Meet Thierry: The Man Behind Bengaluru Based Cafe Noir

Café Noir is a contemporary French fine dining restaurants chain serving authentic French Casual Cuisine from breakfast to dinner. The main objective of the brand is to promote the French “Art de Vivre” with a wide selection of gourmet foods in a distinctive bistro feel that embraces the true French culture. From a sweet treat to an elaborate gourmet meal, the restaurants have specialties to suit everyone’s palate.

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Walking towards Cafe Noir, you feel like there’s an invisible portal somewhere that takes you directly to the streets of Paris. Cozy cafes dot the streets of Paris, making it one of the most romantic cities in the world. At Cafe Noir, you are transported to this city of love complete with food, ambience, and music. How did the cafe come up? What inspired the menu, and the food?Who was behind the whole idea?

Meet Thierry, the humourous, humble, and humanitarian owner of Cafe Noir. We had the pleasure of meeting him and finding out a little more about him and the origins of Cafe Noir.

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How did the idea of Cafe Noir originate?
Thank you for your interest in cafe noir, happy to see that people recognise Cafe Noir and want to know more about it. I should start from the beginning, Cafe Noir means black coffee and infact, the guy behind the idea is my younger brother, Jean Michel, owner of Toscano. He had come to Paris, with a friend, to visit the cafes. And there, the idea was born.

How did your carrer path lead you here?
I am not a chef, he laughs. I used to manage telecom in Europe, about 7 years ago. But sometimes, it’s too easy to do the same thing everyday. Life gets very boring and I was questiong what I wanted to do with life. So, I called my brother and told him I didn’t know what to with my MBA and business background, and I wanted something new to do.

Jean had the desire to start a french food cafe in india, but needed someone by his side to see it through, as he was already busy with Toscano , so he said, “Okay we have never had the opportunity to work together, so why dont we start this in india?”

This idea appealed to me as I had never been to india prior to this, and had no idea of what the country had to offer. It was exactly what I was looking for – something new, something challenging, and something that would help me learn about a new place, a new culture, and a new profession. So I agreed to fly to bangalore and take care of the entire project.

What all did you have to do in order to run the restaurant the way you wanted to?
You cant expect to run something like this just by the figures or plans. You need to learn to connect with customers. Not being from the industry, and in order to understand the business and learn tricks of the trade, I did everything from spending a lot of time on the floor, taking orders, cleaning the tables, interacting with the customers, checking up on the kitchen, all while esuring we had our fresh produce and ingredients arriving on time.
Also, to be successful as a restaurant, you need a good chef. I came to india with two chefs from Paris – one in charge of the bakery and pastries, and one in charge of the kitchen. They were two young guys ready to dicover India with me. They couldn’t speak too much English, or any hindi, but were curious to see what India had to offer.

Have you had any difficulties with communication, or language?
We don’t speak English in France, we speak French!, he said with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eyes. We prefer to speak English as a business language, but we keep our rules and our accents. Sometimes, it is difficult for people to understand me. I often have to repeat what I say, or show them by example how to do something. Lots of times, they accept that they don’t understand me. So I have to adapt myself to understand their ways better, and be able to communicate with them. You need a lot of personal iimplication/involvement for the job, and that is the beauty of the job!

THE RUNNING OF CAFE NOIR
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Having branches spread out across Bangalore, how are your kitchens run?
A restaurant is not just about hiring a chef to cook ingredients in a pan, and put it on a plate. No, its more than that. It’s about the people that work there. We still have two chefs working with us. They are both of French origin. One is in charge of baking and pastry in a 6000 square feet production center in koramangala. He has 20 indian comis chefs working with him. And the exeutive chef, Alex, is in charge of all the small kitchens in the city. He has 36 Indian chefs working with him.

Apart from having branches across the city, we also have one at the international airport branch which is open all around the clock. So the chefs need to make sure the production is happening all the time and ensure timely delivery of food from the production center. If we start service at 12, and the food, and ingredients arrive at 3, there is no point!

Being a French cafe, we propose ethnic food – not indian, not italian, not Chinese. So, when we recruit the people, we have to train them. We spend a lot of time training them as, even for a good Indian chef, French cuisine is very very different. It’s a part of the job to take the people who are willing to work with us, and train them to meet the standards of our food, whether it’s making authentic crossoints, Viennoiseries, or a cup of coffee!

Today we have 180 employees working for us. A lot of what you see is on the front, but 30-40% are back end processes such as cooking, learning, cleaning, and inventory.

Speaking of inventory and produce, do you locally source your ingredients, or are they exported?
Contrary to popular belief, you dont have to procure stuff from outside thinking those are superior. India is a country that has plenty. From good quality freh produce such as fruits, vegetables, and meat to other ingredients such as flour, and butter. Most of our ingredients are locally procured, only some of them are procured from outside, like our chocolate, and sometimes salmon.

We are known for our coffee, but here’s the interesting part. Even our coffee is supplied locally. From inception, we have served coffee made out of beans handpicked coffee from a plantation in Coorg . We depend entirely on them for our coffee. If he’s ill we have no coffee! he jokes.

We choose to buy locally because of the choice available to us in this market, and it’s easier to procure.That way we are not dependant on international customs, delays, supply disruption etc.

What’s your secret to keeping customers coming in?
I eat everyday at my restaurant. For me, its a simple way to test the product for the customers. If I like what I eat, and I enjoy the food, I’m happy to be serving it to my customers. I think since I’m personally involved, it shows in the quality of food, that with our ethnic French bistro ambience keeps our customers happy. Our menu is created respecting the fact that a lot of Indians are vegetarian, so there’s a balance between vegetarian and non vegetarian choices. 

