PARIS — Where do you find a former French president, an Oscar-winning film director, a raft of Michelin-starred chefs and luxury executives galore on the same guest list?
At a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of Moma Group, the French hospitality group founded by entrepreneur Benjamin Patou that owns a roster of restaurants including Parisian institutions Lapérouse and Le Boeuf sur le Toit.
Patou, 45, grew up in the affluent Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where this self-professed “not very good student” discovered in his teens a taste for creating festive moments — a trait he is said to share with his great-uncle, couturier and perfumer Jean Patou.
Although Patou ended up dropping out of business school, DJing turned out to be just as educational for him — he called it a “school of life” that taught him resourcefulness and helped cultivate a knack for connecting with an audience.
“When you’re a DJ and the track you play empties the dance floor, you’re going to struggle filling it again. Owning a restaurant or a bar [works] the same. You better hit the bull’s-eye on the first shot,” he said.
For all his early success, making people dance wasn’t considered a career, as a girlfriend told him, prompting Patou, then aged 20, to found events agency Profete.
After several years, however, Patou still couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t what he really wanted to do.
“My profession, my motivation is offering exceptional moments to people, giving them emotions, pleasure. When you do it on the consumer scale, it’s multiplied,” he said, noting that there was already an “entrepreneurial ambition” from the get-go.
Besides, b-to-b events offered fewer prospects, especially in the long-tail aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, than creating “brands and universes, concepts of lifestyle and hospitality [fit] to be implanted internationally.”
“I knew that organizing conferences or catering wouldn’t work [for the company] outside Paris, nor was it my vision or desire,” he continued.
Renamed Moma Group in 2012, the company operated a handful of restaurants and clubs in Paris within a few years, including L’Arc, a nightclub near the Champs-Elysées favored by Riccardo Tisci for his Givenchy-era after parties, and Manko, a Parisian-Peruvian cabaret below the famous Théâtre du Rond-Point on Avenue Montaigne that saw the likes of Olivier Rousteing and Peter Dundas dancing fashion week nights away.
Patou attributed this mutual love affair with fashion to the character of the venues themselves, which “matched the sensibilities and exacting standards of a discerning” crowd that “doesn’t get fooled.”
Then, the opportunity to buy legendary restaurant Lapérouse, founded in 1766, came up in 2018. It was a no-brainer for Patou, who called on investors like Antoine Arnault, head of communications and image at luxury conglomerate LVMH Môët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and chief executive officer of Berluti.
It reopened with a masked ball and has since retrieved its seat among the hottest Parisian spots, seeing the likes of Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp and Matt Damon flocking to its labyrinth of rooms — and a stellar wine cellar, according to the executive.
“That’s why this profession is so magical and so hard. There’s no recipe,” Patou continued, although when pressed he summed up Moma Group’s secret sauce as “a meeting of talents and a human adventure supported by a casting that brings together a chef, a decorator or designer, and an artistic director.”
He’s got those down pat for the lineup of 22 restaurants, as well as more than a dozen other establishments ranging from events venues to beach clubs, in Paris, Saint-Tropez or St. Barth’s.
Dior Maison’s artistic director Cordelia de Castellane had a hand in sprucing up the historic Lapérouse restaurant and later designed the lush interiors of Café Lapérouse on Place de la Concorde. Michelin-starred chef Jean-François Piège signed the fare of Mimosa. For Le Boeuf sur le Toit, it’s couturier Alexis Mabille who revisited this 100-year-old restaurant once owned by French artist Jean Cocteau and where Christian Dior put on several of his shows.
And it’s not just fine dining that Patou and Moma Group are interested in. True to his mantra of “always giving pleasure to people,” there’s also Créatures, a fully vegetarian Mediterranean eatery offering breathtaking views of Paris from the top of the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann and Food Society, a food court concept that has already opened in Lyon. A second 37,600 square-foot one is slated to open in October in Paris, as part of a shopping center owned by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.
“There’s a difference between having a good meal and having a great time,” said Patou, who called the latter the group’s “obsession” and “the soul” of successful hospitality.
Yet multimillion-euro business as it is, Patou can also count on his interpersonal relationships — most investors in the group and its projects are longtime friends.
And there is a perpetually tongue-in-cheek spirit at play that is best summed up a five-minute film released for its anniversary, titled “Paris sera toujours une fête,” which translates to “Paris will always be a party,” a play on the French title of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.”
In it, French author Frédéric Beigbeder, in the role of Octave Parango, the central character of a seminal novel on the excesses of the late 20th-century advertising world, bemoans that the city is dead while dining at the original Lapérouse, only to be contradicted by the PYT he’s trying to impress, played by emerging actress Romane Colonna, with a montage of images of revelry at Moma Group eateries.
Even French filmmaker Claude Lelouch, both a friend and an investor in one of the group’s properties makes a textual cameo, stating in a joke review it was “the film he’d refused to make.”
Though Moma Group celebrated its 10th anniversary with a star-studded evening of revelry at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, the past decade has not exactly been plain sailing with France beset by a succession of terror attacks and widespread demonstrations.
The company was just shy of the 100-million-euro mark in turnover for 2019 when pandemic curtailed what had been, until then, double-digit growth.
Despite two rocky years, the group is back on track, stating it was reaching 130 million euros in sales in 2022 and expects to generate 375 million euros by 2027.
In early 2022, the casino and hotelier group Barrière sold back its 48.6 percent stake in Moma Group to Patou and a cadre of investors, including French hitmaker and businessman Patrick Bruel.
Recovery was down to “being in the right place in the right time” as France opened up and tourists returned as well as the ability to “tell beautiful stories that touched people” with each brand, said Patou. An increased consumer focus on experiences and the return of foreign visitors, especially Americans encouraged by a strong dollar, also compounded.
“Success is always a little miracle,” this self-professed “fundamental optimist” said. “My only merit is loving these kind [of] places — patrimonial addresses, sleeping beauties — and waking them up.”
From the sounds of it, Patou also has no intention of sleeping, or even resting on laurels.
By 2025, the group plans to open more than 40 new restaurants, leveraging its star brands like Lapérouse, Mimosa, Casa Amor and Noto to “capitalize on the beautiful stories we have created, told and that interest people.”
The group already operates a restaurant in Doha and has plans for a dozen more across the Middle East. Two Lapérouse projects are currently underway for 2023, in London and Miami’s Bal Harbour.
That said, Patou plans to approach the U.S. market cautiously since “99 percent of French people [from the food and hospitality industries] have failed there — and not fools, either — so it’s best to go with humility,” he remarked.