Irene & Lydia Rocco Forte

Rocco Forte sisters begin to print their skills and visions in the family business, bringing new airs to the family’s chain of hotels.

Like father, like daughters

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“Our philosophy is to create something that looks authentic and has the essence of the city or place it is in. So in each location, we use local artists and design influences and an individuality that harks back to their location”

In the Rocco Forte family, there is always room for one – or two more. And that holds true for both the backstages and the properties that are under the spotlight. The hotel chain team has long been honored by the sisters Irene and Lydia Rocco Forte, who have taken over key areas of the family business after practically lapping the talent for the hospitality they carry in their vein. While Lydia is in charge of the group’s Food & Beverage department, Irene takes care of the projects and spas – all set according to the aptitude and competence of each, without any family pressure, including the father, who always left them free to make their own decisions.

Although they have different interests and responsibilities, the sisters are looking forward to the launch of the two new Rocco Forte hotels, which open next year – one in Rome and one in Shanghai. With these new properties, the clan’s portfolio reaches 12 hotel units, a number that should grow with the family.

How was your experience growing up living in different hotels?
IF & LF: We never lived in hotels, however, we always spent holidays in different hotels. Whether it was one of our hotels or someone else’s, we were always analyzing every little detail. Hotels were also always part of family meal conversations. Every school holiday was spent working in different hotel departments too. Therefore, they’ve been a huge part of my upbringing and there was certainly no escape!

And how was growing up in London? Would you ever live somewhere else? Do you think to live in the city defined your lifestyle somehow? 
IF: I went to boarding school from the age of 11-18 and then went to university in Oxford until the age of 23, so it wasn’t until I graduated that I got to truly experience living in London. I absolutely love London. There is always so much going on, whether a gallery opening, new exhibition, new fitness class to try, a new restaurant, etc…Given that I travel weekly for work, I would definitely be open to living somewhere else in Europe. However, I do love coming back to London after work trips.

How do you define your lifestyle? 
IF: I absolutely love to travel. I try and do one big trip a year in a new destination. Last year, I explored the south of India; I went to an Ashram and then traveled across the state of Tamil Nadu. The year before I went camping in the Himalayas in search of snow leopards. Whenever I get the chance, I also love to explore new cities. Given that I also travel weekly for work, when I’m home, I like to keep a low profile. I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic, I have my go-to facialist and then I tend to eat well and work long hours in the office. Of course, I love seeing exhibitions, trying new restaurants and anything that’s new and exciting in London.

“I’ve always admired my father. He has always been a living example to me that success is not just a matter of course but something that you have to work hard for. He’s certainly inspired me to really work hard and love what I do”

What is your favorite hotspot in London? And in NY?
LF: Soho has fun and often extremely good restaurants with niche and unique concepts that are always worth trying. Kitty Fisher’s in Shepherd’s Market is one of my favorites because the food is wonderful and the setting is cozy. Ruth Rodgers of The River Cafe has a remarkable culinary vision, offering authentic and high-quality Italian food, in a clean, beautiful space, which somehow has remained contemporary since the 1980s.
IF: Dinings in Marleybone because it has the most amazing Japanese food in London. Gymkhana for its classic Indian dishes, located in Mayfair right next to Brown’s. I love Mazi for Greek food in Notting Hill as well as Chucs in Notting Hill for brunch on the weekend.

What are the difficulties of working with hospitality?
LF: This business is all about people – you have to understand your customers but also be able to get the best out of the teams that you work with. Our teams of people are the front line of communication to the guest and unless they believe in something it will never be executed correctly or communicated properly to our guests. We are lucky to work in an industry that is multifaceted and exciting. This does also mean, however, that we also need to be up to date with trends. We are constantly updating and renewing our restaurants, ensuring that we have the best offerings.
IF: The hotel industry is booming, with new high-quality hotels constantly opening. This means that today’s high-end traveler is spoilt for choice and thus looking for things that really make a hotel stand out and that suit their personal preferences. With this in mind, luxury hotels need to be able to cater for all guest needs and to do so well, whether a family, a health-conscious guest, a culture vulture, etc.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your parents and grandparents?
LF: From both my grandmothers, my grandfather, and my mother – eat good food! Life’s too short to eat badly and even shorter if you don’t eat well.
IF: My mother has always taught us to be generous and empathetic.

What are you most passionate about? 
LF: I have always been passionate about cooking and nice restaurants. After all, we have an Italian background and grew up with good food. It is a focus, even in my free time.
IF: Being determined and focused has been easy. I love and am passionate about what I do (perhaps because it is in my DNA). I believe that my passion for ‘wellness’ stemmed from my father. He’s a keen sportsman and always dedicated a lot of time to sport, whether training for a triathlon, iron man or simply perfecting his golfing swing. This has stuck with me throughout my life and as a result, I love constantly trying, testing, reading anything regarding wellness. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate as I have eight spas to play with, learn from and test things at Rocco Forte Hotels.

Who is your biggest inspiration? 
LF: Our father. The best advice he gave me was to learn the business from the ground upwards and know the details since hospitality is all in the details. Then, from his example, work hard and focus on what you are doing. He always reminds me to constantly continue to push for things that you want to change – otherwise, they simply don’t happen. Suggesting a direction to our teams or setting up a new project is completely useless without the follow-through.
IF: I’ve always admired my father. He has always been a living example to me that success is not just a matter of course but something that you have to work hard for. He’s certainly inspired me to really work hard and love what I do.

