There’s no place like Hotel Mamá by Silke Bender | 6th March, 2020 | Offices
For Juan Picornell, hospitality entrepreneur isn’t just a job description, it’s a passion. And for Hotel Mamá, the first one of the Cappuccino Group, only the very best would do: French design star Jacques Grange. A Mallorcan success story.
“Planning a hotel with Jacques Grange is like learning to play soccer with Ronaldo as your coach.” JUAN PICORNELL
No, grins Juan Picornell, the hotel isn’t actually an homage to his mother. Or is it? “Nowadays my mother is more like a good friend, a sophisticated girl of 77 who I enjoy going out with. I happen to have a very beautiful mama, and I wanted a beautiful hotel,” he says. Now he has one. And just once a year, on January 1st, it serves up his favorite childhood meal: roast beef with Yorkshire pudding – Picornell’s mother is from England. As soon as it opened in 2018, Hotel Mamá became a hub of city life in Palma de Mallorca. Whatever the season or time of day, the hotel is always well patronized. Guests can enjoy breakfast at the Cappuccino Grand Café, sushi at the Tahini Japanese restaurant or wine and tapas at the Bodeguita Picador. And the yellow benches and chairs of the light-flooded bar in the lobby are occupied round the clock too, not just by hotel guests but by passers-by as well. The atmosphere is cheerful, cozy, informal, romantic and yet sophisticated. That’s mainly due to the timeless and eclectic interior by Jacques Grange, the renowned French designer whose list of clients includes well-known names like Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé or, more recently, Caroline of Monaco and luxury entrepreneur François Pinault. “I’ve admired Grange’s work for as long as I can remember,” says Picornell, who started collecting design books while still a teenager. When he purchased the property that was to become Hotel Mamá back in 2008, nothing but the facade of the residential and commercial building from the 19th century remained. A short time later, he visited Francis Ford Coppola’s Palazzo Margherita in Bernalda, Italy, the interior of which was also designed by Jacques Grange. “Something just clicked,” says Picornell. “It had exactly the kind of spirit I’d been dreaming of for my own first hotel.” But how do you persuade somebody of Grange’s caliber to commit to a little 32-room hotel project on the Balearic Islands? “I sent him quite a long letter – it was very personal and hand-written,” says Picornell.
Grange came to Mallorca, the two of them spent a whole weekend together and hit it off right away: “We were two driven men who nursed the project like a baby,” he laughs. It was a labor of love – but a long one: Once a month for four years, Picornell flew to Paris to perfect every last detail of the plans. And that was no small undertaking, especially as every one of the 32 rooms is individually decorated, most of the furniture was specially designed for the hotel and the frescoes, marble bathrooms and painted ceiling beams were all done by hand.
Jacques Grange is used to thinking beyond national boundaries, but Hotel Mamá is perhaps his most international design to date, combining the traditional style of Mallorca with French, Italian and American furniture and Moorish-Moroccan details like zellige tilework. It’s a mix that looks fresh, light and very informal – more like a private summer residence than a hotel. “Working with a professional like Jacques was a very rewarding experience. A bit like learning to play soccer and getting Ronaldo as your coach,” says Picornell. “Most of our guests have a hard time believing they’re staying in a new building.” The facade and the old ceiling heights are in fact all that remain of the original four-story structure.
It’s a very different story with the palace from where Picornell has been guiding the fortunes of his hospitality empire since 1996. Less than a seven-minute walk away from Hotel Mamá, the Cappuccino Group has its headquarters above the Cappuccino San Miguel café. Here the architecture hasn’t changed since the late 18th century – and is inhabited by creative chaos. Sixty members of staff scurry through long corridors stacked with cardboard boxes or call to one another through the doorways. The sunlight shining through the old windows of colored crystal casts bright patches on the creaking parquet. But although there’s no shortage of space in the 4,000-square-meter building, the boss doesn’t have his own office. “I usually work on site to make sure I’m in the picture,” says Picornell. He travels a lot: His companies have long since spread far beyond Mallorca, the Balearic Islands and the Spanish mainland and are now active in Gstaad, Switzerland, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia too.
It all started in 1993, when he opened his first Cappuccino café in Palma Nova at the tender age of 21. “There were three things in my life that had always fascinated me,” he says. “Music, design and what happens in good bars.” He drew a lot, studied design books and, even as a child, pictured what a place of his own would look like. At 15, he got a job as a barkeeper and experienced the reality of working behind a bar for the first time. At 16, his life was overshadowed by tragedy: His father died, and as the eldest of three children he had no choice but to grow up fast. A sense of responsibility for his mother and the family pushed him out into the big wide world.
First he became a flight attendant, flew round the world and fuelled his dreams of opening his own place by scouting successful bars and cafés from New York to London. All that influenced his first café in Palma Nova: There, right on the boardwalk, he sold select coffee specialties, sandwiches and pastries – long before the big American coffee chains ever set foot on the island. Picornell thought of everything: not just the top quality of the food and beverages on sale, but the design, art and – most importantly of all – the music. “Music is magic,” says Picornell. “Even if it’s only playing quietly in the background, it conveys the mood of a place and sticks in your memory.” His concept was a success: Today there are 18 Cappuccino Grand Cafés all over the world, and an in-house music manager works in close consultation with Picornell to put together a music program that changes with the time of day and is meanwhile successfully marketed online in the form of CDs and the Cappuccino Radio Station. With the success of the cafés behind him, he went on to establish three more restaurant brands: Tahini Japanese, Wellies and now Bodeguita Picador in Hotel Mamá.
During his search for locations for cafés and restaurants, he kept coming across beautiful properties, some with upper stories that were standing empty. “Over time, that gave rise to the idea of getting into the hotel business,” he says. The success of Hotel Mamá won’t be his last: Two more hotels on Mallorca are already in the pipeline, one in Pollensa and one in Andratx. But rather than being copies of Hotel Mamá, each will have its own unique character. This time, he’s hired John Stefanidis from Greece and Catalan architect Sergi Bastidas for the designs. So what will the two new hotels be called? Picornell doesn’t know yet. That will be a gut decision, and he probably won’t make it until just before they open in 2021/22. Hotel Mamá was only named six months before it welcomed its first guests too.