Bon appetit!

See inside the grocery store that's also one of the planet's best restaurants

For people who love fine dining, there’s no better handbook than the Michelin Guide. Each year, this 111-year-old foodie bible rates restaurants around the globe using a three-star system. So rigorous are the Michelin Guide’s standards that very few restaurants are awarded a star. Almost none get three, the highest rank possible.

So it was quite a shock last fall when Michelin gave two stars to Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, a restaurant in a small grocery store in Brooklyn, New York’s Boerum Hill neighbourhood (photo above).

By Michelin standards, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is better than most restaurants in Manhattan. Even more gobsmacking, Michelin Guide director Jean-Luc Narnet called the 18-seat eatery “one of the 300 greatest” restaurants in the world.

Brooklyn Fare’s owner, Mo Issa, didn’t plan on setting the restaurant world afire when he opened up two years ago. He’d grown up in Boerum Hill, worked in real estate and identified the area as a “grocery desert” in need of a place where locals could pick up everything from organic goodies to household cleaning products.

“The shoppers at night are mostly a yuppie crowd. During the day it’s a working-class area,” says Issa. “There is such a large mix of ethnic groups in the area that you have to please a lot of them.

The challenge is to bring in the product they want to use and buy, and in this area they go toward natural, organic and gourmet and ethnic.”

To further differentiate the offering early on, Issa focused on prepared food. But he wasn’t about to offer the typical supermarket fare of fried chicken and mac ’n’ cheese.

Instead, he hired Cesar Ramirez, a chef who formerly worked for New York restaurateur David Bouley, and asked him to develop a kitchen that would prepare food for the supermarket during the day and gastronomical delights for diners at night.

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, with its French techniques applied to Mediterranean and Japanese cuisines, was born. Given the price of the tasting menu–$135 per person–shoppers at the supermarket are getting a bargain.

Yet the foundation of Brooklyn Fare remains its grocery store. Among its thousands of SKUs is a high-quality, private-label, extra virgin olive oil produced in Italy and plenty of organic and gluten-free items.

The store is well stocked in restaurantbrand products like Cipriani pasta, Peter Lugar’s steak sauce and Patsy’s and Rao’s pasta sauce. It also offers the most popular national brands. Non-food grocery products are limited to cleaning supplies and pet foods.

Given the size of the store, just 6,000 square feet, there are only a few facings of each item. The tight quarters only allow for a few shopping carts (most shoppers prefer the rolling baskets).

In March, the store will expand to 11,500 square feet by incorporating the space next door. It will feature a series of new stations, like an aged beef cabinet and a lobster tank.

Brooklyn Fare has a weekly flyer and keeps in tune with customers via its website and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It also has a discount card that allows customers to accumulate points; there’s a $10 discount on the bill for every 200 points earned.

The closest grocery competitors include Trader Joe’s and Pathmark, a discount-driven chain. There are also several specialty ethnic stores, but Issa says his store is growing steadily, with sales increasing every month.

“Operating in a builtup area like Brooklyn is extremely challenging. There’s no parking and truck deliveries are a problem because they get tickets. But we’re growing because we sell great food,” he concludes.

And he’s got the Michelin stars to prove it.

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