Interview: Frenchie’s Gregory Marchand
A common “complaint” I hear from visitors is that they “didn’t fly all the way here to eat alongside other Americans speaking English!” But how does a popular restaurant listed in every major newspaper & magazine in the world with a combined circulation of 20 million English-speaking readers, feel about that claim?
Greg sits down with me to talk about one of the most surprising challenges he faces in running one of the most popular restaurants in Paris.
Wendy: You’ve been one of the most requested reservations in Paris since opening 3 years ago – which means that you’re having the same challenges as Spring and Bistrot Paul Bert – the International clientele are complaining there are too many international clients and it doesn’t feel very “French” when everyone is speaking English.
Greg: Although I can understand the view of the customer, I am not about to put a sign on the door that says I only serve French people. I love meeting all of our clients – to talk with them is great. All the different viewpoints and ideas that customers and staff bring to the restaurant and wine bar – only make us better at what we want to do. I opened Frenchie because I wanted a cosmopolitan kind of place and I like it!
Wendy: Your new cookbook also references an international appreciation….
Greg: The overall idea of Frenchie reflects my life, my background and my experience. If you look over the door you can see the name of my place is called Frenchie (its in English because this is what Jamie Oliver called me when I worked for him in London) … but I’m also proud to have worked in New York City with Danny Meyer and of my travels within Asia because I can use all these elements to create an international place. All of these elements influence what goes on the menu and customers’ plates.
Wendy: Interesting, then how do your customers feel when they come to a place called Frenchie and see items on the menu that they don’t see as French?
Greg: We have foie gras and riz de veau, but I also make fresh pasta by hand every day and sometimes people tell me, ”But I didn’t come to France for pasta, I can get that in NYC!”
Wendy: I love that lamb ragu pappardelle!
Greg continues: … and I also do pastrami that we brine and prepare slowly with care, and even ceviche… but some (not all) customers tell me, “This isn’t right, if you are French why do you do that? Why aren’t you doing French cooking?”
Wendy: True, you surprised people when you took French cheese off of the menu and added all British cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy… and one of your signature items is the house smoked pulled pork BB sandwich. Damn that sandwich is good! You make my Southern heart happy as well as my French friends’ palates, which gets bored with traditional French food.
Wendy continues: Did I tell you, that my best friends from Dallas Texas were snubbed by their neighboring diners from Austin Texas … the lady turned to her husband and said, “I didn’t fly all the way here to pay to sit with Americans in a French bistro!” I was floored.
Greg: People tell me all the time that the pulled pork sandwich is the best they have ever had in their life. So if it is good, then please, come enjoy it and not worry about if the food is a romantic notion of what French food should be or who is sitting next to you.
Wendy: Frenchie’s on line rage actually is rarely about the prices or the food. It is equally focused on the number of people speaking English and customers’ downright anger about not being able to get a reservation. Some of the on line commenters have been really harsh calling you an asshole and a jerk for “never answering the phone” … It seems odd to me to personally attack a chef because they can’t get a reservation?
Greg: When we opened three years ago, it was just me and one other person doing everything. I was in the kitchen cooking and he was trying to serve an entire dining room at once, so how could I answer the phone? It took time to afford more employees. Then I hired someone for four hours a day whose only job is to take reservations, then paid a company to help us put the reservations on line, then opened a wine bar across the street for more seats… and then added more space to the wine bar.
Wendy: And yet some of the complaints are they still can’t get a table.
Greg: But what else can I do? We only have a certain amount of tables at Frenchie. This is why we decided that in opening the wine bar, we wouldn’t take reservations, first come, first served… and now some are unhappy they have to stand in line for a seat.
Wendy: Did you change anything from the first day you opened to accommodate the number of visitors?
Greg: Yes, when we first opened there were only 2 employees and now I employee 14 people!
Wendy: So you don’t feel that you’ve changed the core of what you do having grown so much since opening?
Greg: In this business, you have to you go forward, to grow personally & professionally, evolve little by little, have a bigger/more interesting wine list, try different things on the menu, keep looking for the best ingredients, etc. So no matter how we started or where we go in the future, the Frenchie spirit will never change.
Wendy: Whenever I am in house, I see that you can’t even walk from the kitchen to the dining room without a dozen diners stopping you to thank you or tell you how much fun they are having…
Greg: You know what? I love our customers no matter where they come from…and if they are happy enjoying the food we make, then we are happy too!