Rudi Bindella: “I wouldn’t want to have to go it alone.”

 

 

Family business Bindella includes establishments such as the Cantinetta Antinori and the Conti in Zurich, the Kornhauskeller and the Lorenzini in Bern, as well as the restaurant brands Santa Lucia and Spaghetti Factory. The business is now being run in the third generation by Rudi Bindella, and his sons are waiting in the wings to follow his footsteps in the not-too-distant future.

It’s early, and Zurich’s busiest financial district is still deserted at this hour; a stone’s throw away, in the Altstadt neighborhood, cobbled lanes gleam from last night’s summer shower. Inside the Ristorante Bindella, a welcoming light is already burning. Though not yet open for the day’s customers, we’re already expected, as arranging a meeting with Rudi Bindella during regular business hours in the near future proved to be impossible. Not that there are many quiet moments in Rudi Bindella’s schedule any time of the day. Whoever catches him in one, however, gets the impression of a strong sense of content and fulfillment: This is obviously a man who no longer feels the need to prove anything to anyone. Which may well be where the sense of fulfillment originates because he continues to do so all the same – and this on a daily basis. His unceasing goal is to make sure that guests at every single one of his establishments – despite the restaurants’ different concepts – enjoy a consistently welcoming and warming experience.

Having taken our coats, offered us freshly baked pastry, ordered tea, and straightened chairs, Mr. Bindella starts explaining what his varied restaurants all have in common. “We give all our spaces a soul and make sure they have a cozy atmosphere so that guests feel relaxed and enjoy meeting there. Places where people sense that attention is also given to minor details, and where they are made to feel welcome.” This sounds like a simple enough concept, but multiply it by forty very different establishments and it begins to be apparent why the man is so busy. Especially because Rudi Bindella wants to do as much as he can himself. Not because he thinks he knows how to do everything best. Quite the opposite. “I can proudly say that, over the years, I have managed to surround myself with a lot of smart people whose professional knowledge far exceeds mine. Everybody working together – the total result – to me, that’s the best way to do business. I wouldn’t want to have to go it alone.” He pauses briefly, then says, “Except for hanging up pictures. That’s one thing I really can do best.” And laughs.

Our profession also requires a lot of passion, love, and determination. People who aren’t willing to invest this kind of commitment, won’t go far in the job.

It’s common knowledge that Rudi Bindella collects art. Inside his office, it becomes clear that this is something else he doesn’t do by halves: Everywhere the eye reaches, there are statues, figures, watercolors, and large oil paintings. Much more than he could ever possibly hang up and display. Indeed, contemporary art is a signature feature in all of his restaurants. Mr. Bindella views this as a discreet way to promote contemporary art and sees himself as a bridge-builder between artists and the public. “We don’t make a big thing about art appreciation. We just integrate art into the different concepts of our establishments. Some guests appear to be oblivious to the artwork, others value it very much,” he comments. Art has always been an essential part of his life, he explains, saying he more or less grew up with it. “Too many homes in Switzerland tend to be decorated in a superficial style. Which is a pity, and so I try to compensate a little because I’m convinced that art fulfills a basic need. It makes me happy to think our efforts contribute to increasing people’s awareness of art.

Just as unobtrusive as the artwork are a number of other factors that contribute to the overall concept of each and every Bindella establishment. The fresh flowers or the complementary bottle of extra virgin olive oil from their own vineyard in Vallocaia, Italy, that can be found on every table. “And the light,” Mr. Bindella adds. “Light – artificial, natural, or candlelight – is an essential factor to wellbeing.” And so the lighting of every establishment is carefully choreographed according to a number of scenarios: Morning, noon, early or late evening, summer, and winter. Settings that Rudi Bindella tests personally and tweaks until every detail is just right. “An evening in November and an evening in June are two entirely different scenarios. I can’t relax until everything is just right. It’s such a mood breaker if the light is not in harmony with the time of day.” Of course, financial considerations play a role here too. “We go through over 10,000 candles a year and give away 20,000 bottles of olive oil. Whether our guests are actually aware of all these different details and efforts is not really the point. I’m convinced that the sum total contributes to a general feeling of wellbeing, of welcome.”

Only a warmhearted, attentive, caring personality can hope to be the perfect host.

The 66-year-old restaurateur’s main aim is to ensure that every visitor to his establishments feels appreciated and looked after. “Only a warmhearted, attentive, caring personality can hope to be the perfect host. Characteristics that we try to personify in our restaurants wherever we can so that the ambience itself is welcoming. Guests entering one of our establishments should feel that the staff is pleased to serve them.” On average, Rudi Bindella visits one of his restaurants for lunch or dinner ten times a week. He wants his employees to know who he is. “I don’t want to be the anonymous CEO from the sixteenth floor. I want to be close to our employees and guests.” This not only takes up a lot of time. “Our profession also requires a lot of passion, love, and determination. People who aren’t willing to invest this kind of commitment, won’t go far in the job. There’s always something that needs to be done, and you’re never really finished.”

“One thing I’d really like would be to see an understanding of the so-called art of omission to spread throughout our restaurants.” In terms of food, this means that dishes should never appear overelaborate. “To get this message across in forty restaurants is a lot of work,” he smiles. “Cooks are also individualists and artists, and they want to show off their skills.” The art of omission, according to Mr. Bindella, is an Italian philosophy and his mother, an excellent cook, was an expert in it. “She never went overboard when decorating a plate and would always let the dish and its simple presentation speak for itself. This basic, timeless approach is what I aim for. Instead of always asking what else can be added, we should ask ourselves what could be left out.”

To enjoy what you have and not to chase after something else is so important.

This philosophy of focusing on the essence can be compared to raising a big family, Mr. Bindella says. “If you have five children and play with one, then you have less time for the other four. Playing with all five at the same time is very challenging.” As a father of five children, he knows what he is talking about. His four sons are already grown up. Three of them will be taking on the operative management in the next few years. His third-eldest has already followed his father’s footsteps by becoming a musician. Next to gastronomy, music is another passion in Rudi Bindella’s life. A passion that dates back to his school days in the collège St-Michel, when he first started playing in a band. “That my sons want to do the same things their father does, just as I did, certainly has to do with the fact that we are privileged to work in wonderful professions.” Forcing one of his children to follow in his footsteps is something he’d never do. “The important thing is that you are satisfied with what you do.” A simple truth, but one he also had to learn first. “To enjoy what you have and not to chase after something else is so important. Getting older affects the way you view things. Today, I’m much more interested in the interpersonal aspects of my profession than I used to be. I want to be in a business that cares about personal values and where you can meet interesting people. Whether we’re talking about the food business or the shoe industry isn’t so important anymore.” Another one of his aims is to make sure that people enjoy working in Bindella restaurants and that they are able to find happiness and fulfillment doing so. “After all, fulfillment is nothing other than being filled with peace,” he explains. “And being at peace with yourself, being able to say ‘thank you’ that a moment can take the form that it takes. That’s so important. And something I am able to say to myself every single day.”

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