Last Call: Maison Boulud Closes + The 245,000,000-kuai Question

maison boulud brian reimer chienmen 23 beijing china
Last call at Maison Boulud…

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After a run of more than five years – and amid rumors of rmb245 million in debt – groundbreaking French restaurant Maison Boulud in the Chien’men 23 complex closed for good on Sunday. I stopped by for a final cocktail and to pay regards to chef Brian Reimer.

I first visited Chien’men 23 a.k.a. The Legation Quarter in early 2008 when the place was a mess of mud piles, gutted buildings and peeling wallpaper. The brains behind the project, Handel Lee, spotted me and a friend wandering around and gave us an hour-long tour, explaining how the site would transform by summer into something impressive. And it did.

When it opened, Maison Boulud not only impressed in terms of architecture, but also shone in terms of service and food, due to then-general manager Ignace LeCleir — now at Temple Restaurant Beijing — and Reimer. The place leaves lots of good memories, from the quality drinks to the delicious DB Burger, from the truffle-infused Bourbon that inspired this post to hosting our second Grape Wall Challenge.

As for those rumors of 245 million renminbi in debt, I didn’t think it appropriate to ask Reimer about it Sunday. It is an outrageous amount, translating to a loss of 130,000 kuai per day, which sounds a wee bit high IMHO. Then again, there are possible explanations:

1. Reimer invested everything in bitcoins, plans to cash in when they’re worth billions, and will then rent the entire Legation Quarter.

2.Edward Snowden has actually been hiding in Boulud’s wine cellar and drank a quarter of a billion worth of the good stuff before anyone noticed.

3. The kitchen ordered way too many truffles.

In any case, goodbye Boulud. We’ll have to wait and see what Reimer does next. He described a pair of rmb100 bills laid on the bar Sunday by some well-placed people as the “first investment in the new property”.

IMAG3397_1_2
It finishes with an Old Fashioned.
First investment...
The first investment in the new property… 

3 thoughts on “Last Call: Maison Boulud Closes + The 245,000,000-kuai Question”

  1. How much of this was due to the relative inaccessibility? No place to park. Taxis refuse to go to that neck of the woods. Maybe the potential patrons were the “Driving Miss Ding” types but the location sucked from the beginning.

  2. @ Jeremiah,

    Some of it. But the x factor to me was the mix of restaurants early on. I think the main focus on high-end Western places — French, Italian and Spanish — was too narrow. It would have been better to include local heavyweights. Imagine Da Dong — I’m thinking of that branch on Jinbao Jie — and Din Tai Fung flanking Maison Boulud, plus a few more Chinese restaurants. That would have attracted a wider customer base, both in terms of tourists and residents. I know that I made it to the Legation Quarter two or three times per year, usually for Maison Boulud, but would have gone more often if I knew, after showing visitors around Tiananmen, that we could get Beijing duck there.

    Anyway, it’s easy to be an armchair land developer!

    Cheers, Boyce

  3. My guess is that the amazing losses are not a reflection of simply the daily operating costs vs daily revenue from diners but rather the up front investment — things like renovations of the property; training and developing staff; importing equipment; publicity costs; comped meals for the myriad officials that they probably needed to feed to keep the place from getting shut down. I also think that 245 mil figure may have been crossed up in the reports, and that figure may be for the whole legation quarter project rather than just maison boulud alone.

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