Károly Gerendai, Owner of Costes Restaurants in Budapest

  • 15 May 2023 5:25 PM
Károly Gerendai, Owner of Costes Restaurants in Budapest
1. What happened since your previous interview?

Click here to read his previous interview

Quite a lot has happened since then. For example, we opened two new restaurants, one with Jenő Rácz (Rumour) and the other with András Jókúti (Nudli). Rumour can be considered a clear success, but unfortunately, Nudli, which offered Hungarian pasta dishes, did not work out, so we transformed it last year and reopened it as Costes Izakaya with a Far Eastern cuisine concept.

Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic broke out in the meantime, which significantly changed the possibilities. Fortunately, we have more or less overcome the global pandemic, but then the economic crisis, war, and multiplied utility costs hit us hard. We still do not see exactly how deep the problem is, how long it will last, and what to expect in the coming period.

I can definitely say that this has been a challenging period for the past 5 years. However, I dare say that the challenges are far from over. Despite all the difficulties, we are still alive, operating, and hoping that the many problems will strengthen us organizationally and in terms of efficiency, and that we will be among those who survive, and even thrive during this period, rather than those who perish.

We like the new restaurant / Izakaya, how is it going?

Fortunately, the Izakaya started off quite promisingly. Although we started from a situation born out of necessity, as we originally operated the Nudli pasta shop there, but had to close it down after a year and a half.

In just a few months, we tried to completely transform the place in terms of its appearance and concept, because unfortunately, we had to admit that the Nudli concept didn't work out. Neither foreign tourists were interested enough in Hungarian pasta dishes, nor did enough Hungarians come. Here at home, pasta dishes are considered too simple and not upscale enough for a restaurant meal.

Even though we tried to work with good quality, homemade pasta and other quality ingredients, being a self-service restaurant put us in a difficult position. It didn't appeal to the restaurant-going audience, as it was too simple for them, nor did self-service restaurant-goers seek it out, as it proved too upscale and expensive for them, so we had to change the concept.

The new professional leader of our company, Márk Molnár, suggested that we go in an Asian direction, because on the one hand, this is close to his heart, as he previously worked in Far Eastern markets, and on the other hand, he sees it as a global trend. Asian fusion restaurants work well almost everywhere, so the Costes Izakaya was finally born.

Knock on wood, but based on the first few months, it started off much better and more promisingly than the Nudli. So, I hope that it will find its place in the market now and will work well in the long run.

By the way, the restaurant market is still not easy, but it's not as bad as we thought a few months ago. In the fall, I thought the crisis in the restaurant market would be more severe - but fortunately, it seems that tourism has remained strong enough.

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that many restaurants had to close or limit their operations due to the increased costs of rent and utilities, but as a result, the supply has decreased in a similar proportion, not just the demand from paying customers. Therefore, those who are still operating are not experiencing as much of a decline as we originally thought.

2. How is Rumour doing?

Fortunately, Rumour is doing very well, and a year ago we reopened our Costes restaurant on Ráday Street under the leadership of Jenő Rácz. The majority of guests at Rumour are still Hungarian, but since we received the Michelin star at the end of last year, foreigners have finally started coming as well. Until then, only Hungarians came, mainly attracted by Jenő Rácz's celebrity status in the media, but now foreigners are coming more and more.

3. What about Costes Ráday?

Fortunately, the Ráday Costes is currently operating quite stably. We also work with Jenő on the professional side there, he leads the kitchen work there as well, but we don't build the brand solely on his reputation. Therefore, foreign visitors are still predominant there.

Only 20-25% of guests at the Ráday restaurant are Hungarian, the rest are foreigners. The special thing about the Ráday restaurant is that it is open on Sundays and Mondays when most good restaurants are closed.

