“Making La Grande Boucherie” is a documentary film, directed by Ben Digiacomo, that chronicles the architectural resurrection of 6½ Avenue in New York into an authentic French brasserie from the ’20s. What made the completion of the restaurant remarkable was that it was done during the city’s most challenging moment: during the peak pandemic period.
Now, as the city returns to normalcy, the restaurant scene is bustling, and La Grande Boucherie is a favorite for celebrities as well as media- and fashion-industry types. Here, Emil Stefkov, founder and president of The Group Hospitality, which owns the restaurant, discusses the inspiration behind creating the film, the group’s other restaurants in New York City, and what it takes to create a fine dining experience.
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WWD: Can you give us a top-line highlight of the group’s restaurants? What’s new?
Emil Stefkov: We currently operate seven New York City restaurants: Boucherie West Village, Boucherie Union Square, Petite Boucherie, La Grande Boucherie, Olio e Più and Washoku Rooms (Omakase Room by Mitsu, and Kaiseki Room by Yamada). I’m also proud to announce the recent expansion plans to bring our timeless French concept restaurant, La Grande Boucherie, the trattoria and enoteca, Olio e Più, and Japanese dining experience, Omakase Room, to Chicago and Washington, D.C., as well as our first garden-themed concept that will be part of the Boucherie brand, Le Jardin Boucherie, that is expected to open in Miami, Florida. All new territories are anticipated to open in 2023.
With these expansions, it’s essential for us that we acquire iconic spaces that can be transformed with our breathtaking design elements and incorporate our authentic menus. I hand-select and codesign each iconic venue, bringing our vision to life. We strive to build long-term relationships within these communities to create a sense of intimacy amidst the pace of each city and territory.
WWD: Can you tell us about your corporate services?
E.S.: We offer a wide variety of corporate services to businesses and individuals looking to utilize our spaces for their specific needs. This encompasses everything from private space rentals for personal to more work-related events. Of course, each service provided is unique to the customer at hand. However, we always do our best to ensure that each event is held to the same high standards our restaurants are known for. This includes the same caliber of dining and replication of our one-of-a-kind atmosphere that makes our restaurants so well known.
So, whether you are celebrating a birthday or looking for a destination to commemorate a career-related milestone, here at The Group, we strive to ensure that every customer leaves with the quintessential joie de vivre experience, which makes celebrating life and its significant moments so wonderful.
WWD: What makes for a must-visit dining destination?
E.S.: In my opinion, the ideal dining destination should act as a getaway for customers to teleport them to another world where they can escape their reality for even a moment. I believe customers value ambiance, impeccable service, the best quality of food, interesting gastronomical concepts, and the types of people they will be dining with. Menu items should have their point of view and story behind them that helps the customer recognize the premium quality and creativity behind each dish curation.
WWD: Who is the target customer for your portfolio? And what do they expect in a fine-dining experience?
E.S.: Our target customer is someone open-minded in search of a unique culinary experience rooted in classic gastronomy. This customer expects high-quality, inventive food that is well executed and catered to their wishes. Additionally, this individual is looking for a waitstaff that is knowledgeable about our menu and can make recommendations but is flexible toward their own distinctive needs.
WWD: How has the pandemic changed customer expectations in dining and hospitality?
E.S.: Nowadays, the customer’s expectations for dining and hospitality experiences are tremendously high. Now more than ever, safety has become a number-one priority for individuals choosing to venture outside the comfort of their own homes for a unique dining experience.
Customers are paying more attention to cleanliness and overall organization; this can be anything from having a clean table set up and ready in time for a reservation to a minimal wait at the bar to avoid overcrowding. That being said, we strive to create a safe dining space without losing the classic ambiance our restaurants are known for.
WWD: What’s next in fine dining? How do you see your group’s restaurants evolving?
E.S.: With openings in new locations across the United States, our team is continuously searching for talented chefs from various backgrounds to continue refining and developing menu items that resemble culinary movements worldwide.
As far as fine dining goes, I think we will continue to see customers more than ever looking to discover new flavors while relying on classic preparations mixed with an innovative ambiance after being home during the pandemic for a significant time.
WWD: What inspired you to create the film? Why was that important to you?
E.S.: I drew inspiration from mere excitement to showcase the evolution of how La Grande Boucherie came to fruition and the cooperative efforts behind the creation. The building itself tells a story through its architecture and fine details, so it was important to me that the scene was set for this story. Exposing the creative processes of sourcing materials and creating a menu for Manhattan’s newest cultural asset to me is analogous to an author introducing the characters of narrative in the first chapter of a book. Being able to see and appreciate the creation of this magnificent space, I think, will only elevate the experience La Grande Boucherie provides.
WWD: How would you describe the film?
E.S.: The film gives viewers an honest look into the reality of what it took to create La Grande Boucherie — our successes, our failures and the unprecedented times we were living in. It highlights the compounded difficulties of opening a restaurant during a global pandemic and subsequently fosters a strong feeling of perseverance and warm sentiment of hope as we continue to navigate this pandemic today. The behind-the-scenes look will thoroughly absorb viewers into the making of La Grande Boucherie and the artisans that made this project come to fruition.
WWD: What’s your favorite part of the film?
E.S.: My favorite part of the film is the story about La Grande Boucherie’s glass ceiling. To me, this ceiling is the building’s most remarkable ode to classic European culture. It has touched nearly every staple piece of French culture-first, existing as a neighbor to the Opera Garnier and then finding a home at Les Puces before making its way to the states. Its history and intricate design actualize the effortlessly luxurious Parisian experience that we want our guests to enjoy. It’s only natural that this piece of art serves as the crown jewel of La Grande Boucherie.