Monday, 12 March 2012

‘Chez Vous’ Says Au Revoir to Cosmopolitan Mumbai

A week ago, an email from Frederic dropped into my inbox. Usually Frederic’s emails have details of a deal or something new at the Chez Vous. This one however was very different. It announced out of the blue, “As you might have heard ‘Chez Vous French Bistro’ is now closed. Although we are sad as it an end of an era for us, we are also very excited to have opened now ‘Ché Bar & Grill’. ‘Ché Bar & Grill’ is now opened to public.”

Having eaten at most of the top restaurants in Mumbai, I thought that the Chez Vous was Mumbai’s finest French Restaurant. Atleast it was the most authentic. I haven’t been to the Chez Vous more than five or six times and so I can’t call myself a regular at the Chez Vous. It didn’t have a grand exterior. Rather, on the outside, it was as grimy as the rest of the neighbourhood at Churchgate. However, the interiors were plush and more importantly, the food, was out of the world.

Why did Chez Vous close down? One of the attachments to Frederick’s email has the details.

Sic “Despite the good response we got at the beginning & a good list of regulars, it became slowly and surely obvious to us that ‘Chez Vous French Bistro’ was not a winning format in Churchgate in Mumbai in 2012. Few but very powerful reasons led us to this change:

First we heavily use imported products in all our dishes (mostly French wines & French cheeses). With the business closure of few of our suppliers, it became difficult to have a steady & reliable supply. We had to spend more & more time everyday to source cheeses, duck liver & other fine products. We understood very early that this was absolutely not a scalable business model. In addition, most of these ingredients carry a 450% import duties that pushed us to have a fine dining pricing with then a very limited target audience. Who value to spend three times more money for a cheese platter with Roquefort blue cheese than for a platter with a regular Cheddar or Emmental? Who value to spend as much as 1500/- for 120g of duck liver whereas they can have a great starter, main & dessert for the same price. Beyond the price, how many people even understand what duck liver is.

Too few people in fact in Mumbai in 2012 to make us a living.

‘Chez Vous French Bistro’ was the first pure stand alone French restaurant in Mumbai with goes with its chances & its risks. The good thing is that we got a lot of people to come & visit in the first place. The minus is that after having welcomed 25,000 guests in 15 months, after having talked to each of them, got their feedbacks, we slowly understood how for most of people here French cuisine was just too much outside of their comfort zone. We had to face it. Today’s exposure on French cuisine is low. Although we see that more & more people are willing to try new things, the trend is still timid & definitely too slow to maintain a pure high quality French restaurant. If most of people are opened to experiment with food, they are not willing to pay that much for something that they don’t know about. We came to know that also. After having spent now almost 2 years in Mumbai, we also noticed that most of Continental Fine Dining restaurants that make money serve all exactly the same type of food & dishes (pizza, pasta, risotto…). What we saw initially as a business opportunity was in fact the rule of the game in the local industry. We came to the conclusion that taking culinary risks & deliver high quality food was pointless unless people first and foremost understand it & then can afford it. Finally being located in a premise where the previous restaurant used to sell burgers at 100/- & in an area with a very important of vegetarian didn’t help us.

After 15 months of operation and despite a decent business & good feedbacks from the public, we realized that we got it wrong. So we had to change something.”

And so, the ‘Chez Vous French Bistro’ has been replaced by the ‘Ché Bar & Grill’ which will play latino music and serve pizzas, pasta, burgers, giant hot dogs, fish & chips, chicken wings, fajitas, tortillas etc. A few French items are to be mercifully preserved: crab, steak frites, steak chateaubriand, fish Meunière. The pricing is to be on par with Colaba eateries such as like Café Mondegar and Café Churchill.

Maybe in around 10 years’ time when Mumbai becomes genuinely cosmopolitan, someone might read this post and laugh out loud. I hope so anyways. In the meantime, I wish Ché Bar & Grill and Frederic all the very best.

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