Katie Darling will oversee food and beverage operations at the new Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet St.), which will open next year in a 1920s art deco building being renovated by the Portland, Oregon-based boutique hotel chain. Until recently, Darling was the CEO at Celebration Distillation Corporation, which manages Old New Orleans Rum. Last week, the hotel group announced that Memphis chefs (and James Beard Award finalists) Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman had been tapped to run one of two restaurants at the property. Darling spoke with Gambit about what to expect when the Ace opens in spring.
What's in store for the new hotel?
Darling: When you first walk in, there's going to be a lobby bar directly to your right; it's a vintage bar that we're bringing in. Directly next to that there will be our music venue and another bar. Upstairs, there will be a rooftop pool and a bar. I'm the most excited about the rooftop pool; it's going to be open to the public, which is something that's unique to the city. I want people to feel like our lobby is their living room and our rooftop pool is their pool.
There are two restaurants; one of them will be an Italian restaurant with a little bit of that Southern twist that's in all of our blood. It will have an open kitchen where you'll be able to watch the chefs doing their magic and there will be outdoor seating wrapping around the building. Attached to that building there is a three-story Creole cottage with a brick courtyard. That's where we'll have the second restaurant. Everything Ace does is comfortable; while the culinary element might be slightly upscale, I would never say that it was formal or fine dining. Everything we do will be approachable, eclectic and forward-thinking.
How did you go from your job at Old New Orleans Rum to the hotel industry?
D: My background is really in the bar, beverage and boutique spirits industry, but at the end of the day, it's all hospitality and business. The hospitality gene is something you're born with or you're not. I love working with people and just working with large groups of people, always interacting with the community on a local and national level. Food and beverage is its own department. We're going to have about 110 team members in food and beverage alone, and we have some very exciting people lined up. I love to be involved in multiple things at one time; it's where I'm most comfortable — juggling a variety of projects.
How is managing operations at a hotel different than at a standalone restaurant or bar?
D: When you're in a hotel you're expecting guests from many different cultures. In a hotel you have literally hundreds of people who are in there traveling, so there's a whole different set of questions to be answered. Having someone in your hotel is sort of like having them in your living room, or your home. When someone is traveling, they're a little more vulnerable and they really look to the team in the hotel to be there for them and help guide them in their experience.