I enjoyed lunch yesterday with celebrated two-star Michelin chef, Laurent Manrique. Laurent recently left San Francisco’s award winning Aqua to pursue other culinary opportunities, including spending more time working on his winery in Spain. Chef Laurent is also a founding partner of Café de la Presse, a very successful French bistro located at the gates of Chinatown. Yes, location is important, but the Café is a big hit, especially for homesick visitors from Europe.
This was less of an interview and more of a philosophical discussion, with a very talented and experienced restaurateur, who is originally from Southern France. Rather than discuss fine dining or this dreadful economy and its impact on the San Francisco dining scene, I asked Laurent about the new bistro segment and what he’s learned recently. Sure, we discussed product quality, menu pricing and margins, the importance of using good ingredients, creativity, customer expectations, restaurant design, wine selection (and pricing), facility size and service standards. We talked about customer behavior and expectations. We discussed the high cost of creating and developing a fine dining restaurant in 2009, and what it takes (effort and cost) to manage a two-star Michelin restaurant today and why a 4,000 sq. ft. bistro makes sense.
This was a great conversation. I really enjoy connecting with smart, successful, experienced operators - when they are open and honest, as Laurent always is. It’s revealing, not to mention educational. This was a one-on-one dialog about fine dining and managing though the Great Recession that morphed into a philosophical discussion about what we can do better as operators and as an industry. This was an engaging discussion mostly about one segment between two people who share a passion for this industry. I think we (mostly Chef Laurent) came up with a lot of good ideas. But, the reality is, that conversation and the ideas are no documented.
So I wondered. Have we, as an industry learned anything from these past few years operating restaurants this economic sh*t storm? I bet we have, as a collective, learned a hell of a lot. What if we could extend this discussion to include hundreds of restaurant operators from all segments and from different countries? What if we all shared our experiences –those that worked, and those that didn’t - freely and openly? What if we, as an industry, re-examined, re-evaluated and re-invented? What if we shared not only ideas, but together, as a community, figured out a way to create a better, more modern, more economically viable restaurant business model that made this industry even more viable. What if the bi-product of this ongoing dialog was a more enlightened customer, more profitable restaurants, better communication, and greater use of technology? Are we not taking advantage of this crisis to learn, share and document how we survived it?
FohBoh was created to enable this type of online form and documentation. Social media are allowing us to share and dialog online and asynchronously like never before. So, who will start the discussion?