Mikhail Gokhner is a prominent figure in the restaurant business. In 1995, he opened the first Argentinean steakhouse El Gaucho in Moscow on Krasnye Vorota, in 1999 - the restaurant of Russian village cuisine "On the Mill" in an old mansion on Sadovaya-Spasskaya Street, and in 2002 launched a French gourmet restaurant Villa. In 2006, the first establishment of the Italian restaurant chain Bocconcino was launched, and eight years later, in 2014, the restaurant opened in London in the Mayfair district.
Unlike most Moscow restaurant projects, Mikhail Gokhner's holding survived the lockdown and the pandemic without any significant losses or closings, moreover, a new establishment opened in the middle of January in Depo. Moscow. We decided to find out from Mikhail the formula for the restaurant's success in an unstable market and the ongoing economic crisis.
The main question is: how did you survive the lockdown?
In April, all the restaurateurs experienced a real shock, because they did not understand what to do. To be honest, it was easier for us than for the rest. Everything must be done on time. About five years ago, we created our own delivery service with a website, call center, staff of couriers, etc. It took a lot of effort, time and money to make this structure work like a clock. I can imagine how hard it was for my fellow restaurateurs to launch a delivery from scratch in a couple of weeks. And yet they still went into negative territory. Why did our delivery model work? Because it was thought out in detail. We have seven Bocconcino restaurants, located both in the center and in “quality” sleeping areas. Thanks to this, we are able to deliver an order within 40-50 minutes. Italian cuisine, pizza, pasta are delivered without any problems in such a time. And if we talk about the El Gaucho steakhouse, then in principle this concept could not work in lockdown. Who will eat the cold steak?
Sushi is on the second place in delivery services in the world after pizza (burgers are on the third). How do you explain this?
Суши действительно пользовались спросом и отлично доезжали. Мы делаем суши в двух ресторанах Bocconcino. Началось все с того, что мы открыли большой ресторан (площадью свыше 1000 кв. м) в ТРЦ «Океания». Места оказалось слишком много, и, чтобы его заполнить, я открыл там суши-бар. Теперь, когда постоянные гости звонят с заказами, то часто задают вопрос: «А суши есть в доставке?» Как-то в головах людей соединились три понятия: доставка, пицца и суши. (Смеется.) На Красных воротах в формате dark kitchen делаем суши и роллы исключительно под доставку по центру города. Возвращаясь к локдауну… Все продукты мы свезли в два заведения - на Патриках и на Страстном бульваре. Торговые центры же все были закрыты. И отработали этими двумя точками всю пандемию, платили зарплату сотрудникам и опустошили склады всех наших ресторанов, так что ничего не пропало.
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Why do you think the restaurant business suffered a lockdown harder than the rest of the industries?
The restaurant business is arranged in such a way that you pay people the salary for the last month from today's proceeds and pay the suppliers in the same way. And the problem of the lockdown was precisely that this chain was broken and people really had nothing to pay from. We were close to operating zero, we managed to cover current costs: employee salaries, purchasing products. Well, when there was not enough money, I added from my own pocket.
What, in your opinion, are the main problems of delivery services and how can they be solved?
There are two key things in delivery that a restaurateur needs to work to shine. The first is to make sure that the customer is delivered a quality product that he ordered. The second is for the order to be delivered quickly. Our project is networked, we can quickly bring quality food. And if you have a dozen restaurants and one of them is of Greek cuisine, the second is Caucasian, the third is Italian, etc., then, in my opinion, delivery will most likely do nothing. Because it will take two hours to drive food to the other end of the city through traffic jams. And dishes of even the highest quality products will become less edible. Therefore, many restaurateurs turned to aggregators - Yandex. Eda, Delivery Club, etc. to shift their delivery problems onto their shoulders. But since aggregators take about 25–35%, restaurateurs worked practically at zero. It was easier for us. We have been cooperating with them for a long time, we have a network project, therefore we pay less interest.
Three concepts have merged in people's heads: delivery, pizza and sushi.
Tell us about one of your first El Gaucho projects. If not, this was one of the first steakhouses in Moscow and opened in the last century?
Yes, it was the first steakhouse in Moscow and opened 25 years ago. The first is at the Red Gate, the second is at Paveletskaya, and the third is at Mayakovka. Proceeding from certain considerations, I closed two establishments, and the third flagship two-storey one on Paveletskaya decided to leave and develop. During the lockdown, I realized that it was necessary to update the restaurant, while maintaining the inherent atmosphere that our regular guests love so much. As a result, we renewed the technical part and the interior: we replaced the old grill with a new one made of stainless steel, made marble floors and changed the furniture. And now it is a beautiful and modern (in the understanding of 2020) premium meat restaurant.
How much has the interior changed?
