

Up close and personal with the Big 5 at Royal Malewane, a leading luxury Kruger Park Safari Lodge by the Royal Portfolio
Up close and personal with the Big 5 at Royal Malewane, a leading luxury Kruger Park Safari Lodge by the Royal Portfolio

Jupilings: What’s one branding lesson you’ve learned in your career and ventures-

LB: I believe one of the most important factors in building up and maintaining a successful brand is to consistently engage with it, ensuring that it is nothing but the best it can possibly be. For a luxury travel brand and hotel group, this is particularly important. I try to stay at our properties as much as possible. By being present and experiencing what our guests experience, I can actively ensure that the service and guest experience continues to improve, adapt, and stays consistent throughout our portfolio. Understanding our guests and their needs is critical. Also, I believe that our hotels should constantly evolve and improve – we need fresh ideas to keep things exciting. This could be something as simple as mixing up the artwork in a room or reupholstering a lovely chair with a beautiful new fabric.

The eclectic art in the hotel lobby with several commissioned pieces. Photo by Micky Hoyle for VISI Magazine.
The eclectic art in the hotel lobby with several commissioned pieces. Photo by Micky Hoyle for VISI Magazine.

Jupilings: Please tell us about your Foundation-

LB: Uplifting local communities, promoting conservation and protecting the environment are core company values of The Royal Portfolio. I believe that this is an intrinsic part of doing business in Africa. We’ve just established The Royal Portfolio Foundation which will formally address these core company values and ensure we are doing our part in giving back. Each property has various programmes aimed at uplifting local communities and protecting the environment. Giving back is an intrinsic part of doing business in Africa. It is also essential that we use our properties to promote South Africa as a beautiful destination for travellers to visit from all corners of the world. Tourism has such a positive impact on our country, so it’s important that we market the destination together with our properties.

Sigagule Crèche
Sigagule Crèche
Counter Poaching
Counter Poaching

Jupilings: Is it true that you mostly collect African contemporary art? What is the local art scene currently about? Do you have a personal methodology regarding the selection of the art-

LB: Art has always been something we are interested in and remains a big part of all of The Royal Portfolio’s properties. In keeping with our neighbour, Zeitz MOCAA, The Silo Hotel houses its very own collection of contemporary African art. While a significant portion of the art, furniture and ornaments found throughout our hotels are unique to Africa, I do occasionally source a specific piece from overseas. However, I always prefer to get my inspiration from something I see on my travels and have it made locally – it’s so important that we use local companies and give back to the local communities through supporting various companies and the African art scene. If there’s something that catches my eye and I can picture it in one of our beautiful hotels, I’ll do my best to get my hands on it and support the artist.

An extraordinary art collection adorns the walls of The One Above.
An extraordinary art collection adorns the walls of The One Above.

Jupilings: Best piece of advice you’ve been given- 

LB: If you’re looking to get into the tourism industry, it’s best to get your foot in the door somehow and then do your best to meet and connect with people in the industry to build long-lasting, healthy relationships.

Executive Chef Lennard Marais delighting guests at The Chef's Table.
Executive Chef Lennard Marais delighting guests at The Chef’s Table.

Jupilings: Please share five tips to tap into one’s potential to achieve one’s career or entrepreneurial aspirations-

LB: Find your passion and run with it! Don’t let anyone tell you your passion is not worthy of chasing. Your passion is yours, own it.  Be true to yourself, and create something that is authentic to your passions. Follow your dreams, and the rest will fall into place. Perseverance is key! Nothing will ever be easy, and there will always be hardships and downfalls. If you can stay optimistic in the face of failure, you will continue to learn and refine your entrepreneurial finesse.  It’s also fine if you don’t know what you want to do, or what your passion is. What matters is that you start working on something, and keep moving forward. Grab every opportunity that comes your way, and you’ll be amazed and what you’ll learn. Try not to focus on the end goal in mind too much, or to have a rigid plan. Stay fluid in your outcome and be open to change and suggestions. In today’s world it’s important to be adaptable and to be able to pivot in a new direction should the need arise. That doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals when things get difficult; it just means you need to be able to adapt and nurture a propensity to stay proactive in your entrepreneurial journey. Don’t become bogged down or despondent when things don’t go according to plan!

The peaceful study area in the extraordinary bedroom of The Silo Hotel penthouse overlooks Lion's Head and Signal Hill
The peaceful study area in the extraordinary bedroom of The Silo Hotel penthouse overlooks Lion’s Head and Signal Hill

Jupilings: How do you deal with setbacks-

LB: I believe that every cloud has a silver lining and I always look at what I can learn from the setback. If I’m feeling let down about a setback, I always try reason that it’s not so bad. That I am such a lucky person and need to carry on moving forward.

Jupilings: Who inspires you and why-

LB: Nature. The colours, sounds, textures and abundance of life are so inspirational.

Bright splashes of green and pink in the living area of Vineyard Suite 1
Bright splashes of green and pink in the living area of Vineyard Suite 1

Jupilings: What does it mean to be a woman today-

LB: Increasingly so, women around the world are moving into high powered positions. Many women in the Western World now have great freedoms which I hope will soon permeate into every corner of our world.

Jupilings: What is your life motto:

LB: Life is an incredible, beautiful gift, and one that you should make the most of every day.

Afternoon tea at the main lodge at Royal Malewane.
Afternoon tea at the main lodge at Royal Malewane.
The entrance to the main lodge
The entrance to the main lodge

Images courtesy of Royal Portfolio