Sebastien Silvestri does not do things halfway. As savvy of a hospitality pro as you can find, he brings his considerable experience and expertise to one of the premier hospitality groups in the world, sbe, where he is the Chief Operating Officer of its Disruptive Group.
A native of the south of France, and a graduate of famed Esitel School in Montpellier, France, Silvestri emerged as a passionate and knowledgeable professional with stops in Paris and London before coming to the US. He landed in Dallas, of all places, where he plied his craft at a variety of establishments—among them the renowned Mansion at Turtle Creek, as the F&B Manager, where he discovered the differences between European and American food and service traditions. Much to his surprise, while Dallas wasn’t Paris, London, or New York for that matter, he came to quickly appreciate the warmth and friendliness of the American patron.
He subsequently made his way west to Las Vegas, where he spent a great deal of time in leadership positions at the Bellagio Resort and Casino, before being named Vice President of Food and Beverage at the Venetian and The Palazzo Casino Hotel and Resort. There, under his leadership, such restaurants as Bouchon, Buddy V’s, Lagasse’s Stadium and more flourished and gave us an introduction to celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck, and Emeril Lagasse, among many others.
After an extensive stay in America’s Playground, Sam Nazarian and sbe came calling. With yet another move, this time to Miami, he oversaw the entire food and beverage operation for all hotel properties as Senior VP. This past April, he moved west yet again, to Los Angeles, where he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer for the Disruptive Group (under the sbe umbrella), where he continues to think about outside-the-box ways to offer a superlative experience for all its guests.
We had a wonderful lunch at Katsuya Hollywood, one of the properties under his direction, where, in between bites of a sumptuous feast, he shared some insights about his role and philosophy, the hotel life, and his family.
What are the main differences between European and American consumers?
Believe it or not, the American guest has really high standards in this country. The service is much better here; we expect quick and efficient service, primarily because time is of the essence. We tend to go to a restaurant and have a limited amount of time to spend—life is really busy, as opposed to Europe, where the pace of life is slower, and, by extension, the dining experience is so much more leisurely.
You travel a lot. Would you say that the quality of life is better in Europe?
While I really love living in the US, it is essentially different across the pond, because life is more relaxed over there. Americans tend to focus a great deal of energy on work and the pursuit of success and accumulation of “things,” that sometimes we forget to enjoy it all. It’s just two very different lives. Success on either side is defined differently.
You came to the US relatively early in your career. What was the impetus to move here?
The pace of life that we referred to earlier was a little too slow for me. I wanted to have a big career and do big things; it seemed that the US would offer this to me a little quicker. It proved to be the right decision.
You’ve obviously achieved a high level of success here in the states. Did you ever think that you would have had the same career in Europe?
It came very close! I was thinking about opening my own restaurant in the south of France when I decided to go to Paris (my very first plane ride at the age of 20!), and I was hooked. Traveling has become something that is crucial for me, providing me with a great deal of inspiration. I am a bit of a travel addict! I have many friends from different cultures and countries, and they all influence my journey.
Sbe is such a prominent name in hospitality. Tell us a bit more about what this newest venture has been like.
Sbe has grown tremendously over the last few years. We’ve acquired the Morgans Hotel Group, which now gives us access to multiple new brands and more than 25 hotels and residences, including the Mondrian and Delano portfolios. The challenge will continue to be to offer the exact same level of service and performance that our guests have come to expect and manage our growth, while keeping an eye on the future.
Because the sbe brand is international in scope, is it difficult to bring what is essentially American taste to foreign cultures and make it stick?
In all our ventures—SLS Hotel Baha Mar in the Bahamas comes to mind—we bring all our brands to the table (Katsuya, Cleo, Fi’lia and others), and, while we have a certain formula that has been very successful for us, we do implement local elements (such as local products, traditions, etc.). This comes to be a critical component in providing our guests with a sophisticated yet unique vibe and experience.
Sam Nazarian has been an influential figure in the career of many hospitality pros. What has he meant to you?
Sam is a brilliant man and it is a privilege to work for and learn from him. He is surrounded by very loyal and smart people, whom he leads and let’s do their jobs—that is his secret.
Let’s talk about something that seems to be very relevant nowadays: social media and the role of influencers. What is your take on this?
Obviously, social media plays a large role in broadcasting the message of what the sbe brand(s) are all about. We are very diligent about making sure that our communication strategy, regardless of channels, is on target, and social media enables us to do this quickly and in real time.
What is the role your family plays in your success?
Well, they play an essential role! I love my two daughters and my wife dearly, and while I am very busy with sort of an insane travel schedule, I do carve time with them the best I can. Sometimes, they do travel with me (they are very well traveled!), schedules permitting. I am very lucky that they understand the nature of what I do and how fortunate we are to live the very amazing lives we are privileged to lead.
What, in your eyes, is your most important mission?
Personally, it is to continue to be the best husband, father, and friend I can possibly be, and professionally, to give our guests an experience and memories they won’t soon forget!
Photos courtesy of sbe