This year our 2015 Reader Restaurant Awards have four personality-based categories: Best Chef, Best Manager, Best Personality, and Food Entrepreneur of the Year. During the voting period that runs through March 8, we’re profiling a few of this year’s crop of nominees.
This time around we present Badr Benjelloun, founder and manager of Cuju Moroccan Bistrot and Rummery, who has been nominated in the Best Manager category.
TBJ: Give us a little background about yourself.
I’m originally from Casablanca, Morocco. But I’ve spent the last 20 years living in other countries, including China since 2004. My background is mostly in technology, but I’ve always loved eating, bar-tending and cooking, so when I started working in restaurants and bars back in the US, it was a natural fit. Nowadays, I’m mostly focused on running Cuju and Caravan. When I have some spare time, it’s spent playing capoeira or going out to live shows.
TBJ: What's your "secret sauce" that informs your management style?
K.I.S.S: keep it simple, stupid. Telling staff what I expect and how I expect things. Making sure customers get more than what they pay for. If everything else fails, there’s nothing a number of rum shots won’t fix.
TBJ: Tell us about a customer crisis and how you resolved it.
Thankfully, we don’t have too many of those. The last one I remember was during the World Cup final, when we did a limited seating formula with an open bar. Most of the crowd was there to see the game, but some folks came specifically to enjoy a number of hours of free flow. One of them got in an advanced state of liquid refreshment, and I found myself having to cut them off. Needless to say they didn’t react well to that and proceeded to argue about their given right to drink the bar dry since they paid for it. I knew the person fairly well, and it was a really hard thing to do, but I had to ask them to leave and give them their money back. The person in question stayed outside the bar for about an hour fuming but eventually sobered up and apologized. I let them back in.
TBJ: How are Beijing restaurant patrons different from diners in other cities?
I’m not sure they are so different in terms of requirements: good food, good value, et cetera. They are more casual, I will say, and tend to be more relaxed about a few things. In Shanghai, you rarely see folks going to even a casual dining establishment without dressing up. Here, going somewhere like Capital M or Brasserie Flo in flip flops and shorts is no big deal.
TBJ: If you could host anyone, alive or dead, at your restaurant, who would it be and why?
There are too many people I wouldn’t mind spending time with at the restaurant. But there’s only one that I would never host: my Mom. She would dissect every dish and criticise it! She’s an amazing cook by the way, and I’ve spent tons of time borrowing and tweaking her recipes. But she would not be allowed to eat at the restaurant.
TBJ: Tell us about one of your favorite places to eat in Beijing, aside from your own.
I don’t have much time to eat out these days, but when I do I tend to stick around the hood. Xiao Yu Shan on Guijie is always an option, so is the Traktirr Pushkin hidden behind Dongzhimen Beixiaojie. To enjoy myself, when there is time, I would hit Brasserie Flo. It’s like old faithful. For a quick bite though, I’ll stick with the cheeseburger at Great Leap. I also highly recommend the buffalo chicken sandwich at The Local. It’s the best one this side of the USA.
Click here to read previous editions of A Few Words With wherein we profile some of the top players in Beijing's food scene during the voting period for the 2015 Reader Restaurant Awards, which runs through March 8.
Photo courtesy of Badr Benjelloun
Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog