Are three star Michelin restaurants profitable

With such a bang, no famous restaurant has closed its doors forever. When the team from "La Vie" came to work in the old town of Osnabrück last Saturday, no one suspected that the kitchen would stay cold from now on. The guests who had reserved for the evening had already been discreetly canceled when managing director and head chef Thomas Bühner assembled his team and announced that the restaurant was now closed; the owner and financier have decided to withdraw from top gastronomy. The 28 employees, so one who was there said, were completely shocked, some cried.

There is similar dismay in the industry: Why does someone so brutally shut down a restaurant that has been listed in the Michelin Guide with three stars every year since 2011 and with 19 out of 20 possible points in Gault Millau? Which has repeatedly landed among the top hundred restaurants in the world in international rankings and whose fine aroma cuisine lured guests from Tokyo or Los Angeles to Lower Saxony? The reservations, so it is said from the "La Vie", have recently developed well, the occupancy of the 40 or so places averaged a respectable 80 percent.

The answers given by those involved to the why remain vague. "La Vie" boss Bühner says that he was also shocked, but "was not involved in the decision-making process". The three-star chef had only found out about the closure of his restaurant in mid-June and had to remain silent for four weeks "on sleepless nights". The owner of "La Vie" is Georgsmarienhütte Holding GmbH (GMH), a steel company that has recently been struggling with problems. Its spokeswoman cites an "organizational realignment" as the reason for the end, and the group wants to concentrate on its core business again: cooking steel.

There are no official figures for "La Vie". The restaurant, however, was considered an expensive enthusiast project by GMH partner Jürgen Großmann; the Manager magazine Already reported in 2012, citing Großmann confidants, that "La Vie" burns millions of euros every year.

But regardless of whether it is a financial disaster, a PR debacle or both, the sudden end shows how difficult it is for financiers to deal with the highly complex top cuisine. How much this demanding business is underestimated, especially in Germany. A luxury niche, which outsiders still consider the epitome of wealth, as a kind of money printing machine, although the margins are often extremely low because of the cost of goods, personnel costs and rents.

Even in a strictly calculating company like Althoff, a luxury hotel group that has elevated star gastronomy to the core of its brand, an average margin of ten percent is considered very good for haute cuisine - drinks included and assuming a 100 percent occupancy rate. A noble Wagyū fillet for 70 euros leaves 3.50 euros after taxes if the guest drinks wine with it. Hamburger and cola are more lucrative.

300 restaurants

in Germany have been awarded one, two or three stars in this year's Michelin gastronomy guide. The latter is the highest rating, the corresponding recommendation is: "a unique cuisine - worth a trip!" There are now eleven three-star restaurants in Germany, 39 have two stars and 250 have one. The first German restaurant ever to be rated with three stars was the "Aubergine" in Munich in 1980, which had to close in the 1990s. In addition to the Michelin stars, the Gault Millau restaurant guide awards up to four "chef's hats" and rates the restaurants with 0 to 20 points.

German gourmet gastronomy itself presents a similarly contradicting picture. On the one hand there is the "German kitchen miracle", as the boom in high-class cuisine over the past 25 years has also been called. There are 300 star restaurants in Germany today, only France has more. One has never eaten better in this country.

But despite eleven hotels that have been rated with three stars, despite some success in rankings, there is no German restaurant that enjoys permanent international attention. German chefs may be considered technically brilliant around the world, but hardly anyone remembers their names. Spectacular openings take place elsewhere, for example in Scandinavia, Spain or Brazil. A chef like Sergio Herman, who had his restaurant "The Jane" in Antwerp built into a discarded church? Investors like in Denmark, who are currently renovating an old ammunition factory on a 7000 square meter area in the middle of Copenhagen in order to secure a new home for the world-famous restaurant "Noma", including an urban farm? Of course these are isolated cases. But of a kind that seem unthinkable in this country.

Anyone in Germany who wants to learn about financing top kitchens should speak to the Eichbauer family in Munich. The building contractor Fritz Eichbauer, 90, has been a pioneer of German high-end cuisine since he opened the "Tantris" restaurant more than 45 years ago and recruited the Austrian great talent Eckart Witzigmann from the Kennedys in Washington. Eichbauer's only motivation: his weakness for good food. In the beginning, the concrete building was mocked as the motorway chapel of a megalomaniac, today the "Tantris" is a listed building and is an icon of restaurant culture. But until then it took a long breath, says Eichbauer's son Felix, who runs the "Tantris" today. It took 18 years before the restaurant stopped making losses. It has been generating small profits for years now, but "if you want a pure investment, you hardly get any interest on your money in the German star kitchen," says the entrepreneur.