4. You travel a lot, and you can see other perspectives, so if you could change one thing in Hungary, what would it be?

That's a difficult question. The biggest problem I see in Hungary is that the Hungarian people still have a very different attitude towards hospitality. They only go to restaurants on special occasions, and it is not a natural part of our lives to eat well and discover new restaurants. In a significant part of the world, not just in places where people are wealthier, but also in places with similar economic conditions, I find that the local consumer power is much better represented in the hospitality industry.

Fortunately, there are many tourists in Budapest, and this to some extent compensates for the fact that there are few Hungarian guests who like to go to such places, but I still see it as a major problem that it is not possible to build on local demand. This is primarily a cultural and socialization problem.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of affluent Hungarian people still think that going to a restaurant is something snobbish and luxurious and not a natural part of a quality life.

There needs to be a shift in attitude in Hungary so that people don't think this way. Of course, I understand those who cannot afford it financially. But there are many people who can afford it - they can buy expensive apartments, cars, clothes, watches, and all sorts of things, but they don't spend on quality dining or only do it on special occasions like their wedding anniversary or birthday.

I see that countries where going to restaurants is part of everyday culture are much further ahead. The country is developing in this respect as well, but we are still far from where I think we should be.

5. If you would be a super hero, what would be your super power?

It would be a great superpower if I could influence people's thoughts and actions. It would be useful to influence what they do, but also what they shouldn't do.

6. What are some of the biggest challenges in your life these days?

Currently, the biggest challenge in my life is how to balance my two desires of traveling as much as possible or spending as much time as possible with my friends and family, while also having new ideas and aspirations for my businesses that require a lot of time to pursue. Since I only have 24 hours in a day, these two desires contradict each other. If I prioritize one, the other doesn't work properly, and right now, finding a healthy balance between the two is my biggest challenge.

7. If you were a type of animal, which animal would you be?

Perhaps a wolf. It lives in a pack, in other words, in a community, but at the same time it's also free because it's a wild animal.

8. Who inspires you most these days?

I have never been a fan type. Certain qualities of people have always caught my attention rather than the person as a whole. I highly value performance and intent, but often the people behind them have disappointed me with their personality. I think everyone has good and bad in them, just the ratios differ. That's why I have never looked up to anyone as a classic role model.

9. You are a collector of contempory art, who would you recommend to an expat?

Of course, I could recommend many people. But I believe that the reason to buy any artwork is not because it's a good investment, but because you want to live with it. That's why it's very difficult to recommend someone, as personal taste plays a big role in what one likes.

If I look at those artists who have already proven themselves and whom I find exciting, then of course I can name a few. For example, I really like Imre Bukta, András Wahorn, László fe Lugossy, István Nádler, László Mulasics, or Hajnalka Tar. Hajnalka, for example, has periods that I like less, but there are also some that are downright brilliant.

10. If you had to sing karaoke at a party, what would you choose?

If it's in English, then Frank Sinatra: My Way, if it's in Hungarian, then Quimby: Most múlik...

12. To touch upon Sziget, what would you do differently regarding Sziget, if you knew what you know now?

As for what I would do differently, fortunately only small things come to mind. For example, regarding the invited artists. With today's mindset, I could easily say who else would have been worth inviting a few months before they became really popular, because if we had managed to sign them back then, we could have gotten them at a much better price.

13. Do you remember how much you paid Bowie?

David Bowie, for example, was with us in 1996 for $100,000, which of course was a lot of money for us back then. But this amount is now considered very low, as today an artist of this caliber costs about one and a half to two million dollars. However, these performers were still attainable for that price back then.

14. Which question would you ask yourself if you were conducting an interview with yourself?

I know there are some questions that I don't like to be asked over and over again, like how Sziget started or who my favorite performer is. As for what I would ask myself, well, there aren't many such questions because I've been asked just about everything I thought might be interesting.

What comes to mind, however, are some questions that I'm grateful are not usually asked. For example, I wouldn't like to talk about my personal life or my political opinions. I'm interested in current events and I have opinions, but I don't like to share them publicly because I feel that it would only result in people trying to pigeonhole me into some kind of political camp.

  • How does this interview make you feel?