Mr. McKeown

Food & Beverage

A Market for Today's Sophisticated Guest

By Thomas McKeown, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Atlanta

The fun thing about meetings hotels is that they are a different place just about every week. One week we're hosting a bridge tournament, the next a corporate sales team, or a dentists' conference, or sci-fi fans in costumes, or cheerleaders jumping for joy. You name the group, and our hotel has probably welcomed them.

There is seasonality to our business, too. In cooler months, we'll have more football fans, in the summer, families in flip flops. And our operation doesn't close up at 5 p.m. Our guests visit at all hours of the day and night, from early morning commuters to airline crews that check in long after midnight. The one thing they all have in common is that they're hungry, and it's my job to feed them.

Feeding today's guest is not as easy as it used to be, because our guest isn't who she used to be. Guests today are vastly more sophisticated in their knowledge and expectation of dining choices. The world is a more connected place, and many guests are better traveled and exposed to unique and interesting cuisines.

Consumers are more careful about what they eat. Guests in general are more health conscious. Many people need to be aware of allergies and dietary choices to maintain their personal wellbeing. Increasingly, consumers want to know what's on their plate and, importantly, where their food came from. And we all want to look younger and thinner (but still want to binge on some ice cream in the privacy of our guestroom once in a while).

Social media has an impact here as well. Dining experiences that are worthy of sharing on social media are very much in fashion. What we're eating is now part of our personal brand, an image that we all carefully build and promote through our social posts. We like our food to be surprising and delightful, so we can tell our friends and followers that because we chose it, WE are surprising and delightful.

To meet the demands of all of these various, informed, wellness conscious, socially engaged and discriminating guests, chefs and hotels have had to get a little creative, change some rules, even push back some walls - in our case quite literally. One of our most popular solutions to meet all of our guests' needs at Hyatt Regency Atlanta has been our Market concept.

Market is a 24-hour grab and go outlet built in the heart of our atrium lobby. Opened in 2011 as part of a major renovation of our property, Market is part coffee house, part boutique, part convenience store, part takeout pizza place and part wine bar, just for starters. The space is outfitted with a wood fired pizza oven, a beverage fridge, a pastry and sandwich case, a freezer and a soda machine that offers any combination of carbonated beverage you can think of.

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But its core offering is variety, which seems to surprise and delight the incredible diversity of guests who choose to stay with us each week. Market has become the focal point of our lobby, and our most successful restaurant. Early in the day, Market is a coffee house; with lines of commuters picking up something in a hurry to jump start their day.

Through the business day, guests migrate to the adjacent tables in our lobby bar, which are designed to let guests spread out, plug in their laptops, work, network, meet and connect, just like they would at the corner coffee cafe. At lunch, Market is a gourmet sandwich shop, where people can take a break, have a snack, play on their phones and recharge before finishing the back half of their day. During the summer, guests can take a salad or light snack down to our outdoor pool.

Later in the evening, guests can find wine and beer selections and a variety of take-out dinner options, perfect for bringing something home, or up to their room to work or hang out in their PJs. Even later, Market serves as a late night diner or convenience stop for guests who need a bedtime snack, a cup of tea, a bottle of water, or a pint of ice cream (or two).

The items we offer change with Market's evolving functions during the day. Yogurt, fresh fruit, cereal and bagels in the morning turn to sandwiches and wraps at midday, nutrition bars and lattes in the afternoon and oven fired pizzas, beer and wine in the evening. And of course through the day there's a full selection of candy, chips, bottled refreshers and homemade cookies and pastry. And all of our sandwiches, salads, wraps and other meals are made fresh daily and on site, with an emphasis on local ingredients.

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The emphasis on local and regional products and ingredients sets Market apart. It communicates to the guest that we care about what we're serving and gives them a taste of the region they wouldn't typically get in a big hotel. Many of our guests are busy while they're with us. They don't have a chance to experience the great restaurants and farmers markets that are thriving here in Atlanta and around the South these days. Market gives us an opportunity to offer these special products and enhance our guests' stay with a little local flavor, which hopefully they'll remember more than a refrigerator magnet.

