Every Wednesday, Yahoo invites you to learn more about a company. Little secrets, anecdotes, unusual stories, don’t miss the opportunity to impress your friends. For this 102nd episode, focus on the king of grilled meat in France: Buffalo Grill.
1 – The oil giant Total participated in its success
Buffalo Grill is above all the story of an autodidact who wanted at all costs to succeed and become rich. Alternately commis chef at Maxim’s and waiter at the Lido, Christian Picart flew to the United States in the early 1960s to fill his pockets and live his “American dream”. Across the Atlantic, he multiplies odd jobs to return to France after four years of hard work. He set up his first business in the laundry and hotel industry. Without much success.
Fascinated by the concept of the family steak house, which he saw develop when he was in the United States, Christian Picart wants to import the model of establishments with a western atmosphere along our roads. The first Buffalo Grill opened its doors in 1980, along the National 20 in Avrainville, in Essonne. To go faster, Buffalo Grill can count on the unexpected support of… Total.
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Competing from large retailers, the French oil giant is forced to close many service stations. The new chain of restaurants therefore recovers a lot of land at reasonable prices to develop quickly. “Christian was looking for land on major roads, preferably close to service stations. We did a lot of business with him”, confirms Total in Release. The firm has long been a shareholder in the capital of Buffalo Grill before distancing itself in 1998 by pocketing a “very good capital gain”.
2 – The mad cow crisis, 15 years in hell
End of 2002. Four leaders and executives of the Buffalo Grill group, including CEO Christian Picart, are indicted for “deliberate endangering the lives of others” and “aggravated deception”. “It was very brutal, he recalls bitterly. Two of my directors were sentenced to four months in pre-trial detention and I only escaped because I was a resident of Switzerland”, recalls the founder of brand in 2016 in the columns of Capital.
The group is suspected by French justice of having imported British beef in the midst of the mad cow crisis. Investigators find that two of the victims of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, who died in 2001 and 2002, had their habits at Buffalo Grill. The media coverage of the case sowed doubt in the minds of the French and attendance fell dramatically at the height of the crisis, at the beginning of 2003. Three restaurants of the chain were even set on fire in Essonne in less than an hour, including the first opened in 1980.
Thanks to well-oiled crisis communication, Buffalo Grill is reversing the trend and demonstrating that the company is not the culprit but the victim. “This company is becoming a friendly company, the impact surveys that are carried out show that people say they are victims, attendance is on the rise again, which is still surprising”, explains Tristan Gaston Breton, business historian. , for RTL. To prove its good faith and win back a suspicious public, Buffalo Grill also plays the quality card and displays the origins of all its meats.
Despite this spectacular recovery, Christian Picart, tired of this legal battle, sold his company to the Colony Capital fund in 2005 for 200 million euros. “A tidy sum, but it was not that expensive to pay when you know that we made 500 million in turnover three years ago”, enrages the business manager. After fifteen years of investigation and thirteen long years of investigation, the justice dismissed the case in 2016. The judges finally considered that the investigations had “not made it possible to demonstrate the illegal importation of English meat into the territory French”.
3 – A very noticeable style change in 2021
Last year, the brand made a 180-degree turn by abandoning its Far West universe to offer customers of the 360 restaurants a more modern, less “cheesy” decoration, as the gossip would say. The group, which has 600 restaurants (former rival Courtepaille has been part of the same group since 2020) is now called Napaqaro – in reference to the checkered tablecloths of typical French bistros – betting on a “House of BBQ” atmosphere, understand, in French “Barbecue House”. “Cowboys and Indians no longer speak to my children who are young, there are no more westerns on TV…”, justifies Jocelyn Olive, the president of the catering group. The purists can be reassured, the eternal welcome salad and the birthday song are still relevant. Following the health crisis and the closure of restaurants, Buffalo Grill went through a complicated period: its turnover fell by 40% to 232 million euros in 2020.
In addition to a makeover of its restaurants, the group has also accelerated digitalization and home delivery to adapt to new consumption patterns. “On March 14, 2020, we closed our restaurants, on April 2 we decided to deliver at home and we started the service on April 13. At the beginning of 2021, we also launched Bun Meat Bun, a 100% digital brand. Today, our home delivery activities generate 100 million euros in annual turnover with the desire to become one of the leaders in France”, confides Jocelyn Olive, CEO of Buffalo Grill to Agefi.
4 – The French love it
Rather cheap meats, a varied menu and generous portions: for more than four decades, the French have grown up with this restaurant with a large red roof that adorns our commercial areas, the outskirts of our cities and more occasionally our city centers. With each opinion poll, the brand shines with its excellent results despite its crises and its change of look. In 2022, Buffalo Grill was once again voted France’s favorite brand in the “Table restaurant” category with a fan rate of 20%. It is hands down ahead of its other competitors (Del’Arte, Hippopotamus, Courtepaille, Au Bureau, La Boucherie, La Pataterie, Léon, Bistro Régent) since none of them exceeds the 10% fan mark.
5 – A customer found a frog on her plate
It is well known, the French are famous for being consumers of frogs. Which earned us the nickname “Froggies” in Anglo-Saxon countries. On the other hand, like everyone else, we hate finding them unexpectedly on our plate. In 2013, a client of a Buffalo Grill in Lomme (Nord) had the unpleasant surprise of finding a dead frog in the middle of her green salad.
“Initially, my wife wanted to have a meat skewer, but the waitress recommended a hearty salad, with a large baked potato,” the husband tells France 3 Hauts-de-France. “It was when she started fishing in the first lettuce leaves that she found the frog. It’s amazing no one saw it because it was a rather large frog. My wife screamed. She struggled to eat until the next day”.
Horrified, the couple somehow warns a manager who offers them as compensation vouchers for free cocktails, “valid only on condition of paying for the next meal”. Faced with the outcry, the management of Buffalo Grill expressed its “sincere regrets” and announced the launch of an internal investigation as well as with the supplier.
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