From Whisky Fail to Food Empire: How a Film-School Dropout Rehabbed the Fasano Name

(Bloomberg) -- “I never wanted to have a restaurant,” says Rogerio Fasano at a table in his restaurant Gero in São Paulo’s ritzy Jardins neighborhood. “Never. But then my father lost everything in a very short time.”

Rogerio’s entrepreneur father, Fabrizio Fasano, made a fortune in the ‘70s, straying from the family's tried and true restaurant business to sell his Old Eight blend of Scotch. But he wasn’t content and bet on a new secret blend—one spiked with hydrogen peroxide to speed the aging process. A three-year whisky suddenly tasted like a 12-year, and only after 2 million cases had been sold and World Cup ads taken out did the stuff slowly turn as clear as vodka. Clients sent it back by the case.

From Whisky Fail to Food Empire: How a Film-School Dropout Rehabbed the Fasano Name
Source: Fasano Hotels and Restaurants

Rogerio Fasano

Rogerio Fasano inherited his father’s debts. As the family business went into a tailspin, he abandoned his film studies in London to come back to Brazil to restore the family’s name in the business it had known for generations: food. 

Today, that name is a cultural icon for this megacity’s billionaires, fashionistas, socialites, and artists, many of them, like Fasano, of Italian descent. He presides over a growing empire of 15 restaurants and four hotels, including one in Rio de Janeiro with a celebrity-festooned infinity pool overlooking Ipanema beach, one in Uruguay with an Arnold Palmer golf course and private beach and a new one in Miami Beach showcasing architect Isay Weinfeld's bright modernism. Brazil’s Veja magazine has called him the man behind São Paulo’s greatest gastronomy brand—no small statement in the Southern Hemisphere’s food capital.

When we meet for lunch at Gero, Fasano is waiting at the bar, sipping a pinot grigio from his new line of Fasano-labeled wines from Italy. Moments after we sit down, he springs up to chat with the chef. The new angel hair pasta imported from Italy has set off his garlic radar. Like many of this city’s Italian immigrants, the Fasanos hail from northern Italy, where he says cooks use the aromatic sparingly.

“I feel garlic everywhere,” he exclaims when he returns. “The only way to cook is to never use garlic. Never buy it.”

It’s this kind of attention that gives Fasano’s business its character, not just in its food—he has final say on dishes—but also in its design. Those close to him say he has mulled over every detail, from the lighting at his group's Baretto bar to the minutiae of the menus. His friends call him a “frustrated architect,” obsessed with design but inept at actually drawing. His eye for light and color are born of his love of film; the laconic Sergio Leone western, Once Upon a Time in the West, competes, he says, with The Godfather as his favorite. At Gero, a black-and-white portrait of Don Vito Corleone hangs in the dining room next to shots of São Paulo's old downtown.

Just around the corner, Hotel Fasano is one of the few establishments in town that has kept up its quality even after achieving success. The hotel entrance is a bar and lounge with cozy leather chairs that disguise the mechanics of check-in, an innovation for which Fasano claims credit.

Bankers, execs, and tycoons from around the region hold court here, supplied by a meticulous wait staff. "Rogerio told me to make this my office in Brazil," says Ricardo Bellino, leaning back in the hotel’s lounge. The São Paulo entrepreneur made a name for himself managing models before partnering with Donald Trump on a Brazilian golf resort. (It was never built.) 

From Whisky Fail to Food Empire: How a Film-School Dropout Rehabbed the Fasano Name
Source: Fasano Hotels and Restaurants

A portrait of Don Vito Corleone hangs on the wall at Gero restaurant.

But Fasano is also making overtures beyond the elite bubble his business has nurtured in one of the world’s most unequal countries—even if that comes with some cognitive dissonance in a city so neatly divided by class. Emicida, one of the city’s most revered rappers from the periferia of working-class slums, recently performed at Fasano's  Baretto bar for a crowd who’d merrily checked their luxury cars with valets.

He also recently published his first edition of Corriere Fasano, a magazine that mixes his own musings with self-promotion, self-flattery, and ads from his partners—such as JHSF, the shopping mall manager that bought the family’s line of restaurants in a 53 million reais ($15.9 million) deal in 2014. While his father dabbled in publishing, this marks Rogerio's debut; over the years he has cultivated friendships in the industry, including one with a Vogue editor who, in a tragic accident, fell to his death from Fasano's apartment window in 2003.

In the latest issue, Fasano's magazine describes his father as the "discreet gallant" who can be seen strolling comfortably through the family's various establishments. And in its “Very Elegant People” section, some of Rogerio's friends—who can still afford a seat at a Fasano table amid Brazil's worst economic recession—lavish high praise on him.

Nightclub investor Arnaldo Waligora, for one, thanks the family for "bringing us a minimum of dignity and civility in this fckn chaos of inelegance and wretched exasperations."

To contact the author of this story: Blake Schmidt in Sao Paulo at