Jean-Marc Houmard’s name is synonymous with some of the best dining and nightlife that New York City has to offer. Co-owner of the legendary restaurant, Indochine, as well as co-founder of two of the cities hottest destinations, NoHo’s Acme and Tijuana Picnic in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Houmard knows a thing or two about impressing the city’s hard to please consumers. Most recently, he co-founded Tribal Hotel, a boutique hotel located in Granada, Nicaragua. Here, he sits down and talks about his own style and tastes, what makes a great restaurant, and why Brooklyn is his getaway destination.
Joseph Akel: Indochine continues to be a meeting place for some of the biggest names in New York and around the world. I'm curious, what do you think it is about the restaurant that holds such a spell upon the popular imagination.
Jean-Marc: It's always hard to know exactly what it is, but I've always said it's a combination of different things. A restaurant is made of many different components, the food being, of course, at the center of why people go back to a place. If the food is consistent, they know what to expect and they're rarely disappointed, but then there's also everything else, the ambiance, the room itself, the lighting that's moody, the staff treat them like they know them.
JA: Speaking of staff, what was the thinking behind doing away with a dress code at Indochine?
JM: They're not just a staff – they're actual people who make decisions every night on how to present themselves, how to dress and how to feel good about what they're wearing. I believe customers notice that and recognize it's an important part of the personality of the restaurant.
JA: On the flip side of that, if your restaurants, including Acme, Tijuana Picnic, and Indochine are reflections of you, how would you describe your style then?
JM: I think it's kind of a mix of high and low. I don't like to be defined in one way. I love to wear a pair of jeans with a really nice blazer. I think when you pair a blazer with jeans it makes the whole look more interesting. If you're too predictable, too obvious in the matching that you make, you don’t notice each piece. It when styles are juxtaposed in a thoughtful way that fashion becomes interesting for me.
Jean-Marc is wearing our Black Signature Jersey Shirt
JA: Almost every night, you visit all three of the restaurants that you run. And yet, the three are all incredibly different in the crowds they draw? How do you dress appropriately for such nights?
JM: To be honest, I sometimes have a bit of hesitation around this as I know Indochine is very fashionable, while Tijuana Picnic is very much a Lower East Side destination and is very young, very casual. To that end, I like, as I said to mix styles – jeans and a blazer – because it looks sharp across the board.
JA: For a man who is so “in-the-know” regarding New York’s nightlife, when you’re not working, what’s your idea of a good night out and where are you going?
JM: When I'm with friends, I try to be away from a nightly routine. I like to go to Brooklyn because it's more unlikely that I will run into people I know. It's funny because my work is very social and when I'm out at parties or in my restaurant, I just hang out, but for me that's work. To not feel like I'm working, I really need to be outside of that element completely.
JA: Was it that feeling – of escape – that in some part lead you to co-found the Tribal Hotel, a small boutique resort in Nicaragua in 2014?
JM: Doing something so far off the beaten path was really exciting to me. I had never even been to Nicaragua before the project began. It was very creative because, for both my partners and myself, we had a hand in every aspect of the hotel’s development from the ground up.
JA: And in many ways, the look and feel of the hotel reflects that same sensibilities that you bring to your own style and the style of your restaurants: effortless, chic, and an understated mix that is both casual and refined.
JM: Absolutely. Every project is going to have a reflection of what I like personally. For the hotel, I tried to consider what customers liked about my restaurants and looked to recreate the feeling. I didn’t want just another generic hotel where you sense the design – rather I wanted it to feel very personal, intimate. The key was not to exude overt luxury – the kind that brags about itself – but rather to implement details – little signifiers that gesture toward our concern for style, craftsmanship, and personalization. An approach, I believe, that holds true across the board.
JA: Finally, as you have moved forward in your career launching Tribal Hotel, Tijuana Picnic, and Acme, what are some of your your fondest memories or most meaningful milestones from working at Indochine, where you started?
JM: There are many milestones and memories that are special. I’m very proud that we celebrated Grace Coddington’s 50th birthday at Indochine in the early 90s and then Anna Wintour decided to throw her 70th birthday party at Indochine as well. It really shows how lucky we are. For me it was very significant that 20 years later, this is still here, and have been through each decade with every famous model. I also remember when I first started working at Indochine after arriving from Switzerland and just seeing all of those celebrities that I had only read about in magazines. One of the first people I waited on was Andy Warhol, which was like, “Oh my God, I’m in New York.” There was Halston. The Studio 54 posse came to Indochine after it shut down. It was a pretty great introduction to New York.