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All in the family...

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Remember

that evening

I told you about; the one when I witnessed a lovely union, the one when we were charmed by anecdotes from the Maccioni family?

Marco's stories piqued my curiosity. The family behind

Le Cirque

, where I have dined several times, and several other jewels in NYC and beyond, was definitely successful and I wanted to understand their secret. I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered while lunching with

Marco Maccioni

, at the flagship restaurant. During our leisurely conversation, he insisted I meet rest of the family as well. Now, that should give you a clue.

Over a lunch of meandering stories and memories interspersed with wine, delicious food and several hellos and goodbyes from clients and staff, I came away with three words that I felt captured their essence -

Friendly. Charming. Familial.

Photo Courtesy: Bill Cunningham

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Although none of these words sound like business jargon, they resonate deep within the heart of this hugely successful enterprise.

Let's start with the obvious. Why does an Italian migrant who is very close to his Italian culture chose to start a French restaurant? The answer simply came down to commonly accepted myth and market economics. In the seventies,

when Le Cirque was born

, after years of Papa Maccioni's experience in the restaurant industry, Italian cuisine did not accredit as being refined to the rich and fabulous. The French were in command of the upscale market and so he went with popular demand; that makes justifiable business sense as well.

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In of itself, it gives a clue to one of the most successful strategies that the family has adopted over the years - to

be close to the customer

. This particular trait has guaranteed the success of not only Le Cirque but every subsequent restaurant that they have opened in NYC and beyond. Mr. Maccioni's motto was to always put the customer first. What the client wants, the client gets. In an industry where hostpitality is largely a unactioned buzz word and, especially, in the echelons of French cuisine (where the chef reigns), this was a refreshing attitude from a restauranteur, which, I am sure was more than welcomed by their clientele.

Walk into the restaurant today and ask for an item that is off-the-menu but you really want; perhaps a childhood memory or a comfort dish that is your pick-me-up, and it will be served to you. That is their promise. The diner is king/queen! By being friendly and accomodating, they have built a loyal following amongst their diners. Infact atleast 50% of the lunch and dinner crowd are repeat diners!

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Having built a reputation and a deep engagement with their clients the Maccionis were poised for the next stage. They partnered with old friends and clients to open new restaurants in Las Vegas, Delhi, Dominican Republic, aboard the international seas and soonly in Dubai! In all of their partnerships, Sirio Maccioni, used

one rule of engagement - trust

. He looked in his partner's eye, found the clarity he was looking for and closed the deal with a handshake. There was an implicit and full understanding on all sides of a fair deal, the nitty gritties of which were not to haggled over but mutually agreed with.

In an era, where corporate scandals abound and activist investors haggle over the last penny, it is refreshing to see the old family values of business still thrive and make a case for themselves!

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the monkeys say the story...

Marco has cherished the idea of opening a restaurant in London for several years. So far, the right partner has yet to come give the family a trusty handshake. But, it is a wish that will doubtless be fulfilled in the coming years!

On the subject of family, my greatest curiosity was to understand how a family of strong individualities manage to work together and cohesively. To observe their interaction at lunch was insightful. There is abundant respect for individual strengths laced with a humor that can only exist among the intimate and affectionate. They tease each other, argue and fight like Italians {:)} about the business yet they all work towards the single common goal of the family. In keeping their roots and goal firmly in mind, they succeed where it would be very easy to fall by the way side. Mama Maccioni also helps in keeping this bond strong and fluid as the strong and inspiring matriarch.

A table at Le Cirque

Photo Courtesy: Sabrina Wender

In the end, everybody becomes part of this family and business. The staff, who have stayed for years, are treated not as those who work for but those who work with. The clients have always ruled the dining rooms and the legacy will only continue for several decades. The family, well, happily grows and manages to bring everyone into the fold. Marco's wife, Sabrina, is the vocalist on Musical Mondays at Le Cirque, an experience I look forward to enjoying one of these days!

This post has deliberately been not as much about the food, which, I feel the photographs do more justice than words ever can. Le Cirque has always a dining delight for me and it is stupendously thrilling to find that the family is just as charming and friendly!

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