Beirut Hospitality Co: Lebanon's Troubled F&B Sector
The Beirut Hospitality Company (BHC) has recently attracted my notice. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, allow me to enumerate their restaurant portfolio: Momo at the Souks, Café M, Relais Foch, [Grid], and The Garden. If you’re not wincing yet, let me clarify further.
Momo at the Souks shut down in the second half of 2014. The high-end restaurant, serving fare inspired by Moroccan, Lebanese and French cuisines, hailed from London where it is a widely celebrated and glamorous dining venue. It shuttered for a month or two before being transformed into the winter popup, TWENTY SEVEN, a “concept pub” run by Sky Management Group—the same folks behind Sky Bar, the O1NE, and Liza.
Café M once perched at the tip of Beirut Souks facing Cinema City. A smart-chic cafe-restaurant in the grub and ambiance it dished up, it used to be a hit among families with young children, who'd streak across the adjacent plaza on scooters and tricycles. Today, its attractive two-terraced dining area is the location of Starbucks' second outlet in downtown Beirut.
I dined once at Relais Foch, a French restaurant that boasted a delicious mi-cuit salmon steak as well as other pleasant fare. A hotspot at lunchtime among local bankers, businessmen and the general cigar-puffing crowd, Relais Foch suffered from very slow business in the evenings. It closed its doors a few months ago, and guess who’s moving in? Boubess Group, with a yet-unveiled concept.
You’re probably familiar with [Grid], an urban coffee shop that crafts alluring double-chocolate muffins, spiced oatmeal-raisin cookies, and the lightest cinnamon rolls conceivable. The stand-alone outlet next to La Cave de Joel Robuchon wine cellar in Beirut Souks is incessantly bustling with guests, and the Librairie Antoine outlet also seems to be paying the bills. Few might recall the full-fledged kitchen and restaurant [Grid] launched in Zaitunay Bay next to St. Elmo’s Brasserie. It didn't linger long, vacating its shop almost as swiftly as it had occupied it.
|Heavenly pastries from The Garden|
So what remains? The Garden, renamed from “Sweet Tea” when Michelin-starred French pastry chef Yannick Alleno withdrew from his Beirut project, has kept up the same high standards for its refined patisserie. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the looks and hygiene of the place. A serious facelift is needed, especially in the neglected restrooms, and the space needs a new breath of life. It screams abandoned. Customer volume is sporadic, and I surmise that the tea salon may soon reach its fateful end.
It pains me to see the hospitality sector suffering the way it is in Lebanon, particularly in the strangled stronghold that is downtown Beirut. When a holding group loses a considerable volume of its portfolio in the span of one year, the misery is that much more unbearable. Back to the drawing board for BHC.