Every Wednesday, Yahoo invites you to learn more about a company. Little secrets, anecdotes, unusual stories, don’t miss the opportunity to amaze 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. As an alternative chef at Maxim’s and waiter at the Lido, Christian Picart flew to the United States in the early 1960s to line his pockets and live his “American dream”. Across the Atlantic, he multiplies his odd jobs to return to France after four years of hard work. He started his first business in the laundry and hotel industry. Without much success.
Fascinated by the concept of the family steak house, which he saw developing when he was in the United States, Christian Picart wants to bring the model of Western-style establishments to our streets. The first Buffalo Grill opened its doors in 1980, along Nationale 20 in Avrainville, Essonne. To go faster, Buffalo Grill can count on the unexpected support of … Total.
Burger King, McDonald’s … Find all our episodes here
In competition with large retailers, the French oil giant is forced to close many service stations. The new restaurant chain therefore reclaims a lot of ground at reasonable prices to develop rapidly. “Christian was looking for land on main roads, preferably near gas stations. We did a lot of business with him,” confirms Total in Liberation. The company was a longtime shareholder in the Buffalo Grill capital before distancing itself in 1998 for 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 “deliberately endangering the lives of others” and “aggravated deception”. “It was very brutal, he bitterly recalls. Two of my executives were sentenced to four months in pre-trial detention and I escaped only because I was resident in Switzerland”, recalls the founder of Sign in 2016 on the columns of the capital.
The group is suspected by French justice of having imported British beef in the midst of the mad cow crisis. Investigators discover 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 sowed doubts in the minds of the French and attendance dropped dramatically at the height of the crisis in early 2003. Three restaurants in 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 proving that the company is not the culprit but the victim. “This company is becoming a friend company, the impact investigations that are carried out show that people say they are victims, attendances are increasing again, which is still surprising”, explains Tristan Gaston Breton, economic historian, for RTL. To prove its good faith and win back a suspicious audience, Buffalo Grill also plays the quality card and shows 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 nice sum, but it wasn’t that expensive to pay when we know we had a turnover of 500 million three years ago,” the company director rages. Après quinze ans d’enquête et treize longues années d’instruction, justice pronounces a non-lieu in 2016. Les juges ont finalement estimé que les investigations n’avaient “pas permis de démontrer the importation illégale de viande anglaise sur le territoire French”.
3 – A very noticeable change in style in 2021
Last year the brand took a 180 degree turn by abandoning its Far West universe to offer customers of 360 restaurants a more modern, less “cheesy” decor, 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, you know , in French “House of the barbecue”. “Cowboys and Indians no longer talk to my children when they are small, there are no more westerns on TV …”, justifies Jocelyn Olive, president of the restaurant group. Purists can be reassured, the eternal welcome salad and birthday song are still relevant. After the health emergency and the closure of restaurants, Buffalo Grill went through a complicated period: its turnover dropped 40% to 232 million euros in 2020.
In addition to a makeover 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. our home delivery activities generate 100 million euros in annual turnover with the desire to become one of the leaders in France “, confides to L’Agefi Jocelyn Olive, CEO of Buffalo Grill.
4 – The French love it
Rather cheap meats, varied menus and generous portions – for more than four decades the French have grown up with this large red roof restaurant that adorns our shopping areas, the suburbs of our cities and more occasionally our city centers. In every 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 undoubtedly superior to the other competitors (Del’Arte, Hippopotamus, Courtepaille, Au Bureau, La Boucherie, La Pataterie, Léon, Bistro Régent) since none of them exceed 10% of fans.
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, we hate finding them unexpectedly on our plate. In 2013, a customer of a Buffalo Grill in Lomme (North) had the unpleasant surprise of finding a dead frog in the middle of her green salad.
“At first my wife wanted a skewer of meat, but the waitress recommended a hearty salad with a large 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 no one saw her because she was quite a big frog. My wife screamed. She struggled to eat until the next day.”
Horrified, the couple somehow warn a manager who offers them free cocktail vouchers as compensation, “valid only on condition that they pay for the next meal.” Faced with the outcry, Buffalo Grill management expressed their “sincere regrets” and announced the initiation of an internal investigation as well as with the supplier.
VIDEO – 5 things to know about McDonald’s