Jonathan Mansour and Fallou Bathily Of Victory Restaurant & Lounge: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restauranteur
Business is business at the end of the day. You want to make sure you have the best on your team to make sure your business is successful.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Mansour and Fallou Bathily. Jonathan and Fallou are entrepreneurs and business partners in the hospitality industry. They launched luxury nightclub Vendôme in Miami Beach in 2021 before expanding to co-found Victory Restaurant & Lounge into New York City in February 2022. Victory was born out of an idea to create a luxurious environment, where attendees can savor five-star meals, take advantage of elite bottle service and enjoy exceptional hookah in a cozy restaurant.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restaurateur?
We wanted to get involved in the hospitality side of it. We both love socializing with people, we love to share things with people. We feel like there’s beauty in life when you share things with people.
It’s definitely a great experience. People come to the restaurant to have fun, enjoy good food, hookah, whatever it may be. That’s what we’re doing this for. It’s a lot of stress and a lot of work that people don’t see.
We’re trying to achieve something. We want to make sure people come back and hear about us. So far, this has been a great experience as an entrepreneur to create something special and share something special.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Comfort food. We wanted to create something different. Most likely, in the U.S. — we’re from France — the food is most likely the same everywhere. So, we wanted to create something different. We chose comfort food based on southern food, but in an upscale way so everyone can have a taste of it.
Comfort food in the South like, Georgia, is very tasty, there’s a lot of seasonings. We wanted to do something upscale so we can target every audience. So far, it’s good because everybody loves the food.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
There were times when athletes we looked up to when we were younger came to our restaurants. Everyone went to school and played sports and tried to take that path, but it’s a journey. It’s life-changing because you’re in a circle where you’re going to meet people in the industry. Rappers and athletes are going to come to your establishment because they heard about the name, so every day is a different surprise.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
The hard times came from coming from overseas. Coming to another country with different regulations, a different language as well and a different type of service. Customer service is very important in the U.S. and people are more demanding here. You have to be careful in everything do and have to be very detail oriented.
But we would say everything was hard for us coming from another country. You have to start over and do everything from scratch. It’s really hard when nobody knows you. They’re like, “Who are these guys coming from another country, thinking they’re going to come in our field?”
It’s like playing for another team. They see you have a product that might be solid and be more successful. So, you have to learn about the culture, the people, what they like and what they don’t like. You have to take the right direction.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
You really need a strong chef. We can have the idea, but the person who is going to create it is the chef. We give credit to the chef because whatever chef you’re going to hire is the one that’s going to give people a great experience, in terms of the food. People come to Victory to eat and enjoy music and hookah, but the most important thing is the food.
All the credit goes to the chef. You really need to have a chef who knows what he’s doing and has experience in the industry because he’s going to be the one who recruits a sous chef and his own team. If the chef is not solid, it’s not good for the restaurant.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
We like to eat healthy. A healthy meal of protein, vegetables and obviously, some seasoning.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
It comes from our culture. Coming from France, it’s a big culture in the food industry. And the fact that we are immigrants, we have a rich background.
We like to travel — that’s a major point for creativity. You want to see what other countries are doing and what the culture is like in another country. To be creative, you have to get inspiration from everywhere. You cannot stay in one place.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Our restaurant, Victory, is going to define what New York City is about. It’s a big, rich town in urban music, sports, culture, food and roots. New York is such an amazing place where a lot of great things happen.
What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Follow your gut because that’s what we did. We thought about New York food for years and we finally made it happen when some people were like, “Oh, no. It’s not a good idea.” Just follow your gut and dreams to find inspiration.
If you have a plan, work on it. It takes time to build a project. It’s a lot of research. We came to New York and there were a lot of bumps in the road during the pandemic. Coming from Miami, we saw the journey and have been successful. There were a lot of bumps in the road because New York is a different state with different regulations.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
Finding the right chef is key because the chef is everything. The kitchen is the heart of the restaurant. You need someone that’s solid in the kitchen because it’s just like the body. The heart makes the blood circulate in the body. The chef is this in the kitchen for a restaurant.
Manage your budget because you always go over. You make a plan and think you’re going to handle the budget, but you’re doing the construction, you’re doing the design. You always want to make the restaurant a nice place with new ideas. And you want the best equipment for your staff.
Take time to find the right staff in terms of management because those people are key, especially the general manager and director of operations. It’s like sports — if you have the right team, you can go to the championship and win the championship. Take time, study and have the right staff and again, have the right budget because having the best is going to cost you more. So, you can start on the right path.
Remember that you can’t please everybody, and business is business. And, business is a tough world because you have to make choices. You can’t listen to your heart in business. We wish we knew that before we started. You’re in a position where you’re able to win and you want help some of your people win, but you cannot do that because you cannot mix business and friendship. We have been nice guys every time we start a project. We try to help people win in our circle, but sometimes it’s not the right choice. Business is business at the end of the day. You want to make sure you have the best on your team to make sure your business is successful.
Finally, expanding to a different market takes a lot of energy and a lot of knowledge because going to another place is like going to another world. We expanded from Miami to New York City, but you have to remember you’re starting over. Things are different. You might think, Oh, I did one before, I can handle it. But it’s definitely brand new and it’s very hard.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
Pretty much everything, but we love the crispy brussels sprouts. They are amazing. The salmon dish is one of our signature dishes. We try to have different stuff for people. We have such a great, diverse menu — from shellfish, steak and chicken — that will satisfy everybody. We have a little of everything for everyone, it doesn’t matter if you have allergies. You can always grab something to eat, that was our goal.
You are people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We want to push the culture forward and bridge the intersection of hip-hop, R&B, food, culture and sports. That’s what we’re all about. We want people to come in and enjoy an NFL game and, in the background, they can listen to some good music, including throwbacks from ’90s and 2000’s hip-hop and R&B, etc.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!