Food | The Captain’s Table

Katrin Theodoli’s dining boltholes

The only woman to run a high-end boating company, Katrin Theodoli is president and CEO of Magnum Marine, whose yachts sell for between $1.5m and $8.95m.

May 30 2011
Vanessa Friedman

“High-performance yachts are very much about a lifestyle, so one of the most important things in my business is to make that lifestyle a part of any customer relationship. You have to show you share clients’ values, understand their needs, earn their trust and their friendship – and out of that can come a sale. We sell our boats almost entirely by word of mouth, and as a result it’s almost like a luxury club, where most of the members already know each other.

Meals are a crucial part of that – it’s the ancient ritual of breaking bread with someone, sharing something important. Plus, they can be an incredibly effective selling tool. Part of the point of Magnums is that they can go anywhere, no matter what the sea conditions, and cruise at about 60mph. So my strategy when it comes to meals is pretty much always: use the boat like a car. Go somewhere.

When we are in Miami, for example, I often take prospective clients to Cat Cay, a private island in the Bahamas with turquoise water, incredible white sand, almost no people – and it takes us about 30-40 minutes to get to the Yacht Club there. We’ll eat either in a little restaurant or on the yacht itself, maybe something we catch right there. Other times we’ll go to The Galley at the Ocean Reef Club, down in the Florida Keys; or sometimes we might even go as far Nassau, which takes around three hours.

The point is to show people what is possible and what the boats denote: great access, excellent ingredients, friendly service. I’m not interested in a fancy four-star meal all about caviar, but in natural, fresh food and fresh air. The best meals happen like this: you arrive at a little bistro, the waiter helps you tie up the line, the sun is shining, you sit down, friends come over, the table gets bigger and, before you know it, you’ve gone from two to six people and you’re there for hours. The right combination of friendship and environment is terrifically powerful.

For example, we spend the summers in Europe – the US represents only about 20 per cent of our client base – and one of my favourite places to go is Club 55 in St Tropez, because you see absolutely everyone there: all my clients. It’s less about the food than the buzz, though good food and wine are important, especially to Europeans. We all end up going to the same places. In Sardinia, the Yacht Club at Porto Rotondo; in Portofino, Puny; in Capri, a small restaurant on the water called La Fontelina with the most wonderful ravioli and seafood. I also love Il Pirata on Ischia.

I also take chances, which is part of the excitement. You never know where you might end up. I’ve had friends call to say they are in Turkey, and going to Mykonos for lunch. Once we sailed to a place in Corsica we’d never been to before with a possible client, and found out there was no restaurant! We asked a local where the nearest place to eat might be, and they trucked us into the mountains to this tiny bistro, and we had wild boar and noodles, with a local red wine. It was huge fun.

Another time, I had sold a Magnum to a friend in Italy, and they called me up and said, ‘You must come out over here on your boat; I’m having lunch with some Russians, who are all friends of [the late] Brezhnev.’ So we stop in a cove for lunch, out comes the champagne, the fresh fish, everyone is having a great time, and then they commission a boat of their own.

Once you experience the freedom you have with these boats, it’s hard not to be seduced. Lenny Kravitz talked about it in an interview once, after he bought a Magnum. He said, ‘I just get on my boat and go to my place in the Bahamas and feel better.’ Part of what I do is to show people this is possible; my life and my work are very intertwined and, in a way, meals are the connection. They are the most basic treat of the day.

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