Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Georges-Eric Farge did.
So the French native moved to Miami, opened two restaurants, and named them after himself. George's in the Grove has been in business since 2008. And George's on Sunset opened one month ago today.
But the ode-to-self didn't end at the restaurant titles. Farge is behind nearly every detail of both eateries. And patrons know more than his name -- they know his face. The former owner of Le Bouchon du Grove uses his mug as part of his hilarious marketing ploys. In the center of every table at his restaurants is a "George's Gazette." The faux newsletter presents fake reports and Photoshopped images of Farge in the company of the Dalai Lama, President Obama, and French first lady Carla Bruni. Things get even more interesting on the gazette's flip side.
A cartoonish image of Farge's hairless noggin fills the page. He invites his regulars to turn him into whatever or whomever they want. If the drawings are worthy, they make it onto the wall of fame. "I just thought it would be funny," Farge says of his drawing contest idea.
He adds that his favorite sketch is one of him as a Navi from the movie Avatar. His least favorite: him as an Italian flag.
"That was the worst insult," he says.
The establishment's "Happy Birthday" song routine is also laced with Georges-Eric Farge. The moment a patron alerts a server of a birthday at the table, lights dim, a fog machine spews, and strobe lights dance. A sound system fit for club LIV begins blasting hits. Then Farge's French accent is heard above the music: "Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready? This... is... George's. For 20 seconds, the eatery transforms into a music video set.
"Every night here is a celebration," he says. "I just want people to have fun."
Farge also offers postcards featuring a photo of him dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte. And the attention-getter frequently visits his restaurants and attends events dressed as characters. He recently turned up at a food show in Fort Lauderdale dressed as the pope.
While the owner is a self-proclaimed "ego centrist," he says it's all lighthearted amusement.
"I am making fun," he says. "I don't want people to think I'm such a..." He throws his hands in the air. "I am the first one to make fun of myself."
The restaurateur says the superfluous attention he received at Le Bouchon led him to develop his marketing approach. "Everyone always came to see me," he says. "And I guess I am what people want because I have been very successful."
Farge's cheeky manner is matched by a stern business attitude. The serving crew is skittish around him. During Short Order's visit, one worker prepared himself a drink while on the clock. Before he could take a sip, Farge ordered him to pay for the beverage.
The party atmosphere framed by strict orders is proving profitable. The recently opened location has been consistently packed. Customers are responding to Farge's trademarked catch phrase/threat, "If you don't bring your lady to George's, someone else will."
The new George's maintains the same Zen/Studio 54 feel as the first location. Buddha statues share the space with disco balls and neon lights. "I am such a crazy guy, so I thought the Buddhas would calm me," he says of the décor. "It's not working -- that's why I keep adding more."
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But the Sunset space is distinct with a full bar, a private room, and several more disco balls. The most popular menu item is the three-hour braised lamb shank served with white beans, basil, and pesto sauce.
Former University of Miami and NFL player Craig Erickson is the silent yin to Farge's yang. The co-owner, referred to as "Quarterback" in the restaurant, manages in the shadows, allowing Farge to take center stage.
George's in the Grove
3145 Commodore Plz., Coconut Grove
George's on Sunset
1549 Sunset Dr., South Miami