Also, unlike a lot of places, we are open all day. So whether you want a coffee, a croisssant, a pastry, or something heavier, our doors are always open!

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What have been some of Cafe Noirs professional successes?
Definitely Cafe Noir’s French Box which was launched to make our food available not just at our restaurants but also at their home, or offices! You can order anything from croissants, quiche and sandwiches to muffins, food, and pasteries. We will ensure it reaches you fresh and hot.

Also, we have a French food festival, every 2 months to create more awareness about the taste of france and french cuisine. Our chef is excellent, and while we stick to casual food, we can also do fine dining!

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LIFE AT CAFE NOIR: BEHIND THE SCENES

Running such a vast establishment must be a feat! Are there any rules, principles or work ethics that you follow, and expect of your employees as well?
I have some principles I work by. I schedule my day ahead, so I can be on time, irrespective of the traffic! I try to respect people, and understand their situation as well. For example, if someone tells me they will have something done by the next day or in an hour, I tell them I dont expect anything, and that I want them to try their best to do what they have to do. I also tell them not to commit to something that is not in their hands bacause I know there will be delays, and I’m prepared to acknowledge that.

We like excellence and we expect people to give us the best of them. We train people to respect rules, be punctual, be polite – and our working policy follows the same. We train them to manage their time, know their products, work with determination, tell them what we expect from them and ensure timely service of food, and smooth running of the cafe. Another important aspect of the job is to help employees build a relationship with their superiors so that there is and support, and harmony between everyone.

You’ve emphasized the necessity of ‘being human’ to you. How does that apply professionally as well?
Well, we are businessmen, we came to India and invested our money in this restaurant with no support from the bank because we are foreigners. But that’s not of most importance. For me what is important is to run the restaurant properly, and that people enjoy the food that they eat.

Most importantly, I desire that the people that work for us enjoy what they do. I want to see each of them learn something new, see some evolution perspective, and are able to live their lives well. Behind every employee is a family that depends on them, and we have to be conscious of that!

If you dont give this dimension of humanity or taking care of people, your job is useless. I like to take people, see them grow, and I understand it might be difficult initially, but I keep pushing them to grow. I love to help them understand how they should work so that one day they can be indipendant, comfortable and proud of the work they have done. People may leave once they’ve grown, but it’s all a part of the job. At the end of the day, it’s important to me to know that I’ve helped people and that they are happy.

I believe that you have to enjoy what you do and be proud of it. If you are proud of what you do, you do your best, no matter what. Any job is useful for the community, you just need to be professional and proud of it. If you are professional, you become comfortable, start to grow, and become good at the job, and you challenge yourself!

Are you looking to expand Cafe Noir across India?
We want to grow in india, definitely. We like when people enjoy their food. And personally, I am humbled when people come and compliment the food and the restaurant. In the coming years, we want to open new restaurants, get financial support, and spread across India. Here, at Cafe Noir, we love what we do, and people appreciate what we do. That’s the best part!

A LITTLE MORE THIERRY

What is your personal belief, or a motto, that you live by?
When I was younger, I used to read a lot of books. My favourite book was 20,000 leagues under the sea, by Jules Verne. In that, Captain Nemo used to live the quote ‘mobilis in mobili’, which may be roughly translated from Latin as, “moving amidst mobility”, and I strongly believe in that! You have got to adapt yourself if you want to go forward.

You are in continuous change and it is this change that challenges you and helps you grow. To me, India showed me how necessary and important it is to be able to adapt to situations quickly, I need to do it every day

Also, I believe to have a happy life you dont have to be rich, and I live by that policy. I don’t believe that you need to show off, or own luxury items to command respect.

What are your thoughts on India, and the people you have met?
When you swim in a river, the idea is not to change the course of the river. You go with the flow – maybe it will be smooth, may not. Sometimes, you have to compromise.

And it works the same here. When you come to india, it’s not to change india, it’s to contribute to the growth, and share your knowledge with other people. I’ve learnt a lot in India. Coming from a much smaller country, I’ve learnt how to manage more people, how to deal with numbers. Having worked in the telecomm industry before, I’ve always dealt with people who have finished their graduation and masters, so that was very simple. But here, I’ve learnt how to communicate with people from all walks of life. You have to be involved more, show people when they dont understand and be there when they need something.

I’ve come to realise that the people of India are very keen to learn, they are young, and curious to know more. I came here to work with diverse people like this. I feel the people here are pretty calm, I have never felt aggressiveness from them, it’s always been more curiosity and interest.

I often get asked this question – “You’ve come from France, such a nice country, why are you coming here?” – I don’t like it. I think to compare the two countries are each country is very stupid. Each country has their own benefits and flaws! You shouldn’t think your own country is bad! India is a great country, with its own assets and history. With a young, and dynamic population, there is so much you can do. You have to steer the growth towards making the country shine. There is so much potential and energy in india. You can’t compare India and France. We have different cultures, a different past and a very different population. In some cases, I think Indians are more open to foreigners than the French!

And finally, if you could eat one Indian dish everyday, what would that be?
Ahhh, I’m not a guy who likes very spicy food, he reveals. I’m non vegetarian, for sure. But I’m conscious of what I eat. If I had to pick an Indian food, I like dosa very much!

However, if I’ve done anything in excess and I’m not feeling good, I go back to my mediterranean roots and prefer a bowl of white rice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It balances my body.

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