In its new location in City Walk Hazmieh, Le Rouge Bistro is a new addition from the pioneer Ali Assaf to the Lebanese World of Food Industry and Hospitality Management…
1- After the success in your Hamra’s location, when did you decide to open Le Rouge in a new location?
We had been looking for a new location outside of Beirut for a while. Last July we found it, and we launched Le Rouge with a gathering of my class mates a few weeks ago, as a “Soft opening” that will last for a few weeks. Then a grand opening is being planned to take place in a couple of weeks.
2- Why did you choose City Walk as a location?
The area of City Walk has lots of traffic and existing attractions including City Centre, and Hoops which is a Sports Center for the Star Basketball player Fadi El Khateeb. The building we are in (City Walk) is modern, attractive, with lots of windows & Balconies and nicely decorated with trees, shrubberies and a waterfall. And has the advantage to be a little bit outside Beirut, where we already have a presence.
3- Why did you call your new restaurant Le Rouge, is it a new concept? Or is it to remind people of your old Le Rouge?
Le Rouge is a concept that we started in 2004 in Gemmayzeh (a small location of about 33 seats). In 2008, we decided to open in Hamra and again like in Gemmayzeh, we were among the first to open that area. A number of years later, demographic changes, geopolitical tensions and the change in people’s tastes such as the shift from International food to Lebanese Food and Arguileh, made it unprofitable for us to stay open. When we came to re-open Le Rouge, we chose an area where their taste for food was more in line with our offerings: French & International Cuisine. Hazmieh turned out to be the best choice and City Walk the right place. We introduced some enhancements to Le Rouge’s original concept both in our branding, decoration and food offerings. We made it a point, not increase our prices, also making sure that our new dishes were priced in line with our older “traditional dishes”.
4- Who are your clients? Is it Families, business people?
We are a full service restaurant, from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner. Our customers tend to be older in age from 30-50 years, though younger people come in. Our clients in general tent to be people with good taste since we cater to them with our attractive branding and decoration as well as the delicious dishes we offer. Over time, we have noticed that 3 out of 4 people visiting us are women. Women in general tend to be more sensitive towards good taste, and are attracted the atmosphere we created: It is cozy, relaxing and makes them feel at home. It is as if they were in their own living room or dining room. In addition our seating is varied and comfortable, taking you away from the “cafeteria” feeling. A corner with a red sofa, red upholstered chairs and a low table, further helps people to feel more at home.
5- What makes Le Rouge so different from similar casual dining restaurants?
Even though we are a casual dining place, we made sure to design a very classy restaurant with very affordable prices offering very good service. These special features create a special appeal that will definitely make us different. We also have chosen to place Le Rouge in a category called “Value Pricing” which means: “Great quality ingredients with plentiful food on the plates at very affordable prices for your pocket”. We make our profits not from high inflated prices, but rather from the number of people we serve. As an example in our Hamra branch we had served over 100,000 customers in our first year of operation (an average of 3.5 customers per chair per day).
6- Being a pioneer in the field of hospitality, how do you assess the present state of hospitality in Lebanon? What can private and official parties do to redress the situation?
The situation in Lebanon when it comes to the (F&B) “Food and Beverage” Industry, which is a big part of the tourism business, has been in steep decline over the past 5 years, with 2017 being the worst year so far. This is mostly due to Lebanon’s location in a very unstable part of the world: Syria, Iraq, South Lebanon, etc. The daily challenges, from the loss of foreign visitors, to the exaggerated & often over sensational stories in the news related to the ministry of health crack down some food safety issues, to the preponderance of Iraqi & Syrian visitors that prefer Lebanese food and Arguileh over International dishes, to the lower profit margins on Lebanese foods, makes it almost impossible to make a decent return to stay in business, hence the many restaurant failures in town. I am however an optimistic person and I have faith that things will change soon with our continuous push and the help of God. I have high expectations for our new restaurant in 2018. People, who heard about Le Rouge’s reopening, are contacting us and getting exited & interested in coming back to visiting us for a great meal.
7- Can Lebanon regain its leading position regionally on the touristic front and in hospitality management?
No doubt! I strongly believe in the pendulum theory. The pendulum swings back and forth. During the last few years it was swinging away from us. It is about time to start swinging back towards us. We should always remember that “the only constant in life is change”.
8- Do you think Social Media is helpful in branding a restaurant, a bistro and making it known to the Lebanese public? Do we live in the Social Media Era?
This is true. Social Media is important for lot of sectors, not just for restaurants, it has to do with the speed of information transfer. In one day, Social Media can reach 5000 people and more. Also the use of pictures and videos in Social Media has lots of appeal and a stronger effect on its followers. It is said that most people in restaurants eat their food through their cameras before it reaches their mouth.
9- Your agenda for 2018?
My agenda is to be very successful!!!
10- Your advice for young entrepreneurs entering the field without a feasibility study?
This is a big problem not only in Lebanon, but in many countries as well. There is a saying: ”Monkey see, monkey do”, which means that the less knowledgeable will try to copy the more knowledgeable, because at face value what it is being copied seems so to be simple, when in fact it really is not. It is so tempting for people to go into hospitality, because on a daily basis they can prepare a salad or a sandwich and fry an egg, leading them to believe that this is all it takes to open a restaurant, and it definitely is not. Hospitality is much more than that. Originally, restaurants were a family small business and were passed down to the next generation, with no certitude about long term continuity. Although adequately run, they were not professional. It is only when corporate restaurants started to appear, mostly due to franchising, that planning and feasibility studies started being utilized. In Lebanon, the big majority of restaurants are still in the “Family Stage”, with not much planning, long term outlook and continuity. To every new entrepreneur in Lebanon, I urge you to get an F&B professional expert to help you open your “Dream Restaurant”, because it is a very complex and involved process. Otherwise it will turn into your BAD DREAM
11- Last word?
Congratulations for your very informative Magazine, and thank you for shedding the light on my F&B projects.