Substance Over Style: Riccardo Giraudi, CEO, Giraudi Group
"I cannot draw a straight line, and I cannot cook an egg, but I make beautiful restaurants," says the Giraudi Group CEO Riccardo Giraudi.
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Once upon a time in Nice, France, an enterprise run by an eleven-year-old pupil -allegedly- put a French candy shop out of business. The latter wasn't satisfying the sweet teeth of his American friends at school, so he found an importer of American candies in Paris, had them couriered to his newly-opened shop around the corner, and the French had a hard time competing. Three decades later, it is a childhood anecdote of Riccardo Giraudi, now the CEO of Giraudi Group, that he laughs at, sitting across from me at one of the group's restaurants, Beefbar, located at Al Fattan Currency House in Dubai International Financial Centre. However, jokes aside, this episode marks the first time Giraudi got a chance to flaunt his talent for customer-centric concepts.
At a time when restaurants serve as a marker of social class and aspirations, Beefbar in Dubai also presents a sophisticated ambience, with leather furnishings, soft lighting, and black marble -after all, the former boss of the Benetton and Renault F1 racing teams and the owner of the Billionaire Mansion Flavio Briatore is one of the co-founders. But, as soon as you enter the venue, a full-length wall display of different cuts and types of beef serves as a bold visual statement that its brand promise is distinctly different from others. "It is substance and quality in a sexy environment," Giraudi says, accentuating the word "substance" as he speaks the sentence. "It's about glamorizing beef to the maximum that I can. I want to give a simple, best quality product. When I started in 2000, I found a gap in the meat market, because all you had were tacky, fat, American cowboys, or nothing. I wanted to do a beef menu, just like a wine menu, and I didn't want it to look and sound like a cowboy out of Nevadaso I started building it. The big shift came from the menu engineering. It used to be about steaks, steaks, and steaks, but everyone has them, and it's very hard to differentiate yourself. I hate to be called a steakhouse. We are a Beefbar, and that is different."
Giraudi Group was founded by Giraudi's father, Erminio Giraudi, in the 1970s in Monaco, focusing mainly on the import of Dutch and French veal to Italy. Over the years, it has grown into one of the European leaders in trading any kind of chilled and frozen meats from all around the world. The Giraudi junior's interests, however, were more on the consumption part of the spectrum, having studied marketing at the European Business School, London. While still there, he worked for the world-renowned brand development and creative communications agency, Bacchus PR, which was where he harnessed knowledge about the food and beverages sector. But it was only after spending nearly a few frustrating years in the family business that he managed to expand upon his father's business vision, which seemed extraordinarily narrow and insular to him at the time, and started building something more fulfilling.
For Giraudi, finding his place in a family business was the result more of a series of unlikely events, a few attempts that led to success, than of high ambition, but now he is clear about the way forward, and is not content with what he has today. "My father had to accept it, as there is nothing worse than getting up in the morning to do the job that you hate," he says. "My advice for others in a similar situation would be to just follow what you like to do. I've found my path in a family business, and I'm still not happy with it. We've made a lot of money, lost a lot of money due to political reasons, but I know now, at 42, what I like, what I enjoy, and what I want to do. So, the restaurants became something natural for me, because I love consumption, I love retail."
The Beefbar concept has been exported to Mexico, Cannes, Mykonos, Dubai, Budapest and Hong Kong, where it was awarded a Michelin star. In Dublin and Luxembourg, it exists in a Bistro format. All locations are meant to be unpretentious, despite being full most of the days. Giraudi explains that the key to building a restaurant brand is in being adaptive to one's times. "If a brand doesn't develop, doesn't evolve, it's dead, especially in this business," he says. "It must continue to move and evolve. I'm thinking of adding Japanese and Chinese walks, and also Korean barbeques at the restaurants. So, here you have the best ways to eat meats. So, first of all, it's always about keeping up the brand, evolving it and keeping it sexy. Secondly, it is about keeping your consistency. Thirdly, it's substance. This Beefbar in Dubai is the one with the best meat selection in the world. It doesn't get better than that. So, substance is very important. The point is that I do want this to be a festive restaurant, but it has to be a restaurant [first] and in the mind of my customers it has to be clear that you are coming here to eat. We do push it to the limit of the festive because I want it to be sexy and cool, but the moment this becomes firstly a festive restaurant and only then a place where you eat good meat, I've failed. They have to come here for the product first and then if they have fun, great. This is the DNA of the company, the why of the company. I'm not a night club person. I'm a substance, produce person and this is where everything has to stay."
When it comes to international expansion, Giraudi didn't feel the pressure to succeed abroad. "Everything that has been happening with the business [expanding abroad], they [interested parties] come to see me. I've never sold a Beefbar proactively. You can't offer to sell a luxury brand yourself. If people want a luxurious bar, they come to you. That's the best form of business development because it's natural." Two Beefbar restaurants in Moscow shut down due to Russia's meat ban imposed in the country's attempt to encourage its own farm industry. Another ill-fated location, a Beefbar in Berlin, led Giraudi to figure out one of his most important business lessons. "Failures are often due to many reasons, including the lack of management, a poor location, a bad partner," he says. "In the beginning, my business model used to be franchising, and now, I'm reconsidering it in favor of co-ownerships and full on management by myself. The reason is that there are two types of franchises- one who understands that he is paying you a fee because you are giving him value and knowledge, and then you have the bad ones who say that because they pay you they can do whatever they want. Those are the ones you have to rid of. Unfortunately, I had one or two of them. They destroyed a brand a little bit, and I immediately sent them a letter to take the brand from them immediately. But it's very rare. And I do not give franchises to private individuals anymore- you can be as rich as you want, but unless I am a co-owner and I manage it, I will never give a franchise to somebody."
Following the latest location in Dubai, four new openings -Paris, Rome, Beijing, and Riyadh- are planned till the end of next year. "The Middle Eastern crowd is by far the biggest fan of my brand in Monaco, Cannes, and Mykonos," Giraudi says. "They kept telling me to come here, and I had been wanting to come for the past eight years. I was here, I think 15 times, refusing the locations, the partners, and so on. I used to receive so many phone calls until Flavio, who is a friend, said that his Billionaire Mansion was doing well, and suggested a location. So, I said let's take the risk. With any new opening, you need to wait six months, because impressions are one thing, whereas reality is another. For any restaurant that I do, I'm very nervous for the first six months. Actually, the third month is a big milestone, because after that, it either goes down or up. It is because everybody comes for a first time, but not because they love you or think that you are good, but to judge you. A restaurant that is full on the first day doesn't mean that you are good, but that they come to see what you did."
As expected, he doesn't boast about the future, but takes a cautious approach, waiting for each of the locations to prove themselves. And that is an unknown that we end our conversation with. "The more you grow, the more you understand why, but actually you never know really why it works," Giraudi concludes. "You always know why it doesn't work afterwards. Once you fail, you instantly try to find yourself a solution, because otherwise you can't imagine yourself not knowing why. You have to justify it to yourself. But, when it works, you never know why it works."