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Owner Duane Roberts Finding Success with Food and Beverage Outlets;  F&B Revenue
 Pushing 60% of Total Revenue at Historic Mission Inn in Riverside, California

By Kimberly Pierceall, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 21, 2009 -- Sitting inside his historic Mission Inn lounge, several feet from his recently opened wine bar 54 Degrees, Duane Roberts laughs that he'd "like to have 2007 back," referring to one of the best financial years on record for hoteliers.

He'd be happy to have 2008, too.

Working with what 2009 has given him, Roberts has done what many other hotel owners have balked at doing during the recession -- introduced new dining options to an already restaurant-filled resort. 54 Degrees, a wine bar outside Duane's Steakhouse, opened for business Friday, and Casey's Cupcakes will open next month.

A destination for locals and tourists alike, food and drink sales at the hotel in downtown Riverside account for about 55 percent of total revenue, he said. During the high season, it climbs to 60 percent.

Comparably, a typical 240-room full-service hotel has one restaurant and the amount earned for food and beverage sales is, on average, 27 percent of the total revenue, said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president with hotel research firm PKF Consulting.

The Mission Inn has four restaurants -- Duane's Prime Steakhouse, the Mission Inn Restaurant, Las Campanas and the Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro.

Roberts has added another to his lineup -- 54 Degrees at Duane's with a tapas menu and a rotating list of 32 featured wines of the more than 600 in the inventory of his steakhouse. Bottles are hooked up to an automated system that keeps them fresh 60 days after being uncorked, and dispensers serve tastes, half glasses or full glasses.

Next summer, Roberts plans to renovate a patio bar in Las Campanas into a "Margaritaville"-like destination for locals and hotel guests looking for the iced and frozen tequila-based cocktails.

Baltin said the Mission Inn's proportion of food and beverage sales relative to everything else is high, but not unusual for a hotel that's become a community center for the city and destination for weddings, banquets, anniversaries, after-work drinks and more.

"It's a phenomenal draw," he said. Baltin spent about a decade as a consultant with the city looking at uses for the Mission Inn before Roberts bought it and reopened it in 1992.

While few hoteliers are reinvesting in their properties or developing new restaurant options since room rates and occupancy levels have plunged during the recession, Baltin wasn't surprised that Roberts has been spending on renovations and new features.

"Frankly, I think it makes a lot of sense," he said.

Casey's Cupcakes, a shop named for his daughter and decorated with a silhouetted cartoon image of her, will serve 12 varieties of the desserts and is set to open early December.

"If I had my druthers, I would have done it next year," Roberts said. But like frozen yogurt and donut trends that gained popularity fast, Roberts said he wanted to be first to open such a shop locally even if it meant developing a few things at the same time.

Roberts said the hotel has had to "ration" improvements and additions.

Nonetheless, Roberts finished recarpeting the entire historic hotel less than a month ago, said Jim McCullough, the hotel's general manager.

McCullough said the hotel has fared better than most during the downturn, without revealing the Mission Inn's occupancy rate.

Roberts agreed.

"We fortunately have a little bit of a following," Roberts said. "We're not just a vanilla hotel."

Reach Kimberly Pierceall at 951-368-9552 or kpierceall@PE.com

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.

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