Michael DeGano is the director of food and beverage at the EPIC Hotel, Area 31 and LILT Lounge in downtown Miami. With 18 years of experience at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants under his belt, DeGano is a leader with a proven track record of high performance and strong determination. Prior to his move to sunny south Florida, DeGano worked with Kimpton properties around the country including Washington D.C., Seattle and Boston. He was selected as one of 20 leaders in the company to be a Kimpton Cultural Cornerstone Trainer while successfully launching Brabo and Jackson 20 in Washington, D.C. and received the Kimpton “Individuality” Award while managing Poste Brasserie.
How did you get into the Culinary industry?
I started out shucking clams on the Jersey Shore and then graduated to “fry cook”. I worked in that restaurant for 4 years as I went to high school but it wasn’t until I was in college that I found out my true talents were in the front of the house making guests smile and serving up cocktails 80’s style.
Tell us about Area 31/LILT Lounge. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the restaurant & lounge?
We are a seafood restaurant named after Fishing Area 31, an international zone designated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as a sustainable fishery, a vision that Area 31 embraces today and will continue to do into the future. Aside from offering the freshest of ingredients we also are proud of our talented management staff and employees that exude hospitality and detailed service each and every day.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Area 31/LILT Lounge's success?
We stay as connected to the Miami community as much we can. This gives us a chance to work side by side with other restaurants and bars and be seen as a leader in Miami’s restaurant scene. I feel connecting outside the restaurant is just as important as connecting to our guests inside our four walls. We like to give back it’s part of our DNA.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Guests are asking more and more about where their food comes from and we are more than willing to give them that information as well as source out the best commodities with them in mind.
Make a Difference Every Day.
Your greatest success as F&B Director of EPIC? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Opening up LILT Lounge in the lobby of the Epic Hotel. It was a daring feat to open a live music venue in a city that is known for its’ DJs and electronic music but we have stayed true to the concept and we are receiving many accolades from the city and from our guests. We had a vision for the lobby of the beautiful Epic Hotel and LILT Lounge fits in perfectly.
Your advice to an aspiring restaurateur?
Find your passion and if it has to do with making people happy and creating memorable experiences every day than put all your blood, sweat and tears into your restaurant. You’ll need those plus a lot more….
Describe the ideal experience at you Area 31 & LILT Lounge.
The Ideal Experience is a packed restaurant, a setting sun over the Miami Skyline, the sounds of music and guest chatter coupled with delicious food and attentive friendly hospitality.
How important are architecture/design to the success of Area 31/LILT Lounge?
I feel design is important but it is the feeling one gets in a restaurant that you truly remember, how someone made you feel. Aside from that; being on the 16th floor of the Epic Hotel and the beautiful views of Miami one would say we are very lucky to be positioned so magnificently.
Most popular dishes/drinks and your favorites?
Our most popular dishes are the Whole Hogfish and our Grilled Octopus. My favorite is our simply grilled Florida Snapper with a side of fennel or greens. It is perfection on a plate.
How do you motivate your employees?
The best way to motivate is to stay connected, be positive and listen so you are able to really know what is going on so when you do speak your team is inspired and ultimately are motivated by the relationship they have with you.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Bottle of Rose and Salade Nicoise
What literature is on your bed stand?
Right now…it’s Erik Larson’s Dead Wake.
Role model - business and personal?
Anyone I meet in a day that is focused on others. I get my strength from seeing that in action and I am always in awe when a person succeeds in making someone smile.
Currently I am focused on making Sunday dinners for myself and my friends. I love creating new recipes, learning new tricks of the kitchen and sharing them with loved ones.
Favorite travel destination?
I love to travel and connect with the culture, people and food so each new place is a new adventure but if I had to pick one I would say Portugal. One place I would love to go to soon is Peru. Visit Machu Picchu and I’ve been hearing so much about how dynamic Lima has become.
What's next for Area 31/LILT Lounge?
We continue to stay connected and focus on each guest and team member to provide the best experience possible.