Originally printed in the July 2018 issue of Produce Business.
French-inspired fare reigns in a bustling market featuring exciting restaurants and a grocery curated by talented tastemakers.
In the heart of New York City’s financial district lies a transporting French portal. Le District is a marketplace, culinary experience and social destination bringing a taste of France and Parisian flair to the heart of downtown Manhattan. Located inside Brookfield Place, with striking views of the Hudson River, Le District is comprised of four distinct Districts – the Café, Market, Garden and Restaurant. Each of these districts consists of culinary-specific stations, fresh grocery, curated retail, interactive wine and cheese classes from in-house experts, happy hour options and exciting restaurants, including L’Appart, a Michelin-star fine-dining experience led by Chef Nicolas Abello.
Strolling around Le District is akin to exploring the food markets in France and provides a unique experience to all visitors. The site is approximately 22,000 square feet and includes three restaurants, two bars, a bakery, coffee bar, pastry, cheese and charcuterie, Bar a Frite, rotisserie, deli, fish and meat, juice and salad bar, and a gourmet grocery store with fresh produce. Opened on March 15, 2015, Le District is owned by different partners, including French and U.S. investors. Peter Poulakakos and Paul Lamas are operating owners at Le District and boast ample experience in the industry.
One of the most notable elements at Le District is the fervor for food. “Le District offers very high-quality products made by passionate chefs and cooks,” says Poulakakos. “New Yorkers deserve the best, and we are here to share our love for French food, wine and lifestyle. We are bringing France to New York in a beautiful and unique location.”
Melding retail and foodservice operations is fully part of the customer experience at Le District. “We want to be accessible to everybody,” says Sebastien Muller, director of operations. “From a fresh-made sandwich at our bakery to a unique experience in our Michelin Star restaurant, we want to satisfy every type of client demand. Our grocery and produce departments provide all ingredients required to create dishes served in our restaurants. If you feel like a chef, we give you all the support needed for you to succeed and impress your guests and friends with high-quality and tasteful products.”
Passion runs deep on Le District’s customer side, as well as with customers coming from all over the world. “Tourists represent around 20 percent of our clients,” says Muller. “Another 20 percent are local residents, and 60 percent are from offices and stores surrounding our area. Our guests range from young professionals to families.”
“As a purveyor of good taste it’s mandatory for us to carry fresh, quality produce for our customers.”
– Peter Poulakakos
Muller explains the draw of Le District’s unique format. “Our customers love being able to purchase tasteful and authentic products for their homes and then have a great meal in our restaurants or a glass of wine from our large selection imported mostly from France,” he says. “Our ample hours of operation give us the opportunity to cover all needs and moments of the day. Our guests can start their morning with an amazing coffee and a croissant, then come back at lunch for a salad, sandwich or traditional French meal — to stay or to go. Our beautiful terrace and bistro are welcoming to the after-work crowd looking to relax after a long day or for tourists visiting the numerous attractions surrounding our location.”
The Produce Market
Le District’s retail produce area represents 7.5 percent of its operation and 10 percent of overall retail sales. “As a purveyor of good taste, it’s mandatory for us to carry fresh, quality produce for our customers,” says Poulakakos. “Produce has a primordial importance in the French cuisine, and we are proud to offer very well-selected produce items from local small producers and importers.”
When entering from 225 Liberty Street, visitors are greeted by a beautiful hallway of fruits and vegetables surrounded by refrigerated cases for more delicate items. To amplify the French market feel, produce is merchandised in wicker baskets and on wooden shelves. “We carry 250 SKUs in our produce department from berries to bananas, radishes to lettuce, and a great selection of other fruits and vegetables,” says Muller. “About 80 percent of our produce is available through the year, and 20 percent changes every two to three months.”
Produce is promoted via in-store activities and digital formats. “We do specials every month, and we promote our produce online via our website and our online grocery,” says Muller. “Our vendors do sampling quite often throughout the venue.”
Similar to a market in France, Le District relies on personal service and knowledge, promoted through training and retention of key staff. “We have a very low employee turnover,” says Muller. “This gives us the opportunity to build their knowledge every day.”
Partnering for Quality
Quality is the No. 1 criteria for sourcing produce. “At the end of the day, we want our produce to taste and look good,” says Poulakakos. “We are very concerned about the origin and the taste of our produce — working directly with producers gives us the ability to ensure high quality throughout the year.”
