Makram Rabbath, founder of Beirut’s Le Petit Gris, may come across as a regular Joe, he however performs acts that put the ‘Mad Hatter’ to shame. Since graduating from École Hôtelière de Lausanne and entering the F&B industry, Rabbath has made great strides and the recent addition of a rooftop venue right above the restaurant is testament to the hidden surprises he revealed in the following interview.
After dealing with the inevitable bureaucracy of acquiring various permits and licenses, he is now close to opening Le Petit Gris’ rooftop, which he describes as a long-overdue experimental platform, a welcome addition to his well-established brand and a key part of his plans to continue growing.
Commenting he said, “This rooftop affords us room to better enjoy what we love. The space is not designed to adhere to a specific concept making it all the more exciting. I call it ‘Garden’, which is a digression of a new service at will to fancy. BURAU, an architecture and urban design company founded by Candice Naim and Lea Helou was commissioned to ensure that my vision is accurately translated. I then hired the services of world-renowned Landscape Gardner Pierre Alexandre Risser, managing director of Horticulture et Jardins, a company that specializes in the creation of roof gardens with Parisian flair. Lastly, I contracted Dr. Marc Beyrouthy who not only is passionate about biodiversity and Lebanese flora, but also is the founder of NATURE, a company specializing in transforming spaces into natural green habitats. He will execute Risser’s concept using a selection out of +900 Eco-friendly sustainable products. Once complete, the setting and approach, coupled with a specific mindset, will constitute a potentially-promising platform where new F&B ideas come to life. It will also be a place where all kinds of edible plants will be grown and incorporated into some of our current and future offerings.”
Rabbath launched the restaurant and positioned it as a French bistro in 2011, while simultaneously familiarizing himself with the glorious products growing throughout the Mediterranean basin. “Over time, our French bistro naturally evolved to a Mediterranean one, which made perfect sense and is in-line with its positioning based on the bistronomy concept. Unlike other bistros where the concept is chef-centric, here we are open to a broad spectrum of ideas and therefore continuously revisiting and customizing ingredients. As a result, since launch, our turnover has more than doubled. Along the way, something else happened opening the possibility to introduce stand-alone products based on locally-sourced ingredients,” Rabbath explained.
Elaborating further, he explained that he was able to make this move due to the wonderful range of products being grown by Lebanon’s many local producers. “For instance, I annually source about 1,500 kilos of wild olive and citrus tree snails collected by a local farmer in the south of Lebanon. We then process, pack and freeze them, which affords us tremendous independence and flexibility all-year-round. We also have a close working relationship with many local farmers spread throughout Lebanon. One such collaboration saw us co-branding a new hot sauce, which we exclusively offer guests. This is an entirely unique proposition intended to further boost our offerings. Another example is the local fisherman who often calls me at dawn to show me his fresh catch, which magically finds its way onto a customer’s dish the very next day presented in a surprisingly new configuration,” he clarified.
In addition to adopting a seasonal menu of sorts, Rabbath takes an off-menu approach, which has allowed him to seamlessly migrate and create totally original culinary delights. “Personally, I am always involved and looking for new products to experiment with,” he admitted. “In that sense, we broke the traditional mold by making novelty the order of the day while maintaining the familiar.”
Key growth factors
Emphasizing one of the major elements that drive the brand forward, Rabbath said, “The success of Le Petit Gris is not mine alone, rather the experience, interaction and drive of the entire team, most of whom have been here from the very beginning. This increasingly strengthens the brand and allows me to further innovate. It also is instrumental for the guests’ experience as these employees are intricately familiar with all kinds of preferences some of our faithful customers have in terms of their favorite table and chair, the food and at what time intervals they like to enjoy their food, they even know who some of our guests do not like to sit next to… In other words, this kind of success is shared.”
Despite all these, he admitted, “Delivering on the promise is always challenging and in great part beyond my control. That is why all team members need to be informed of everything happening to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities. They have earned my trust and are at liberty to operate based on their knowledge and experience rather than my instructions. This, in turn, ensures a more effective manner of operating. In other words, they have the liberty to rectify any situation they find themselves at fault without my prior consent. As a result, every visiting guest feels at home and they at liberty to extend the suitable welcome.”
Rabbath is convinced that this approach results in a far more interesting culinary proposition while affording him and his team greater flexibility in catering to a diverse range of tastes and flavors. “In so doing, we continue to push our own boundaries by ensuring our customers are given an eating-out experience where the unexpected is always hovering in the wings, waiting to stage an appearance,” Rabbath said with a glint of excitement in his eye.Add to Favorites