We are fortunate enough to have great relationships with local purveyors who provide us with some delicious products, from pickles and cheese to locally made chocolate and beer. We stock these in Market to give guests a sample of our community, as well as some fun, tasty gifts they can take home for family and friends (or themselves). Market also gives us the opportunity to feature products we make right here in our hotel.

Sway, our upscale Southern restaurant, serves a tomato jam, little biscuits and cornbread muffins with each meal. The jam is slightly savory, slightly sweet, and guests love it. Through a partnership with Doux South, a local condiment company, we now serve jars of our Sway Tomato Jam in Market. It's great on crackers and toast, and some of our regular guests tell us they're using it as condiment on grilled chicken or fish. Sway's fried chicken has been recognized by local media as among the best in town. That's saying something, since we're in the heart of the South, where fried chicken is an art form. That's not to mention biscuits, where successful recipes are guarded family secrets passed from generation to generation. We painstakingly researched recipes for our fried chicken and our fluffy Southern biscuits, and after trial and error, we came up with dishes that our guests have thankfully embraced and even raved about.

Because guests asked about it, in 2016, we came up with the idea of boxing our dry fried chicken batter and offering it in our Market. We teamed up with our friends at Atlanta-based Garlic Clove Foods to develop and package our dry batter. Now guests can take home our Market Fried Chicken Mix (with a few handy tips on the label), dredge some drumsticks and enjoy our fried chicken anytime. It's been a big hit, and later this year, we plan to follow up with a Biscuit Mix. Since 2013, we've established successful bee hives on the roof of the hotel. We have two hives with tens of thousands of bees, which produce gallons of fresh honey each year. We serve this honey in our restaurant dishes and desserts, as well as the cocktails in our famous rotating Polaris rooftop lounge (where guests can actually look down on the hives as they rotate by).

Our friends at High Road Craft Ice Cream, an area purveyor of popular frozen treats, partnered with us to produce our own Blue Dome Honey Ice Cream, named for the Blue Dome over the rooftop lounge, and our bee honey. Pints of the ice cream are sold in Market's freezer to give guests a cool sample of our fresh honey, harvested right from our rooftop. Market has provided us the opportunity to share other special aspects of our hotel. Each year we design a holiday ornament, which we sell year round in Market as a souvenir. Our acclaimed Polaris rooftop lounge has its own loyal following and history, and Market offers Polaris T-shirts, red and white wine and other gifts.

Market has become a 24-hour touchpoint to help tell our unique story. And we have some terrific stories. We're a historic hotel committed to providing guests a special experience and help them make successful connections. Our food and beverage options are thoughtfully produced and carefully served. We're an Atlanta landmark that just this year is celebrating our 50th anniversary.

Through the products we offer, Market lets us showcase all of these stories, as well as provide a convenient, satisfying dinner or a hot cup of coffee on the run or a late night treat for all of our eclectic guests. This has been Market's true success. As we're serving something delicious or offering something new, Market helps us provide guests a special and memorable experience, setting us apart from other properties and helping us build an enduring loyalty, one that makes guests want to come back again and again. Isn't that the business we're in, no matter who is in our hotel in a given week?

Before his current role overseeing Hyatt Regency Atlantaís dining experiences, Chef McKeown served as Executive Chef at Grand Hyatt Atlanta for five years. Born and trained in Europe, McKeown began his career at the Limerick Golf Club in Ireland. He completed his culinary training on both sides of the Atlantic at the Limerick Institute of Technology in Ireland and Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, where he earned a Masterís degree in Food Service Education. McKeown refined his knowledge of contemporary American cuisine at the Somerset Club in Boston. He then became Executive Chef at the Ellis Hotel in downtown Atlanta, where he concentrated on local sustainable cuisine. Mr. McKeown can be contacted at 404-577-1234 or thomas.mckeown@hyatt.com Please visit http://www.hyatt.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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