Le District buyers source for both the retail and foodservice side of the business, though, with some minor differences. “The source is similar, but the grade of produce will be different,” says Poulakakos. “We will definitely use Grade A produce for retail and might use Grade B as soup ingredients and other recipes that require tasty produce without a mandatory appearance.”
Poulakakos views wholesalers and vendors as partners. “We have all worked together for years in different operations of our hospitality group (New York City-based HPH Group), and we rely on each other,” he says. “It’s important for them to understand and share our values. Our customers’ expectations must be met by our daily offers. In this specific department, a great relationship with our suppliers is primordial to guarantee good quality throughout the year.”
Dining C’est Délicieux
The district boasts three delectable foodservice venues all with a unique flair. “Our Wine Bar & Grill is located in the middle of our covered bustling market,” says Poulakakos. “Our Brasserie offers a beautiful terrace facing the Statue of Liberty at North Cove Yacht Harbor, and our Michelin star restaurant is hidden in our market by a leather door.”
All of Le District’s foodservice takes its inspiration from French cuisine and French savoir-faire. “We change our menus every season but stay with French-inspired dishes,” says Poulakakos. “Only our Michelin restaurant changes the menu on a monthly basis.”
At the center of the market, guests find Bar A Vin, a communal wine bar with an extensive wine list of 32 wines by the glass representing the best French wine regions and curated by Le District’s resident sommelier Jacob Daugherty. Partakers can pair a glass with more than 200 cheese and charcuterie options from the Market District for a lite bite, or select a cut of steak or fish from the in-house butcher and fishmongers to be prepared à la minute. A rotating seasonal menu prepared from items within the market is curated to pair with the wines on the menu.
The brasserie Beaubourg is both quintessentially French and New York. “The classic and casual French menu is complemented by an extensive wine and rosé list representing all the French wine regions, as well as Belgian beers and craft cocktails, perfect for power lunches or weekend brunch,” says Poulakakos. “Beaubourg also features an outdoor terrace with gorgeous views of the Hudson River, making it the ideal location for summer dining or relaxing with a glass of rosé in the St. Tropez outdoor lounge.”
The hidden gem of Le District is Michelin star restaurant L’Appart, a unique take on fine dining. “This venue offers the personal experience of an intimate dinner party at a chef’s apartment,” says Poulakakos. “With Executive Chef Nicolas ‘Nico’ Abello in the kitchen, L’Appart features a rotating menu embracing market availability and seasonality, ensuring no two visits are alike. Creating a bespoke experience, Chef Nico will create a personalized menu for guests depending on food preferences and favorites, catering to all palates.”
Le Vert (The Green)
The restaurants at Le District count heavily on the produce component of the menu if not always in volume, definitely for flavor. “In our current menus, produce importance varies during the season,” says Poulakakos. “Summer is always a great month to enjoy fresh and tasteful fruits and vegetables. During the entire year, produce represents approximately 25 percent of our menus. We try to run parallel with ingredients you find seasonally in the market.”
Poulakakos further explains the place produce occupies in the cuisine. “The French are taught to appreciate fine foods from a young age and to take great pride in their nation’s culinary reputation,” he says. “The foods typically eaten vary greatly by region, ranging from the game-based dishes of Normandy to the light Mediterranean cuisine of Provence. Even if vegetables do not play a starring role in meals, they are usually featured in a side dish or as part of the main course.”
Despite their supporting-role status, vegetables at Le District garner careful attention for freshness and quality. “The quality of the vegetable can make or break a meal,” says Poulakakos. “Popular French vegetables include mushrooms (particularly Porcini, Morels or Chanterelle), leeks, string beans, tomatoes, onions, and a variety of lettuces and leafy greens. Perhaps the most renowned French vegetable dish is ratatouille, a Provençal main dish made of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and a range of herbs. We serve it in all of our restaurants at Le District.”
The chefs at Le District enjoy incorporating new and innovative produce items. “One of the most unique produce items I have used would be star fruit,” says Poulakakos. “I made a delicious yellow fin tuna crudo with shaved star fruit, yuzu, a touch of mint oil and micro basil.”
225 Liberty St., New York City