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Students debut innovative hospitality concept at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®
Team Secret Garden with hospitality dean Michael Cheng and Bacardi North America president Pete Carr at SOBEWFF®

Students debut innovative hospitality concept at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®

The nine-week program and competition was hosted by FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management's Bacardi Center of Excellence

May 27, 2021 at 3:00pm

On the sands of South Beach, a group of FIU students got their chance to bring an idea to life and unveil their winning concept for the future of hospitality at one of the largest and most recognized events in the world—the South Beach Wine & Food Festival®.

For three days, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management majors Ava Barnd, Cristina Leon and Alexa Rodriguez and FIU College of Business major Luis Bustamante welcomed guests into their booth located inside the FIU tent at 10th Street and Ocean Drive on South Beach.

Dangling vines adorned with flowers hung down from the rooftop and a wall of moss lined the back bar, while enthusiastic student bartenders served drinks and members of the team greeted guests into a mini-version of their winning project, The Secret Garden, which took home first place in the Bar Project 2021 competition.

"We thank the Bar Project for this incredible opportunity we’ve been given to learn from experts in the industry, as well as our mentor, Nick Wright, for all his guidance and support," said team leader Rodriguez. "Ava, Cristina, Luis and I were so excited to bring our vision to life at SOBEWFF!" she added.

The competition started nine weeks ago and was kicked off by celebrity chef and TV host Andrew Zimmern. Leaders from FIU's Bacardi Center of Excellence created the competition to challenge students to re-imagine hospitality, one of the world's largest industries and one that was hit hard by the pandemic.

"We knew that we had to inspire the next generation of hospitality leaders to think about what our hard-hit industry would look like after the pandemic," said Brian Connors, FIU Bacardi Center of Excellence director.  "The students have done an incredible job of bringing their idea to life," he added.

Every week, the students completed a new challenge and the top 20 students were grouped into teams and invited to the final round to make their presentations. Five top teams qualified with Team Secret Garden winning the top prize. The project's use of technology, inclusion in their bar design and focus on sustainability are what won over the judges. The design also drew praise from people attending the Festival.

"I think they really love it. I think they really love the sustainability and the inclusivity of our menus and the moss wall—seeing it come to life is really incredible," Barnd said.

While at the Festival, the winning team received another nice surprise in the form of a big check. Known as Trade Day and traditionally only opened to members of the industry, each of the four winners received a scholarship check for $1,200—while standing in front of their creation and a big crowd, including executives from Bacardi. Students smiled as their names were called and they posed for pictures.

In addition, each winner received a $250 gift card to Gianni's at the Former Versace Mansion from Tabit Technologies, whose Mobile Point of Sale (POS) and restaurant operating system are the keystone behind the technology and customer-focused aspect of the project.

"No other school is really giving opportunities to their students like this, so FIU's awesome. And it is an incredible program to be able to showcase our creativity here," said Barnd with a big smile.

Left to right: Alexa Rodriguez, Luis Bustamante, Cristina Leon and Ava Barnd.

Members of the FIU Bartender's Guild serve Team Secret Garden's sustainabily sourced drink.