Creating a Manhattan restaurant from the ground up is hard enough. Then try creating an epic experience where diners are transported from New York City to an Art Nouveau-style brasserie in a Parisian square, the length of an entire block. Then imagine a soaring ceiling practically touching the sky and a multi-colored glass skylight imported from Paris not to mention delectable menu creations like steak frites, steamed mussels with white wine, an assortment of dry-aged meats and a vast wine list.
Then try creating all this in the middle of a global pandemic.
La Grande Boucherie has quite a story. This authentically French brasserie which stretches the entire block of 6 ½ Avenue of the Americas between West 53rd and 54th streets is already a neighborhood gem.
The restaurant’s genesis is artfully told in the documentary, Making of La Grande Boucherie. In pure dramatic form the story unfolds as Emil Stefkov, founder and president of The Group, which owns a collection of restaurants, including La Grande Boucherie, has a dream.
Stefkov longs to create a top-notch eatery that pays homage to French heritage. It has standout design details. Picture décor crafted by multigenerational family-owned businesses who create everything from the pewter countertops to iron railings using traditional methods and craftsmanship that have endured for over a century. Touches like detailed wooden doors, hand-plastered Art Nouveau ornaments and massive patina mirrors add to the allure.
“We have taken just as much consideration into our cuisine as we did in the details of La Grande Boucherie’s spatial experience,” says Stefkov. “Our menu puts the spotlight on an assortment of classic dishes from all regions of France.” Plus, there are other touches like the restaurant is kept at 75 degrees Fahrenheit year-round with a state-of-the-art floor cooling and heating system. Combined with 7000 square feet of mosaic tiles, diners feel as if they are eating outside on the streets in Paris.
All this passion is shown in Making La Grande Boucherie. “The film gives viewers an honest look into the reality of what it took to create La Grande Boucherie. Our successes, our failures, and the unprecedented times we were living in,” shares Stefkov of the documentary that was directed by Ben DiGiacomo of A9NY Studio with Amy DiGiacomo producing. (A trailer for the film can be found here.) “It highlights the compounded difficulties of opening a restaurant during a global pandemic and subsequently fosters a strong feeling of perseverance and warm sentiment of hope as we continue to navigate this pandemic today.”
There’s also plenty glimpses behind-the-scenes in the creation of the restaurant that was co-designed by Stefkov and designer Julien Legeard. “The film will thoroughly absorb viewers into the making of La Grande Boucherie and the artisans that made this project come to fruition,” adds Stefkov.
Also, Stefkov hopes that people who visit La Grande Boucherie will be fully enveloped in the richness of French culture. “It’s an historical experience that allows guests to fully immerse themselves in Parisian culture,” observes Stefkov. “Similar to the period its architecture is inspired by La Grande Boucherie offers visitors an escape to Paris in 1920 without ever having to leave Manhattan.”
Stefkov shared more.
What inspired you to do the film, Making La Grande Boucherie?
I drew inspiration from mere excitement to showcase the evolution of how La Grande Boucherie came to be and the harmonious efforts behind the creation. The building itself tells a story through its architecture and fine details, so it was important to me that the scene was set for this story. Exposing the creative processes of sourcing materials and creating a menu for Manhattan’s newest cultural asset to me is analogous to an author introducing the characters of narrative in the first chapter of a book. Being able to see and appreciate the creation of this magnificent space, I think, will only elevate the experience La Grande Boucherie provides.
As our opening date approached, to be quite candid with you, we were nervous. We, along with the rest of the world, had just experienced a devastating once-in-a-lifetime occurrence with the introduction of COVID-19 into our lives, and I think it conditioned us to fear the future. It always helped to think back to the little celebrations we had acquired in the process. As the opening date inched closer and closer, it helped to see all of those “little celebrations” put together in one monumental building.
The magnificent glass ceiling in the restaurant that was found in France is so spectacular. Why is it special to you?
To me, this ceiling is the building’s most remarkable ode to classic European culture. It has touched nearly every staple piece of French culture. It first existed as a neighbor to the Opera Garnier and then found a home at Les Puces before making its way to the United States. Its history and intricate design actualize the effortlessly luxurious Parisian experience that we want our guests to enjoy. It’s only natural that this piece of art serves as the crown jewel of La Grande Boucherie.
What inspired you to create La Grande Boucherie and what was your vision?
We wanted to create Manhattan's most incredible feat thus far by fusing New York hospitality with French elegance and charm to make a one-of-a-kind dining experience. It's important to recognize that while La Grande Boucherie was being constructed, New York City was under great stress. Like many others, we wanted to inspire hope for a better tomorrow in New Yorkers. It became imperative that we completed this project during those somber times to show our community that there was a path to move forward.
It's hard enough opening a restaurant, especially one so epic, then add in a global pandemic. What were some of the greatest challenges creating La Grande Boucherie?
We certainly faced a lot of adversity. We wanted to provide a comfortable and safe space for our guests to dine while abiding by our aesthetic vision for the building, so we took protocols and regulations from the CDC regarding COVID-19 into consideration during the earliest stages of construction. In order to promote safety and comfort for our guests during their dining experience, we designed custom-made wooden dividers to create an elegant but effective barrier between each table. Luckily, our original design included an expansive outdoor dining area that would provide a more ventilated space for our guests to enjoy.
What went through your mind when you saw the completed restaurant and the completed film?
I was relieved and joyful, of course, but even for someone involved with this project from conception to execution, I was taken aback by the outcome. It is even more impressive in physical space than we could have ever imagined with sketches and blueprints.
Viewing the finished film was grounding and emotional, it brought me to tears a couple of times, especially after seeing the finished product. It felt surreal looking back at the time when La Grande Boucherie’s story was still beginning to take shape.