Florent - 1985
Restaurants often have short (and almost
entirely predictable) life spans: glitzy
openings, early buzz, and big crowds, followed
by declining business, bad word of mouth,
and shuttered doors. In Manhattan’s
Meatpacking District—in the midst of
trendy restaurants likely to succumb to similar
fates—there’s a glorious exception:
Florent, a 21-year-old downtown institution.
The 75-seat bistro is a pure reflection
of its owner, Florent Morellet, a native
of France who settled in New York in 1978
and later decided he wanted a deliberately
understated restaurant at a time when superdesigned
eateries with Asian fusion or nouvelle cuisine
themes were all the rage.
Morellet—an avid bicyclist who peddled
all over Lower Manhattan in search of the
perfect space—eventually found an old
diner located in a neighborhood known then
for cobblestone streets, hanging beef, notorious
gay bars, and low-rise buildings. He left
most of the 1950s luncheonette features intact,
and gave Tibor Kalman and M&Co free reign
to create ads and graphics that cultivated
a Florent culture that survives today and
extends well beyond the walls of the space.
It’s a place that combines politics
with decor, humor with graphics, and activism
with good food.
what’s the key? Obviously quality
food helps, but that is clearly not enough.
Restaurants with wonderful food and dazzling
design fail on a regular basis. Long-running
joints (whether the Four Seasons or the corner
coffee shop) thrive on shared and communal
experience. It is what keeps us coming back.
Here are seven lessons on restaurant survival
from Florent Morellet, urban pioneer and
master of the social space.