‘Only as good as your last meal’ – How Patrick Guilbaud rode out the recession
The eponymous restaurant has recorded record profits after 36 years in business
Patrick Guilbaud with his book ‘Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. The First Thirty Years’, which was launched in 2011. Photograph: Eric Luke
‘Our dream is to get three Michelin stars.” Patrick Guilbaud – co-owner of Ireland’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant – is clear on the ambition he has for the business. “We take nothing for granted and you are only as good as your last meal. All of us at the restaurant are pulling in the same direction to get the third Michelin star.”
This week Guilbaud’s eponymous restaurant, housed in the five star Merrion Hotel, announced it had had its best ever year after 36 years in business.
Each of the past four years has produced higher profits for the business. New accounts filed with the Companies Office show that the restaurant firm, Becklock, was sitting pretty on a cash pile of €1.47 million at the end of August last. The business recorded profits of €210,458 last year.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, and the restaurant has come through around five economic slumps since 1981. Restaurant manager and shareholder Stephane Robin started working at the restaurant in 1986 and had plans to only stay for six months.
He recalls a conversation, shortly after he started there: “I remember saying to Patrick ‘how can you survive?’ Lunch was slow, evenings were slow apart from the weekends. Patrick reassured me. He had a dream to get a Michelin star, and the restaurant had it within six months of me arriving.”
Ten years later, the business attained its second star, which it has retained since.
However, the recently renovated 20-table restaurant faced its biggest challenge with the economic collapse here in 2008.
Guilbaud recounts a staff meeting from that time: “I spoke to the team and I said ‘the only thing we can do is get better. That was our motto ‘get better – don’t look down, but look forward’. It was tough. We didn’t make any money for a few years but at least we didn’t lose any money.”
Guilbaud also took a financial hit with the 2011 closure of the Dublin brasserie, Venu, operated by his son, Charles. Guilbaud describes the closure as “very disappointing for us”.
Chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins says the restaurant “is one of the great survivors in the business, and to retain and maintain its two stars during this time has been phenomenal”. He describes Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud as “the iconic restaurant of Dublin and Ireland”.
Cummins believes it is well positioned to be named among the world’s Top 50 restaurants for 2018.
Patrick Guilbaud, Stephane Robin and chef Guillaume Lebrun have been partners in the business for more than 30 years. Robin says that “it is very rare to have a partnership for so long”. They regard the restaurant “as our baby which deserves all of our care and attention”, he says.
Guilbaud himself arrives to work each day at around 9.30am and stays until 5pm. He returns to work from around 9pm to 10.30pm.
Guilbaud turned 65 this year. Though he did retire briefly seven years ago, he has ruled out doing so again any time soon. He says: “I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I will ever retire, just slow down a little. What else can you do? You have to work.”
The Guilbaud name is set to be actively associated with the business for another generation as his son Charles now plays a prominent role.
Ross Lewis of Michelin-starred Chapter One says the fact that Patrick Guilbaud sets “an extremely high standard for the rest of us to chase has helped everyone to focus and continually up our game”.
He adds that Guilbaud “has always behaved as a colleague rather than a market leader, together with his congenial and encouraging nature he has endeared himself to the rest of us as a true professional and the number one ‘French Paddy’.
Derry and Sallyanne Clarke of the Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain point out that Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud “set the bar very high for all of us to follow . . . and we would love to see them awarded a third Michelin star. It is long overdue.”
Patrons who opt for the restaurant’s evening eight-course can pay €185 a head, or €120 for a three-course meal, while a two-course lunch costs a more affordable €50 per head.
Guilbaud describes his formula for success as follows: “We don’t try to re-invent the wheel here. We put our personality into the product. All of the people work very hard. We buy the best produce we can. It is all about quality of food and quality of service.”
And would he recommend a particular dish? “Everything is beautiful here,” says Guilbaud.