At first I could not figure out what to do with the large showcase, which we got along with the room. I invited a professional - Daniel Berg, and he made showcases in the style of an Argentine colonial city with vivid interesting details.
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You decided not to change the menu? It seems to me that your regular guests are quite conservative …
In general, I am a supporter of the traditional menu. There are main dishes inherent in our concept; this is the restaurant's business card. Every season we introduce 4–5 new products into the menu. Something takes root, some doesn't. Why go to El Gaucho, you ask? Firstly, we use really very good meat - from different manufacturers, but of the highest quality. Secondly, we make this natural meat on fire without any smoking or other tricks. Excellent quality roasted meat is El Gaucho's trademark.
Who are your suppliers? Now all Moscow restaurants take either Miratorg or Primebeef.
We take exactly what we need from all suppliers. Yes, now in any restaurant you can order steaks, but usually they are from the same manufacturer. In El Gaucho you can taste different meats: Argentinean, Russian producers, and Japanese wagyu. Hardly anyone in Moscow has the same wide assortment. It's the same story with wine. We have collected a huge collection of the best wines. Nowadays, not every restaurant can afford to buy wine to keep it for a year. El Gaucho is part of the concept, there are rare wines there.
"We survived the lockdown." Restaurateurs - about the results of 2020
As I understand it, your most successful project is the Bocconcino restaurant chain, which already has seven establishments. What are your plans for further expansion?
Before the pandemic, we planned to open two Bocconcinoes - in Depo. Moscow and the Aviapark shopping and entertainment center. During the lockdown, they were quietly completed and they decided to stop there for now. It makes no sense to build restaurants in the absence of guests. And understandable prospects. As soon as the market situation stabilizes and we see an increase in the number of visitors, average check and revenue, we will immediately begin to develop. What's great about the restaurant business is that it scales quickly.
In the meantime, you have opened at Depo. Moscow. Many restaurateurs say that this is a very difficult location …
When we say “difficult location”, we need to consider the synergy of location and concept. It seemed to me that the Bocconcino concept would feel fine here. Our product fits perfectly into the portrait of those consumers who come here for gastronomic variety. "Depot" is such a point of attraction. And every person who came here is our target audience.
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Many restaurateurs have taken the path of selling franchises to their successful projects. No desire to join them?
As for Bocconcino, I was not initially going to make it networked, but quickly saw the prospects and began to create a network. All Bocconcino establishments have the same menu, and certain differences are related to location, as the consumer is slightly different. There are restaurants in shopping centers and on the streets in the center of Moscow. As for the promotion to the regions, five years ago we opened the first Bocconcino in Nizhny Novgorod. This is not a franchise, but a joint project with our business partners. The restaurant is successful and works to this day. I am often approached about a franchise, but a franchise is a serious business process (like shipping) that needs to be set up and packaged. If we talk about other countries, in 2014 I opened Bocconcino in London, in the Mayfair area.
Do you see prospects for yourself in Britain?
Yes, I think the British market is promising and I plan to open the next restaurants there. First, just think about the numbers! One restaurant in London generates revenue like three restaurants in Moscow. And a restaurant opened in one of the Russian million-plus cities will give even less revenue than a Moscow one. So just before the first lockdown, I was looking for a suitable location in London. There are quite high rental rates, so you need to decide on the traffic of guests, etc., then the business model will take shape. Secondly, the British are happy to go to restaurants, do not skimp on quality food. The standard of living is high there.
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Nevertheless, the pandemic and British restaurateurs had a hard time.
Yes, there are no tourists now. My restaurant is located in the heart of the city next to the headquarters of international corporations, but now they can afford to keep all employees remote. Therefore, there are not many people in the center. However, my restaurant works well even in such difficult conditions, even though it is already six years old. Until the second strict lockdown, which was announced at the end of December 2020, there were many guests on weekdays, and a full house on Friday-Saturday. As for the opening of a new restaurant in London, it is very slow. You can't build a restaurant in England in less than a year. Any local construction company only studies the contract for a month, therefore negotiations will be conducted, etc. Everything is extremely calm and regulated there. But you know in advance what you will be allowed and what not. If the project is made in accordance with all the requirements,you will get permission. So business in Britain is going on and has great prospects, but still the model of building a business there is very different from the Russian one.
What projects do you think Moscow still lacks?
Like many metropolitan areas such as Paris, Madrid and London, Moscow has restaurants that have been in operation for 30 years or more and are still popular. This is close to me (El Gaucho is over 25 years old), and this is exactly what Moscow lacks. Such projects keep the audience and the level for a long time. It is important to be able to adapt to modern realities and pick up trends, but it is equally important to create them yourself and thereby set an example to others. At the moment, the constant demanded by a wealthy audience is high-quality products, service and, of course, a comfortable atmosphere.