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Martial Noguier Talks About Bistronomic's First Year

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After serving time in secure jobs as executive chef at a couple of Chicago's top kitchens like one sixtyblue and Cafe des Architectes, chef Martial Noguier took a leap of faith to open his own restaurant. While opening your own place has plenty of risk, Noguier was ready to be his own boss. So in early February of 2011, Noguier, along with business partners John Ward and Matt Fisher, opened Bistronomic. All was ready to go, but then a massive blizzard dumped two feet of snow on Chicago just before the opening. A bad sign? No, actually the restaurant was allowed to have a slow start and ramp up, which served them well. Two months after opening, Chicago named Bistronomic the best new restaurant of the year. Ever since, it's been steadily busy and has launched both lunch and brunch. So was this a risk? Yes. Was it a bad move? Absolutely not.

Didn't you open right after the blizzard?
Correct [laughs]. It was OK, because it was the first day and I didn't want to be too busy. So it was perfect.

So why did you want to open Bistronomic?
A restaurant the size of Bistronominc, when I saw it and went inside and saw it was big enough, but not too big, I said this was my dream, I'd like to open a restaurant here. I knew that location was good. I said I wanted to open a bistro. I wanted to open a restaurant that was a good value with good food, but a little bit more elaborate and fancy. I didn't want it to be a special place for an anniversary or birthday. I wanted it to be for every day. We have a lot of repeat customers that come.

So how has the first year been?
It's been wonderful. We didn't expect this ... to do so well, you know? We still [don't] believe [it] because we were scared for January and February because we didn't know about the weather and what would happen. They were better than December and December was already really good. We just opened five weeks ago for brunch and we did about 200 people Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

Does it feel like it's been a year?
Yes because we didn't have a lot of money for this restaurant and everything was very tight. We needed to make money to spend money. In the beginning it was hard and we didn't have everything we wanted. At one sixtyblue and Sofitel, we had equipment and could buy whatever we wanted. I didn't want to hire too many people because I didn't want to lose money. In the beginning it was a challenge but we've done good, very good.

What was it like to be named best new restaurant by Chicago magazine after only being open about two months?
To be honest, Bistronomic is a dream. I'm still dreaming. Everything works out. I know that everybody is working hard on the team in the front and the back. I feel like I'm still dreaming, like I'm not awake. Everything we got between best new restaurant and best restaurant from Chicago Tribune and best lunch from Crain's.

How was the actual opening? Were there any memorable screw-ups or did things go smoothly?
It was pretty smooth because I hired people that [were] working with me for a long time, but I didn't have a lot of cooks in the beginning. It was tight in the beginning. After this, when I saw the business would grow, I hired more cooks, but I think it was ... the biggest challenge was the cooler! In the beginning we had a quarter size of the cooler than we have now. It was so small. The business came in and we started to get busy after one month and we didn't have enough space to put the food. We took out the office and now we have a bigger cooler. We also didn't have a braiser to make stock. We'd have to do stock overnight. The kitchen size and the space was a challenge because we were so busy. We couldn't open for lunch or brunch because we didn't have the space for food.

Other than the professional side, how has it been emotionally having an intimate restaurant after going from Café des Architectes, right around the corner?
I wanted to open my own restaurant for a few years and I was waiting for the opportunity. What is funny is you know when you work for somebody and you're not the owner, when you're thinking about opening a restaurant, you are a little bit scared. You speak with somebody and they tell you you have to do the accounting, marketing, make sure the restaurant is full. The way people speak, it's like a big challenge. You get scared because it's your own money and if it doesn't work, you lose everything ... and your reputation. But because of who I am, I always love a challenge and competition and this was my challenge to succeed and prove that you can be an executive chef but also become the owner.

What's been the best part of having Bistronomic?
Of course I'm happy Bistronomic is doing well, but I was happy to see that I hired cooks and created a restaurant where the staff is happy to come to work. I tried to make sure they feel good and are happy to come. For me, I feel good I created jobs for people. That was my biggest reward, that I created this restaurant where people come to work and they're happy. And everyone says thank you to you. My pleasure is to find a way that the customers come and they leave happy and when I look at Open Table and see how many repeat customers I get everyday.

And the worst?
The worst thing about opening the restaurant was ... I'm going to tell you something that you're going to laugh and it's crazy what I'm going to say. For two or three months when we opened and we had the cooler and every day I'd wake up that the old cooler was going to go off and all the food would go into the garbage. Because we were a little tight in the kitchen, I was working a lot and doing a lot of preparation and I know how much time it takes to do my food. It's casual, but there's a lot of detail. It takes a lot of time. I was always scared the cooler would go off and we'd have to redo everything.

What's next for Bistronomic, or you – any expansion plans?
I realize that Bistronomic was a good concept. The name, the concept about bistro and the décor, the style of service – I realized that people not only like the food, but also the concept. What's funny about this business, you don't succeed not only because you have good food, but that everything works together. And I would like to have the opportunity to open more Bistronomics and maybe change the concept, maybe Bistronomic Provençal or something. Keep the concept but change the food. Maybe go more toward the South of France. Or maybe if we open far from this location, maybe do the same restaurant. People are calling me now to open [another] restaurant or more Bistronomics, but I want to go step by step. I don't want to go too fast. I want to take care of my baby and make sure everything is perfect.


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840 N. Wabash, Chicago, IL