As CEO of The Dinex Group, Sebastien Silvestri oversees a restaurant empire built by award-winning chef Daniel Boulud. With Michelin-starred concepts spanning eight cities and multiple continents, there is always a lot on his plate. The past year, of course, has introduced a whole new set of challenges threatening the livelihood and the very health of the hundreds of hard-working professionals under his employ. But Silvestri never wavered in his commitment to the industry. In lockstep with the renowned restaurateur—whom he counts as both boss and friend—the duo have provided relief through a series of ambitious charitable initiatives. In an exclusive interview with Forbes he sheds light on restaurant life in a time of turmoil and provides a hopeful glimpse of what lies ahead.
What is your role with Dinex Group?
Sebastien Silvestri: Since August 2019, I’ve been the CEO of Dinex Group. My role entails providing strategic guidance to Daniel and the board, managing the performance of all our operations across the globe and to lead business development efforts. In addition, I make sure that our team is engaged and all our guests have an incredible experience.
How did you relationship with Boulud form?
Sebastien Silvestri: I’ve known Chef Daniel Boulud for years, having worked together to open restaurants both in Las Vegas and Singapore while working at Las Vegas Sands, and we also collaborated on events. Chef Daniel has always been a mentor to me for many years. He’s always been someone you can call for advice, and I’m honored to have joined the group in this role to continue expanding Dinex Group.
What does ‘normal’ look like these days?
Sebastien Silvestri: There is certainly not a “normal day” in the hospitality industry…especially in the past year amidst the pandemic. I tend to travel a lot to spend time on the ground at our many different operations across the globe while also looking for new opportunities. When I’m in New York, I go to our corporate office and lead the operations, HR, marketing and finance teams. Much of my day consists of meetings (zoom lately) to discuss operation matters, marketing initiatives, collaborations and new partnerships. In the evenings, I’ll go visit the restaurants and then wrap the day with a nightly meeting with Chef Daniel in the skybox, a glass office that overlooks the kitchen at Restaurant Daniel.
The pandemic has been an extremely challenging time for restaurants in particular. What has been the greatest challenge for The Dinex Group?
Sebastien Silvestri: Due to all the restrictions, we had to shut down most of our operations around the world for months on end. Our revenue was dramatically affected, and the most challenging part was the impact on our team members who have been a part of Dinex Group for a long time. We have tried to do everything we can to keep as many people employed as possible. I’m immensely thankful to our team that has worked so hard during the pandemic because it has been so difficult. I do see light ahead, and the future of the hospitality and restaurant industry is bright.
How has The Dinex Group changed its business model during COVID? Do you see any of these changes becoming permanent?
Sebastien Silvestri: First of all, we tapped into home experience by creating Daniel Boulud Kitchen, which is an online platform for pick up and delivery in New York City. We also teamed up with Goldbelly to deliver nationwide. Recently, Chef Daniel launched virtual cooking classes, which have been a huge success and a fun way to create community. We have also looked to open in other market such as at the Blantyre in the Berkshires, Dubai and Baha Mar. Lastly, the team has been creative to offer experiential partnerships with brands like Lavazza, Evian, Resy, and Daou Family Estates to name a few. Chef Daniel also had the vision to extend our indoor pop up Boulud Sur Mer outdoors to create heated South of France inspired bungalows, which have been a huge hit. We are doing nearly 90 covers a night, and guests are really enjoying the festive feeling the bungalows exude.
Has Chef Boulud done anything during COVID to help the community?
Sebastien Silvestri: He created the Hand in Hand foundation for Dinex Group employees, which has raised $600,000 to date. We also teamed up with CEO of SL Green Marc Holliday to create Food1st, which turned some of spaces into commissary kitchens to feed front line workers and food insecure populations. Over 500,000 meals have been distributed to date. Chef Daniel also continues his work with City Meals on Wheels, where he has been the Co-President of the Board of Directors for years.
What is next for The Dinex Group?
Sebastien Silvestri: We are always looking to keep expanding globally in special places with the right partners and continue our mission of delivering amazing experiences not only our guests but team members too. We just announced that Café Boulud will launch at Rosewood Baha Mar on March 4. We will also launch Le Pavillon in New York City’s One Vanderbilt in spring/summer 2021 along with an Epicerie Boulud.
Originally published on Forbes.com