Did you always want to work in the family business? 
LF: We grew up with the business, dinnertime conversation, etc. but my father was very clever never to pressure us into going into the business. When I finished university I knew I wanted to work in restaurants, so I became a waitress because I was passionate about the business. But probably, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that if I wanted to go into the family business it would be a good path as no one was focusing on F&B at the time.
IF: Hotels have always been the topic of conversation at family gatherings, but our father never pressured us. He told us to study something unrelated to hospitality and this is why we both went to Oxford University. When I graduated, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and thus my father told me to do a 6-month development program at Brown’s Hotel where I went through all the departments. Thereafter, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so my father cleverly asked me to come and work in the central office part-time on a ‘project’. I haven’t left since (and it’s 6 years later!).

If you had to say a big asset of each property, which one would be?
IF & LF: Our philosophy is to maintain the sense of individuality that each of our hotels’ locations has. Our aunt, Olga Polizzi’s philosophy is to create something that looks authentic and has the essence of the city or place it is in. So in each location, we use local artists and design influences and an individuality that harks back to their location. Each hotel, restaurant, and spa reflects its location but is supported by a uniform group-wide concept and service philosophy. So for example, whilst each of our spas has unique qualities, the Rocco Forte Spas brand-wide concept and service standards run through all of them.

What is each one of you exactly responsible for in the Rocco Forte Hotels? 
LF: I am the Group Director of Food and Beverage for Rocco Forte Hotels. At the moment, we have two new openings in 2019 – Shanghai & Rome, so I’ve been preoccupied with the development of new concepts, which is fun. Sometimes I develop them in-house with the help of my aunt, Olga Polizzi who does all of our interior design and our Director of Food, Fulvio Pierangelini – who is an incredible chef – one of Italy’s greats. Other times I find the right partners to bring in – such as recently opening Brasserie Prince at The Balmoral with legendary chefs and restaurateurs, Alain Roux and his father Michel Roux, O.B.E.
IF: I am the Group Project & Spa Director for Rocco Forte Hotels. As part of my role, I oversee elements of learning and development for the hotels, so training and developing our teams to ensure that we deliver the best quality service to our guests. I also oversee the group’s wellness offering. Wellness is so important- so many people are overstressed and over-connected and thus looking for wellness in their lives. As a business, we want to give individuals wellness tips and tools and also allow individuals to continue their healthy routines.

What dish do you like the most in each hotel? 
LF: My favorite dish is Pappa al Pomodoro by Fulvio Pierangelini – a typical Tuscan, peasant’s dish (stale bread & tomato) made into something more delicate and refined by using it as a filling for Fulvio’s paper-thin ravioli. We serve it in Irene Firenze in the Hotel Savoy in Florence and it really encapsulates our concept there – traditional Tuscan fare but done in a lighter, more feminine way.
IF: I am quite health conscious and nowadays I feel like there are many more people like me who want to be healthy when on holiday or a work trip which was the inspiration behind the creation of Rocco Forte Nourish where we have brought delicious, healthy options to our restaurants and bars. At breakfast in each of our hotels, guests will find the Nourish Corner, with specially selected healthy options, including sugar-free almond and soya milk, quinoa, hummus, crudités, and gluten-free goodies. Our Nourish menus in our outlets have been specially curated by nutritionists or healthy food gurus with our chefs. Our dishes are delicious, despite being gluten, meat, sugar, and dairy-free. It’s not a diet – it’s about eating nourishing food that’s extremely tasty. We also offer a healthy in-room bar option for guests so that they can guilt-free snacks in the room.

What is your favorite Rocco Forte hotel?  
LF & IF: While we can’t name one hotel that is our favorite (we love them all!) Our resort in Sicily, Verdura, is a very special place. It’s wonderful because there is so much to experience there. Either you can completely relax and enjoy the beach and spa, or you can go on hikes in the mountains and play golf and tennis.

Because of your age, do you have any plans to change something at Rocco Forte Hotels or modernize it somehow?
LF: My sister and I are both so young, so hopefully we bring a youthful perspective to the business. We’re more in line with new trends, have time to research what’s going on around us, and our social media savvy. Food and beverage is an area that really allows me to bring in new ideas and a younger perspective. I’ve also pushed to market our F&B outlets separately to the hotels. Traditionally, hoteliers have seen the F&B component as a guest service rather than an offering for locals. Also, because we are young and happy to try new things, travel and eat in unusual places, this gives me new ideas that my father might not necessarily have come across.
IF: In my role, I have worked on a range of different initiatives that have been implemented across the group. As part of my learning and development hat, I launched the map of my Future. This is a learning, development and communications app for employees in hospitality, which was launched at Rocco Forte Hotels in August 2016. I am particularly passionate about it as it will help our industry immensely with retaining people and developing careers, and it is particularly relevant for the millennial generation. Also created with millennials in mind, I launched our wellness concept. Which I’m now developing even further. We want guests to find wellness at every touchpoint in our hotels, whether in the spas, in the restaurants or even in the room. We want guests to be able to continue existing healthy routines and to take home great new habits. We want them to leave us looking, feeling and being better. New trends are constantly developing – we can’t just sit still and you can only stay on top of it by being interested in fitness and healthy living.

What are the next steps for each one of you and for the business?
IF: Other than new openings and developing our wellness concept further, after three years in development, I will be launching my own skincare line this autumn, Irene Forte Skincare – the first luxury and sustainable skincare brand formulated in Italy, which I will be revealing more on very soon!
LF: With two exciting hotel openings next year in Rome and Shanghai, I am focusing on developing unique food and beverage concepts tailored to each city. Hotel De La Ville will be the opening of 2019 in Rome and will feature a rooftop bar with 360-degree views of Rome. The Westbound Hotel in Shanghai will have three restaurants, a tea lounge and a cocktail bar that will have a variety of cuisines.

Photos: Courtesy Irene and Lydia Rocco