One Careful Owner

28th June 2009 (Last Updated June 28th, 2009 18:30)

In a rare interview, Rogerio Fasano of the Fasano Group meets Luciana Stein at the company's world-renowned São Paulo property to reveal his perfectionistic approach to hotel ownership.

One Careful Owner

Rogerio Fasano is seated in one of the leather armchairs of his hotel in the Jardins neighbourhood of São Paulo. Calmly he points to a slightly crooked golden lamp illuminating an old map in the lobby.

“For one hour I have been looking at that lamp and wondering how people let that happen,” he says. At 47 years old Fasano has already had two strokes: one at 37 and the other at 42.

Yet still he goes on smoking and worrying about each lamp, just as he cares about every dish that comes out of each kitchen in the 11 restaurants, bars and hotels the Fasano Group owns in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Fasano says he is “the first victim of his own perfectionism”, and this intense, Brazilian-born Italian may not be exaggerating.

As one of the most important businessmen in Brazil, Fasano has renewed the tradition of his Italian family and set the standards for a contemporary image of the country, and he has no intention of stopping. The Fasano Group is expanding, with three new hotel enterprises on the way.

Next year a Fasano hotel will open at Fazenda Boa Vista, created in collaboration with partner JHSF Group. Properties in Punta del Este on the Uruguayan coast and Trancoso in north-east Brazil are next on Fasano’s agenda.

Gastronomy and hospitality are the channels through which Fasano, a former film student, chose to express his creativity. Fasano does it with rigour.

“In Brazil the Fasano family name is synonymous with gastronomy.”

His productions are classical with a twist. There are no extravagances in food or style.

Think of the sober colours and quality ingredients in a traditional linguine alle vongole fresche. Fasano hotels and restaurants have a masculine sophistication enhanced by the smell of leather and fine cigars and a soundtrack of bossa nova.

Even Fasano’s most recent project, the Fasano Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, which was decorated by celebrated French designer Philippe Starck, follows this aesthetic. Fasano grew up in the creative atmosphere that flourished in Brazil in the 1950s and ’60s, epitomised by architects such as Sergio Bernardes and Oscar Niemeyer, and musicians such as Tom Jobin and Nara Leão.

The hotel in Rio followed this inspiration.

In Brazil the Fasano family name is synonymous with gastronomy. Most people assume that Rogerio smoothly followed the family footsteps in the manner of a Godfather plot.

The truth is less straightforward, however. Until 1982 all Fasano knew about restaurants came from memories of his childhood spent among the tables of the restaurants his grandfather Ruggero owned in the ’40s to the ’60s, and also mythical tales of his grand-grandfather Vittorio’s restaurant.

Vittorio Fasano was a Milanese who came to Brazil in 1902 and opened Brasserie Paulista in the centre of São Paulo. The name later changed to Fasano and the restaurant lasted into the ’30s. Both businessmen became important figures in São Paulo and their restaurants represented a new sophisticated, metropolitan Brazilian culture.

“Fasano’s creations are classical with a twist. There are no extravagances.”

But when Ruggero died in 1968, Fabrizio, Rogerio’s father, decided to discontinue the family business. A talented, charismatic, self-made man, Fabrizio, who is now 73, created the first locally produced whisky, made with eight-year-old aged malts, Old Eight.

Memories of living and sleeping at the family restaurants and his father’s and grandfather’s workaholism led Fabrizio to discourage his children to dedicate themselves to the same trade.

In 1982, Rogerio Fasano was living in London, studying film and looking for a job, when he received a call from his father. “We just received an offer to open the Fasano restaurant,” Fabrizio told his son.

“Congratulations,” Fasano answered, not understanding that it was a proposal for him to rejoin the family business. At first Fasano was reluctant to accept, but a month later he was back in São Paulo to inaugurate the restaurant, which remained open for only six months.

At this point the Fasano family was experiencing tough times.

A whisky blend recently launched by Fabrizio’s company had not sold well.

Following the failure of the first restaurant, another one at a different address was also less successful than expected.

Fortunes changed in the ’90s, however, when the Fasano family launched another project in a big neoclassical house in the heart of one of the most celebrated areas of São Paulo: the Jardins.

Fasano established a partnership with one of the most important architects in Brazil, his friend Isay Weinfeld, and together they travelled the world searching for old furniture pieces, design inspiration and for food. “We don’t travel to Milan to look for trends; we travel to Italy to eat,” Weinfeld once said.

“I enjoy things that I will still find beautiful in 30 years’ time.”

Fasano loves to taste ingredients from haute cuisine to rustic gastronomy. He used to play football and is a good sportsman but has worked non-stop for the past 30 years.

Fasano runs the business, his father does the administrative work, and his sister Andrea is in charge of the cuisine. Fasano controls every move of his waiters, most of whom have worked for the family’s restaurants for a long time, some for 15 or even 20 years.

Fasano monitors the growing abilities and limitations of all his staff. “Sometimes he seems not to be paying attention to something or someone, then he describes it in detail,” says Manoel Beato, Fasano’s sommelier, who has worked with the family for 18 years.

Beato has learned to interpret his visions. Fasano does not like to hire models as hostesses or actors as waiters.

“I like waiters who love the business,” he says. “Waiters who dream of being maître d’ and a maître d’ who dreams of being a restaurant owner.”

He is also conservative in his gastronomic choices. If you want to have fun, ask Fasano to give you his opinions on experimental cuisine such as mustard ice cream or dishes that come to the table with an iPod in order for the customer to “fully experience” the dish.

“I believe in ten years we won’t be able to stand tasting most of today’s gastronomic trends,” he says. “I enjoy things – foods and environments – that I will still find beautiful in 30 years’ time.”

If you ask what category Fasano Hotel falls under, Rogerio will tell you that it is not a designer or boutique hotel. He dislikes the terminology and what it represents.

“This is an owner’s hotel; a hotel in which the owner is ever present.” In his view the reason all his business enterprises are so successful is the mix they create.

You can spot top executives meeting each other, playboys with their cigars and designers sitting next to a stylish older couple – people from their 20s to their 60s.

Although the atmosphere at the hotel is very sophisticated, Fasano’s luxury is far from oppressive.

People in Fasano restaurants flirt and, while they may assume airs, they talk loudly and they revel in life. It is a reflection of the hotel’s owner, who carries the natural elegance of an intense man who talks energetically, smokes a lot, and may get a little nervous about those things that escape his control, such as crooked lamps – and interviews.