If you look down at your restaurant table and see a turquoise tablecloth and a caviar-topped potato or a gorgeous slab of Norwegian salmon atop a white porcelain Limoges plate, you can be sure you are dining at Caviar Kaspia.
But if you look up, you might find yourself in São Paulo or Dubai — and soon enough in Los Angeles, New York City or London as the fashion crowd’s favorite Parisian restaurant kicks off a global expansion.
Emboldened by its international clientele and the enthusiastic reception to its global tour of pop-up restaurants to celebrate Kaspia’s 90th anniversary in 2017, Caviar Kaspia Group chief executive officer Ramon Mac-Crohon lined up partners for permanent locations in five key cities, all opening within the space of a year.
“It’s always friends of the house who understand what Kaspia represents, its history and values,” he explains over lunch at the Paris mothership, the table laden with pickles, toasted bread, smoked salmon and a pot of caviar. A simple menu hinged mainly on seafood of exceptional quality remains the backbone of Kaspia. “The protagonist of the film is the raw material,” is how he puts it.
But the set design of the sequels will vary, interpretations of the vaguely tsar-inspired and French-chic interior of the original Paris eatery, at 17 Place de la Madeleine since 1952, its main dining room ringed with display cases of decorative plates, vessels and artifacts of another time.
Dubai was the first new Kaspia to open last October at the Dubai International Financial Center, or DIFC, in partnership with Delta Hospitality, run by French expat Benoit Lamonerie. São Paulo came next in January, operated by Brazilian conglomerate JHSF, owners of Fasano Hotels, in a verdant complex known as Shops Jardin. Architect and designer Sig Bergamin gave the decor a tropical twist.
Next up is 8475 Melrose Place in Los Angeles, which will be operated by Kith cofounder and trade fair guru Sam Ben-Avraham in concert with former Iro executive Rahav Zuta. Mac-Crohon tasked French fashion and interiors designer Alexis Mabille to conjure a “California Art Deco vibe” with outdoor garden seating, a balcony bar and private room. The location, slated to open next month will also feature an outpost for Maor Cohen, whose cosmos-inspired jewelry adorns the wrists of Gal Gadot, Jared Leto, Madonna and Johnny Depp.
Kaspia, which boasted a London location in the ’90s that welcomed the likes of Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth II, will return to the British capital in September as a members-only club with a twist. The four-level town house on Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, with interiors by Oitoemponto, will welcome a limited number of hand-selected members, each of whom will pay 2,000 pounds upfront as a credit for Kaspia London’s bar, restaurant and shop. Members will be able to grant access to friends without having to be there. Given the proximity to Paris, Mac-Crohon’s team will operate the business directly, while all the other international locations represent long-term franchise agreements.
Meanwhile, renowned French designer Jacques Granges is to conceive the decor for the Manhattan location of the Mark Hotel, ground zero for Met Gala preparation. The street-level space on the corner of 77th Street and Madison Avenue is slated to open in October and will also feature a boutique for takeaway products.
Kaspia’s human scale — each location seats only about 60 or 70 people — and warm service seem pivotal to its success, with longtime maître d’hôtel Stelio Conforti, now semi-retired, and restaurant director Guillaume Vizzone orchestrating a young, cheerful waitstaff.
Mac-Crohon likes to tell them: “You’re not just serving food; you’re part of the show. We’re creating memories.” Which is part of the reason he never installed WiFi, letting people live the moment.
He won’t drop names, while allowing that “famous actors, singers, fashion designers, local intellectuals, the occasional politician, art gallerists and late-night theater and opera clients create one of Paris’ most perpetually interesting mixes, giving the feeling of being in a private club rather than in a restaurant.”
Indeed, table-hopping is the norm and legend has it that’s how Valentino Garavani met the late Virgil Abloh.
Reservations in Paris are still fielded by telephone and recorded by pencil in a notebook, with Mac-Crohon calling Conforti and Vizzone “the database of the company.” Their bulging brains know that French clients reign supreme.
“It’s a Parisian institution that belongs to Parisians,” Mac-Crohon says, motioning to a couple of empty tables that signal school vacations in France, when many regulars are away and when many servers time their days off. Other top nationalities include Americans, Brazilians, Italians, Spaniards and Mexicans, he notes.
While Kaspia has a Russian feel, all of the products served come from elsewhere in Europe: the crunchy pickles and impossibly smooth vodka from Poland; salmon from Scotland, Norway and the Baltics, and caviar from France, Italy and Bulgaria. Even what some might think is the most Russian thing on the menu is actually a wink to the CEO’s first name and not the last emperor of Russia: the Ramonov plate, not the Romanov.
Mac-Crohon cites no hint of boycott for a restaurant widely perceived as Parisian. It was founded by Arcady Fixon, a Russian refugee fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution, who ultimately became a French citizen. Out of nostalgia for the Motherland of his youth, he decorated his eatery in pre-Revolutionary style, decorated with artifacts he collected over the years, including a crystal seal once belonging to Tsar Nicolas II. Over the years the interior has been tweaked and refreshed by interior designer Thomas Urquijo.
At one time Kaspia expanded to encompass 22 restaurants under various banners, some of which Mac-Crohon sold off to concentrate on the original caviar mecca and next-door neighbor Maison de la Truffe, which he characterizes as “edible luxury brands” with all foodstuffs created under private label, from Champagne to black-truffle honey.
The Boston University graduate worked at Young & Rubican and Visa in marketing and brand-building before joining the family business in 2001, and slyly shortened the flagship banner to Kaspia — just as Christian Dior kept only the famous surname — and introduced branded, Instagrammable objects, from the minaret-shaped ashtrays to vodka decanters with the new sailing ship logo (although if you’re nostalgic for the crackled glass ones, the servers will oblige and make a swap).
He also pioneered collaborations with fashion figures including Giambattista Valli, Carine Roitfeld, Olympia Le-Tan and the Off-White brand.
Asked if there’s room in the world for more Kaspia restaurants, Mac-Crohon throws out as possibilities Tokyo, Hong Kong, Riyadh, Qatar and Bodrum in summer — and why not Miami and Vegas?
“But we definitely don’t want to see a Caviar Kaspia on every corner and in every city,” he says. “We could stop now and be happy.”