October 10 2010
“For me, food is a fundamental part of business. It’s part of what my company is built on: the idea of “wellness”, which encompasses exercise, nutrition, and a work/life balance. Meals are intrinsic to that. So when I take someone out to breakfast, lunch or dinner, no matter what country I’m in, it’s always a gesture about what we stand for.
When we launched our company in 1983, I wanted to show that we stood for something different to the American model of fitness culture, which was mostly about exercise and performance, and not so much lifestyle. So we invited representatives from 20 US companies to our headquarters in Italy, and I took them to this place in the countryside called La Locanda della Luna. It’s a really rustic restaurant that I often go to with my family, and it’s like eating straight from the farm: typical Romagna pasta dishes, a huge selection of grilled meat, a special bread from the region called piadina… And they loved it. They totally got it. That meal was better than any boardroom presentation I could have done. A similar kitchen we often use to communicate the place we come from, both literally and philosophically, is another local farm restaurant called Altavita (pictured).
Likewise, when we won the contract to supply the Ferrari Formula One team, we went to their headquarters and had a meal with all the drivers, to help them understand that we weren’t just about getting our brand on their backs, but about helping them achieve something more. I believe that if we hadn’t done that, the team would have thought it was a deal all about money and marketing. But as it was, it also became about trust.
If you are a lifestyle brand, you have to engage with the lifestyle of whatever country you want to do business in to have a hope of being successful, and this starts with meals on their terms. When I’m in California, I do a lot of business breakfasts – everyone gets up early. And frankly, it’s great to have accomplished something by 8am. When I’m in Brazil, though, it’s all about dinner – at midnight. And when I’m in India or China, it’s about a three-hour ritual of hospitality.
The choice of venue also reflects something about your own values. Generally, I like places that combine modern design with good food that has great variety, but nothing too fancy or overdone. In the 1980s, meals were much more about show – eating 20 courses, stuffing yourself with rare this or special that – but now things are more balanced, which I like. I would never take a client out for a $1,000 meal, but not because I don’t want to spend that money. Extravagance should not be the point – quality should be the point.
Some of the places that I think embody this are Casa Lever in New York, which has great design and great art; Asia de Cuba in London, as well as Claridge’s for the balanced meals, and Brown’s because it is so British and has very good Scottish meat. In Beijing, I love the Lan Club by Philippe Starck, and in Tokyo, either the teppanyaki restaurant Tora in Roppongi Hills or the sushi restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental. In Rome, I like Open Colonna, a modern café in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni with the most amazing light, as well as this very hidden place called Da Dante that some journalists took me to. It has utterly authentic Roman cuisine, and isn’t fancy in any way.
In Milan, I like the Bulgari Hotel restaurant, and Giannino, which is where all the sportspeople go. If you want to see Inter Milan, go there.
The thing you have to remember is that once you’re at a meal, you’re already halfway to the goal. If someone has agreed to eat with you, it’s because they’re interested in spending more time with you. That’s a good place for a productive relationship to start.”