When he entered the beverage scene, Thomas “Mac” Gregory took the road less traveled and literally adventured across the globe (working the bar at Club Med International) to do it. Fast-forward more than 25 years; Gregory is now the food and beverage director at Starwood’s Scottsdale, Arizona resort, The Phoenician.
With a career in the hospitality industry, Gregory considers himself a hotelier with a passion for beverages. That enthusiasm guided him through numerous positions at Club Med International, where he worked for six and half years—many of them abroad—and Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, where he spent 18 years in various managerial positions, before joining the 583-room Phoenician.
Throughout his career Gregory has used beverages to create revenue and opportunity for hotels. “I like to bring the cutting edge to the table with my love of beverages,” he says. “I’ve always had the best chefs in the world working side-by-side with me.” Noticing that there were always layers to the chef’s staff, yet not a lot in beverage, he sought to change that. “I decided if no one else was going to focus on it, I would.” So it’s no surprise then that Gregory was tapped two and a half years ago by the five-star, five-diamond resort to transform its beverage culture. “At the Phoenician, I didn’t move too fast,” he says. “I don’t really do promotions. I like to build long-standing programs, instead.”
Scoping out the beverage scene, Gregory saw that the resort already had one of the largest, most impressive wine programs in the industry—featuring 2,000 to 40,000 bottles—and decided to mimic that with Tequila. “I wanted to have every Tequila label in the state,” he says. Tequila was a natural choice for Gregory, as it has long been the hot local spirit. He not only did that, but brokered with others to build a Tequila program that is among the largest in the country, complete with anywhere from 400 to 500 Tequilas, priced $3 to $600, at a given time. “We want to make sure that we only introduce and carry the ‘best’ 100 percent Weber Blue Agave expressions of Tequila,” boasts Gregory. “We are not looking to have just the largest Tequila collection but the best Tequila program from product selection to service to knowledge.”
The resort even has its own private label El Tesoro “Paradiso” Phoenician Private Label Tequila – a deal Gregory brokered with Carlos Camarena, master distiller and grandson of El Tesoro founder Don Felipe Camarena.
The next stop on the beverage innovation tour for Gregory was gin and vodka. He built a list of some 87 vodkas, priced $6 to $35, and 30 gins, $6 to $35, for the resort’s main bar the Thirsty Camel. Tableside martinis made with these quaffs are served complete with special garnishes. “We worked with the culinary team to create a special garnish program to accentuate and exemplify the hand-shaken Martinis served tableside,” he explains.
The resort also has more than 60 rums, priced $9 to $65, which are featured prominently at the hotel’s nine pools. Gregory also worked with partners to offer live entertainment at the pool on Saturdays and Sundays – something that was never done before. “It’s about getting over the perception of what is luxury,” he explains.
Gregory is not afraid of promoting the hotel or its products. “When Barack Obama stayed here, we put a bottle of our Tequila in his room,” he says. The result is that there is now a bottle of the Phoenician’s private label Tequila somewhere on a bar in the White House.
Looking for another way to increase beverage sales, Gregory is taking over some retail space within the Phoenician for a high-end wine and liquor store, which will be called The Grape and Grain. It is slated to have opened the first of the year. Here they will sell all of the beer, wine and spirits served on site to guests and visitors in what he calls a “Dean and DeLuca-type store.” It will also house the master sommelier’s office, so guests can stop in and get advice on the wines. “It’s where you can go and select your wine for dinner,” explains Gregory. “It will then be waiting for you tableside and you will have learned something about the bottle in the process.” Gregory explains that, “Pricing at the Grape and Grain versus one of my restaurants will be simply retail versus on-premise. Our retail pricing in Grape and Grain will be very similar to that of a Dean and DeLuca.”
It’s clear that innovating is the key to success for this beverage maven. An admitted workaholic, Gregory insists, “I’m not a stick in the mud.” And if the success of The Phoenician’s beverage program, which was revitalized amid this recession, is any indication, we’d have to agree.