Restaurateurs from other countries have emotional as well as financial investments in the dining experiences they create in the U.S.
Personal touches in décor help guests identify with the culture behind the menu and inspire a deeper connection to the restaurant—that’s what restaurant operators who are serving international cuisine have discovered when they accessorize the restaurant with design elements from their home countries.
Rocco’s Tacos, a Mexican restaurant with five locations in Florida plus one in Brooklyn, New York, is outfitted with Mexican artwork and fixtures that owner Rocco Mangel personally selected during his travels throughout Mexico. Ornate orange and red starburst chandeliers have become a signature piece at every Rocco’s Tacos location and are a favorite with diners and Mangel himself. He says the company has a “chandelier guy in Mexico” who custom-makes each one, and he also has relationships with other artisans in Mexico who craft art and décor for the restaurants. “We’ve gone the extra mile to not only bring the food of Mexico but also the culture,” he says.
For Laurent Vrignaud, owner of Moulin Bistro in Newport Beach, California, the Parisian décor of his contemporary bistro is quite personal. Vrignaud, who grew up in France and moved to the U.S. when he was 18 years old, decorates his restaurant with art and furniture that remind him of his childhood. “I’ve always collected these objects around me that remind me of France,” he says.
Nostalgia doesn’t come cheap: He estimates having spent around $50,000 over the last 10 years collecting items. Add to that investment a hefty time commitment and logistical challenges.
“It’s not about the money,” says Vrignaud. “It’s really time. It’s the search,” adding that he has even gone to collectors’ apartments in Paris to purchase chairs for his restaurant.
Mangel echoes the commitment, noting that—while shipping is expensive—having the items in the restaurant is worth it because it adds to Rocco’s brand authenticity. “If we were cost-conscious we wouldn’t do it,” he says. “The authenticity that we believe in, we won’t stray from that.”
Both Mangel and Vrignaud have found that diners love the personal, international touches. “The customers get it,” says Vrignaud. “Some of them say, ‘this is what France must be like.’” Beyond the customer experience, both operators acknowledge the artwork and fixtures they have chosen provide an intimate connection as well.
“When I sit here, it is emotional and moving,” says Vrignaud. “I’m French at heart, and there are pieces here from my grandmother.”
Mangel feels the same. “Each piece that we touch is special, and I’ve created relationships with these producers,” he says. “I get emotional about it.”