SpringHill Suites in downtown Savannah, Ga., is what parent Marriott refers to as a limited-service hotel. It offered guests breakfast in a lobby space along with a grab-and-go retail market, but never had a restaurant and bar that would attract both travelers and locals.
Enter Island Hospitality Management, a third-party hotel management company. “Customer demand is driving the need for enhanced menus that improve the guest experience and draw a local crowd,” said Gregg Forde, COO of the company. Forde and Thomas Ciszak, VP of Food & Beverage for Island Hospitality, saw the potential in an underutilized meeting room to fill that niche at the Savannah hotel.
“It was a perfect corner location to create a bar with excellent food,” said Ciszak, and Toasted Barrel—a temporary 36-seat bourbon bar with a streamlined food menu—soon opened in the 1,200-square-foot space.
The investment and renovations were minimal. Toasted Barrel uses the hotel’s breakfast kitchen, which is idle in the evening hours, and it required only small changes to make it workable, said Ciszak. “We also had to run plumbing for the bar and add a seating area.” Total seats now add up to 30 inside, 12 outside and 12 barstools. Island Hospitality partnered with the hotel’s ownership on costs and construction.
But Ciszak created the menu, focusing on food that needs to “eat really well.” About 80% of the items are variations of grilled cheese sandwiches, including brisket grilled cheese, kimchi grilled cheese and a version layered with smoked bacon, gouda and maple syrup, all made on bread sourced from a local bakery. “For lighter eaters, we also have items like a roasted beet salad and avocado toast,” he said.
The bar menu focuses on bourbon shots and cocktails, with detailed tasting notes to educate customers. Toasted Barrel’s signature is the Smoky Deal, crafted of bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup and bitters—a natural pairing for the bacon-and-gouda grilled cheese. Local beers, several wines by the glass and cocktails made with other spirits are also available.
After one year in operation, the “temporary” bar and restaurant delivered a 24% ROI, fulfilling its mission of offering an enhanced guest experience and a neighborhood destination with great energy and vibe. Its success convinced SpringHill Suites by Marriott Downtown Savannah to make Toasted Barrel permanent, and Forde and Ciszak to replicate the concept at underperforming spaces in similar hotels.
“We have hotel locations in several downtown areas where we can maximize an underutilized space and Toasted Barrel can thrive,” said Forde. In the works for 2021 are plans to transform Bar Vie at the Residence Inn Marriott Downtown Gaslamp in San Diego, open a Toasted Barrel at HQ of the Courtyard Dallas Downtown and debut the concept in the Hilton Garden Inn Los Angeles Marina Del Rey.
As far as the menu goes, 90% will stay the same as the original Toasted Barrel, but Ciszak will incorporate local beer, bread and other ingredients.
“Toasted Barrel is simplistic to run and profitable, and we found that having this type of upscale concept can impact a guest’s decision-making on choosing where to stay,” said Forde.