How Total Helped Buffalo Grill Get Started in the 1980s

How Total Helped Buffalo Grill Get Started in the 1980s

Every Wednesday, Yahoo invites you to learn more about a company. Little secrets, anecdotes, unusual stories, do not 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 a self-taught man who wanted at all costs to succeed and become rich. Christian Picart, chef de comis at Maxim’s and waiter at the Lido, flew to the United States in the early 1960s to line his pockets and live out his “American dream.” Across the Atlantic, he multiplies odd jobs to return to France after four years of hard work. He established his first business in the hotel and laundry industry. Without much success.

Fascinated by the concept of the family-owned Steak House, which he saw develop when he was in the United States, Christian Picart wants to bring the Western-style establishment model to our roads. The first Buffalo Grill opened in 1980, along Nationale 20 in Avrainville, in Essonne. To go faster, Buffalo Grill can count on the unexpected support of… Total.

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Competing with big retailers, the French oil giant is forced to close many service stations. The new restaurant chain therefore recovers a lot of ground at reasonable prices to develop rapidly. “Christian was looking for land on major thoroughfares, preferably near service stations. We did a lot of business with him,” Total confirms in Liberation. The firm had long been an equity shareholder in Buffalo Grill before splitting in 1998 after pocketing a “very good capital gain.”

2 – The mad cow crisis, 15 years in hell

Late 2002. Four leaders and executives of the Buffalo Grill group, including CEO Christian Picart, are charged with “willfully 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 preventive detention and I only escaped because I was a resident of Switzerland”, recalls the founder of Rótulo in 2016 in the columns of El Capital.

French justice suspects the group has imported British beef in the midst of the mad cow crisis. Investigators find that two of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease victims, who died in 2001 and 2002, had their habits at the Buffalo Grill. Media coverage of the case cast doubt in the minds of the French and attendance fell sharply at the height of the crisis in early 2003. Even three of the chain’s restaurants were burned down in Essonne in less than an hour, including the first opened in 1980.

Thanks to well-oiled crisis communication, Buffalo Grill is turning the tide and proving 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 rising again, which continues to surprise,” explains Tristan Gaston Breton, business historian, for RTL. To demonstrate its good faith and win back a suspicious public, Buffalo Grill also plays the quality card and shows the origin 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 neat sum, but it wasn’t that expensive to pay when you know that three years ago we made 500 million billings”, the commercial manager gets furious. 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 allowed to demonstrate the illegal importation of English meat into French territory.”

Francois Picart, Christian’s brother, in 2002 (Credit: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol)

3 – A very noticeable style change in 2021

Last year, the brand made a 180-degree turn, abandoning its Far West universe to offer customers of the 360 ​​restaurants a more modern decoration, less “cheesy”, as gossips would say. The group, which has 600 restaurants (former rival Courtepaille has been part of the same group since 2020) is now called Napaqaro – a reference to the checkered tablecloths of typical French bistros – betting on a “House of BBQ” atmosphere, that is to say, in French “Casa Barbacoa”. “They no longer speak cowboys and Indians to my children who are small, there are no longer westerns on TV…”, justifies Jocelyn Olive, president of the catering group. Purists can rest easy, the everlasting welcome salad and birthday song are still relevant. After the health crisis and the closure of the restaurants, Buffalo Grill went through a difficult period: its turnover fell by 40% to 232 million euros in 2020.

In addition to the renovation of its restaurants, the group has also accelerated digitization 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”, Jocelyn Olive, general manager of Buffalo Grill, confesses to L’Agefi.

4 – The French love it

Rather cheap meats, a varied menu and generous portions: for more than four decades, the French have been raised with this restaurant with a large red roof that adorns our commercial areas, the outskirts of our cities and more occasionally our urban 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 20% fan rate. It is way ahead of its other competitors (Del’Arte, Hippopotamus, Courtepaille, Au Bureau, La Boucherie, La Pataterie, Léon, Bistro Régent) as none of them exceed 10% fans.

Buffalo Grill is the brand of

Buffalo Grill is France’s Favorite Restaurant Restaurant in 2022. (Emeric Fohlen/NurPhoto)

5 – A customer found a frog on his 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 customer at a Buffalo Grill in Lomme (North) had the unpleasant surprise of finding a dead frog in the middle of his green salad.

“At first, my wife wanted a meat skewer, but the waitress recommended a hearty salad, with a big baked potato,” the husband told France 3 Hauts-de-France. “It was when she started fishing in the first lettuce leaves that she found the frog. It’s amazing that no one saw it because it was a pretty big frog. My wife screamed. She struggled to eat until the next day.”

Horrified, the couple somehow warns off a manager who offers them coupons for free cocktails as compensation, “valid only on the condition of paying for the next meal.” In the face of the outcry, Buffalo Grill management expressed its “sincere regret” and announced the start of an internal investigation as well as with the supplier.

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