Sirio Maccioni, the founder of New York dining institution Le Cirque, is a man who believes the customer is always right. When deciding which dish to serve or what building to lease, the affable Italian seeks the counsel of longtime clients like Henry Kissinger and Oscar de la Renta. Not surprisingly, this is the cause of much consternation for his three sons, Mario, Marco and Mauro, who are partners in their father’s business. That’s not the only thing they disagree on. Maccioni claims Le Cirque is still going strong despite published statements made by his sons that suggest otherwise.

Tonight, the family’s dirty laundry — or dishes, as it were — is being aired in the HBO documentary “Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven.”

This story first appeared in the December 29, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The film chronicles the restaurant’s final days in the Palace Hotel during 2004 and the opening of its current location in the Bloomberg Tower. Looking back on his 40 years in the business, Maccioni says, “I realized why I was very successful with the first opening [at the Mayfair Hotel — because I was alone. I didn’t have to discuss anything with anybody. I made my own mistakes, and I corrected them.”

The restaurateur spoke with WWD about family feuds with his sons, his legacy and his fondness for Mickey D’s.

WWD: The documentary is a lot of fun. Did you have fun doing it?

Sirio Maccioni: No. I’m too old and too fat.

WWD: Was the film your idea?

S.M.: It was my idea unfortunately. About 10 years ago, I said to two young guys, “Would you like to do a tape of my restaurant?” And then they start to come to me with a microphone. I said, “Why do you need a microphone?” My son said, “Dad, don’t be so difficult.” We fight all the time, anyway, we’re screaming. We are Italian, for god’s sake. Arguing is normal, is healthy.

WWD: Do you think that maybe your sons are as stubborn as you?

S.M.: We have a great relationship, but the point is that this was the last restaurant opened by a family. Today you need a bank or whatever it is, because it’s too expensive. We are 10 percent over last year, but I’m worried about what will happen in January and February.

WWD: Are you surprised by your success?

S.M.: I’m always surprised. I’m always worried — now especially. Everybody tells me they’re down 20 percent. I don’t even feel like telling people that I’m better than last year. But I’m worried because I don’t understand the reason. Maybe I do understand the reason. Le Cirque is strictly New York people. New York people don’t eat at home; New York people go out.

WWD: You seem to have a very close relationship with your regular guests.

S.M.: They know better than me. I see Dr. Kissinger every day. Even though Mr. Kissinger says, “Sirio, my name is Henry.” I keep on saying, “Yes, Dr. Kissinger.” You have to know how to keep your distance.

WWD: There is a scene in the film where your wife and two of your sons eat at McDonald’s. Do you go there a lot?

S.M.: Yes, we do. I like hamburgers. [Do] we need to go out, to go to another big restaurant, to such-and-such restaurant? I am not in the mood. When I want to really eat great, I eat at home when my wife cooks.

WWD: You have four grandchildren. Do you hope they join the family business?

S.M.: No. The only time I had a big fight with my sons was when they start to come into my business.

WWD: So who do you hope will take over Le Cirque?

S.M.: My idea is to find the nicest and greatest chef to make a partner. I think that is the way to go.

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