Rogerio Fasano is all about the grand narratives - something that is seen not only in his exuberant telling of the Fasano family history, but also more immediately upon visiting any one of the Fasano hotels and restaurants that span the vastness of South America and beyond. Whether it’s in the iconic entrance to the Sao Paulo flagship that conceals all hint of a conventional check-in process by way of an opulent bar, or in the filmic romance of the secluded cabanas that make up the Fasano resort in Punta Del Este… Rogerio has woven journeys - narrative experiences - into the heart of his bricks and mortar work.
Lets start though with the slightly more humble beginnings of the Fasano story and Rogerio’s great grandfather, Vittorio, who founded a bistro in Sao Paulo, 1902. It was Vittorio’s son Ruggero however - the first of the Italian Fasano clan to be born on Brazilian soil - who really made the Fasano name, with the eponymous restaurant he opened in 1930. It was an establishment that would experience great rises and falls in fortunes over the course of the twentieth century.
“My grandfather [Ruggero] kept the restaurant well into the 40s and 50s, until he died in 1968,” says Rogerio. “It was famous not only for the restaurant but also for the parties and shows he would cater: Nat King Cole singing, the president having dinner amongst the likes of Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich…” Rogerio pauses briefly in his expansive monologue on the history of Fasano. “…But in 1968 he died, and my father, who was already running a very successful business making whiskeys in Brazil, closed the restaurant.”
The restaurant would remain closed until the early 1980s, which is where we rejoin the Fasano clan. The once booming business of Rogerio’s father Fabrizio was suffering, and the young Rogerio was recalled to Brazil from London where he had been studying filmmaking. “I was born very rich and then suddenly I heard that my father had lost everything” he says. By chance, his return meant that he was present when an old business partner of his father tried to persuade Fabrizio to open a new Fasano restaurant in his mall as a way of reviving his fortunes. Fabrizio told his friend firmly that no, the restaurant business was far too risky but it sparked a desire in Rogerio, who had been very close to his grandfather and increasingly passionate about his family history. “I was 19 years old and when I told my father I wanted to do it, he said it was crazy - he was born into his father having a restaurant: no weekends, no family life… he didn’t recommend it at all.”
Rogerio was determined however, and after fighting to buy back the family name that was languishing unused by a company that his father sold the naming rights to, he opened a very small but very successful restaurant he christened Fasino. From there he expanded to a full rebirth of the Fasano restaurant in Sao Paulo, which was also a roaring success in a way that would have made his grandfather proud - formal dining that was also “very trendy.” After some years, a hotel became the next logical step for Rogerio. At least, it seemed logical to him - convincing others of his vision took some time…
“It became an obsession,” he says. “I bought this piece of land but it took me ten years before I could build it, because no one believed it could be successful, this small hotel that I wanted.” Rogerio’s vision for a hyper-luxurious boutique hotel of sixty rooms or so was completely at odds with the commercial behemoths that dominated the Brazilian hotel world. When asked why he was so sure that his hotel would be a success despite so much resistance, Rogerio laughs, “I was not ever sure! But I just knew what I wanted to do.” He goes on to quote Henry Ford’s famous remark on his revolutionary motor cars by way of explaining his conviction, “If I had asked the people what they wanted, Ford supposedly said, "They would have said faster horses."
The pay-off for such self-belief was remarkable, and the original Fasano hotel/restaurant has become an icon of luxury hospitality revered throughout the world, whilst remaining intrinsically Brazilian. Rogerio is keen to stress this element, “it is so full of local people, and when you come here you feel like you are living in Sao Paulo. It’s a hotel that belongs to the city - unlike, say, the Four Seasons which is a spectacular hotel but actual New Yorkers would never go there for a drink.” Unsurprisingly, this feeling wasn’t cultivated by chance. “I always said a restauranteur can make a hotel, but not vice versa.
When I moved Fasano [restaurant] inside the hotel, I made sure that it didn’t simply become a ‘hotel restaurant’. So we hid everything that is ‘hotel’ about the place. When you first walk in, instead of seeing a check-in desk there is a huge bar and then you see the restaurant. You don’t see the hotel at all unless you are there for that specific reason. This creates a very different atmosphere.” This extends to the multitude of other hotels and restaurants that Rogerio has built, from the “perfectly positioned” Rio hotel to the “weird but great cabanas” that make up Punta Del Este, his way of making the most out of Uruguay’s very short high-season.
Again, you hear a sense of narrative at play in this way that Rogerio approaches his business: it is about the experience, the events that play out. He talks passionately about not just the food and the service of his restaurants but also the architecture and the lighting. “My favourite restaurants in the world are actually not about chefs” he shrugs. “They are about the owners. It’s very rare to find a chef’s restaurant that also has a nice saloon.”
Inevitably talk eventually turns to the film world, that great narrative form that has been a key love of Rogerio’s for much longer than hotels and restaurants have been. He waxes lyrical about the majesty of his favourite directors, from Francis Ford Coppola - “I had lunch with Coppola when he was staying at the Fasano in Rio, it must have been the worst lunch of his life, I just kept quoting the Godfather at him!” - to the master of the spaghetti Western, Sergio Leone. Leone was the auteur behind Rogerio’s all-time favourite movie, Once Upon A Time In The West, which saw the supposedly infallible golden boy of American cinema, Henry Fonda, cast as one of the most wretched screen villains of all time. You can see why Rogerio is so enamoured with the film (and Fonda, who was the cover star for the first issue of a recently launched Fasano magazine).
No matter how enamoured he sounds when talking about his admiration for the Four Seasons hotel or Michelin starred food, Rogerio is never far from a wistful anecdote about being chased by skinheads through the streets of Brixton. Indeed, he could be describing Once Upon A Time…-era Fonda when he says of himself with a wink: “You know, I look very normal but I have a weird side…” Anecdotes about meeting Lou Reed and listening to The Clash are about to follow. “…I think of it as my punk side.”
By James Darton for Semaine.