Big Mamma | Interview

“We lost a year of development”

Big Squadra CEO Adrian Storp (responible for the German market) and Tigrane Seydoux, Co-founder and CEO of Big Mamma.
Big Mamma
Big Squadra CEO Adrian Storp (responible for the German market) and Tigrane Seydoux, Co-founder and CEO of Big Mamma.

“We want to grow. That means every single step has to be a success,” says Tigrane Seydoux, Co-founder and CEO of the French hospitality group Big Mamma. After entering the German market with the opening of Giorgia Trattoria in Munich in June, Big Mamma has now launched its first restaurant in Berlin: Coccodrillo. And it is only a few to go until Big Mamma launches in Monaco. Co-Founder Tigrane Seydoux and Big Squadra director Adrian Storp talk to FOOD SERVICE about Big Mamma’s start in Germany, future plans and challenges.

FOOD SERVICE: Congratulations! Your second restaurant in Germany has just opened in Berlin. What are the special features of the Berlin restaurant?
Tigrane Seydoux: Every new restaurant is like a new baby. It is never the same and it seems that it never becomes routine. As you know, it is a central feature of Big Mamma’s DNA that every restaurant is different. The set-up and location of the Berlin restaurant are very unique in our portfolio. Coccodrillo is situated in the centre of Weinsbergpark, right in the city centre but surrounded by greenery. The terrace takes up half of the restaurant space. At the same time, the place is very warm and very welcoming. It is popular with families, but it's also a sought-after nighttime destination. Also, the building is very unique and since it was a popular destination in Berlin for 20 years, people know it and long to return to it.
Where do you take the inspiration for the Big Mamma designs?
Seydoux: It is the site itself from which we draw inspiration – not the city. We want to surprise the residents and offer them something they have not experienced before. We look at the building and try to find out what kind of design would fit. Besides, we bring in ideas and inspiration that we get from our trips to Italy. One of many examples is the library with the books turned inside out that we set up in Berlin. Besides visiting existing and finding new producers, these inspirational opportunities are one more reason why our trips to Italy are so important to Victor (Lugger) and me. Our own design studio that is led by Victor's wife puts these ideas into practice.  
Several thousands of books! I suppose that means a lot of extra-cleaning?
Seydoux: That may be true, but we still love the idea. One of our recurring design elements is the wall of bottles. You can only imagine how much cleaning these bottles demand. But we take as good care of our restaurants as we do of our homes. And if it takes time, it takes time.

Where do you see the challenges of the German market?
Adrian Storp: First, I need to say how happy we are about the start in Munich. The first weeks have been extraordinary. The excitement about the opening was massive. We did not expect that. We knew we were starting from zero. Only few people in Germany had heard of the brand. But Munich was great from the start. The word got around – fuelled partly by a mix of communication and last but not least the restaurant itself.
Tigrane: We meet every restaurant opening with great respect. We ask ourselves every time: can we make it? We feel very humble when entering a new city. Think of the last openings: Marseilles, Covent Garden, Munich. All were so very different. In the end, success is all about operations. If operations work well, the business will flourish.
How do you measure the success in Munich?
Storp: We are only at the very beginning. The big task is always to maintain our high quality standards over the years. We feel that we have to be very good at execution. Under the current circumstances, that is more difficult  than at any other time. How do we know that we are doing well at this point? We ask our guests. We call it 'mission 50,000'. If the first 50,000 guests are happy, we are moving in the right direction.
What are you doing differently in Germany?
Tigrane: We probably serve the last customer in Munich when we serve the first one in Madrid. Besides, we have set up a lunch menu in Munich. We do not have that in any other market. This is an idea that Adrian, our German head, came up with. It is a fast and small lunch menu, which is working very well. Actually, the local team is in charge of menu and brand decisions.
The new Big Mamma restaurant in Berlin impresses with a large sunny terrace.
Jérôme Galland
The new Big Mamma restaurant in Berlin impresses with a large sunny terrace.

What about the much-mentioned price sensitivity of German costumers?
Tigrane: We always aim to offer excellent food at a low price. So, we did not change or lower prices for the German market – apart from some more affordable lunch options. But the average check is the same in Munich as in other Big Mamma cities. In Berlin, a Margarita also costs 11/12 Euros. Do I need to sell it for 9 euros? No!
Why do you go by a different company name in Germany?
Tigrane: We launched Big Squadra because of Intellectual Property reasons. There is a Big Mama hotel group already in Germany.
How did the pandemic affect your expansion plans?
Tigrane: Covid affected our business heavily. We had to shut our restaurants for altogether more than a year in the past two years. During that time, we introduced a delivery line and a payment solution. It was a challenging period of destruction and creation. But in the end, we managed to keep all our staff in all countries. That was a key we fought for. We lost a year in development due to Covid. When we re-opened we went into a massive phase of expansion: Madrid, London, Bordeaux. We had not worked at that pace before. And business is going well. Now, we feel, that Covid is mostly behind us. Still, we are facing new challenges. It is not an easy period.
What are the next steps of Big Mamma?
Tigrane: Our next opening takes place on the 22nd of July in Monaco. And again, the location will be totally unique. Big Mamma Monaco is a beach restaurant – located on the Central Beach with half of the space directly on the beach.
How do you pick new spots?
Tigrane: We are pretty opportunistic. We don’t want to put a flag on a city. We wait for an occasion to arise and make us want to seize it. But now that we are in Germany, we are concentrating on the four main countries where we are already present. We are going to capitalize on these countries. We need the logistics to be quite efficient.
All of the restaurants are company-owned. Are you planning any structural changes in the future? Franchising?
Tigrane: At the moment the answer to this question is a clear 'no'. We will not do franchising. If you want to keep control over quality, the best way is to own the business. Some franchise companies succeed, but it is a very big challenge. We want our maintain and uphold our spirit and therefore we will never open 30 restaurants a year.
Part of your spirit is to involve your team. You even made your employees shareholders...
Tigrane: Yes, we did. One and a half years ago, we offered 200 people in the group to invest into the company and more than 150 did. We even would have loved to do that on a bigger scale. But unfortunately it is very complicated. We do it as much as it is possible.
You mentioned the current difficulties. How do you cope with the rise in prices?
Tigrane: Inflation is also a major issue for us. Starting in the fall last year, labour cost has risen significantly as the shortage of staff causes inflation of wages. And in France the minimum wage rose. At the same time, F&B costs are rising. Mostly due to the war in Ukraine  and transportation – we saw a rise of 6-7 percent since the beginning of this year. But we always try to think and react long term, and not to panic. We need to be smart on that as our industry’s margins are very low. Restaurant costumers are familiar with price increases and they accept them. We have raised prices globally by 5 percent. That is less than our competitors have done. When your prices go up 5 percent, you are still the cheapest option. What we do not do is negotiate with small producers in Italy. We have been able to offset a bit of the inflation though negotiations with big suppliers. The good thing is: until now, inflation hasn’t affected footfall in our restaurants.