Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Emil Stefkov Is Helping To Change Our World

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Manage your energy and your time. We should always be managing and conserving our energy; in the long run, it will enhance the business we’re trying to achieve.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Emil Stefkov, Founder and President of The Group Hospitality, a collection of restaurants based in New York City, embodying passion, integrity, and excellence. The Group provides an authentic dining experience by celebrating tradition and invoking the modern. Inspired by contemporary tendencies and a passion for timeless traditions, The Group restaurants are unifying the neighborhood character with authentic cuisine and lively local culture.

Stefkov is an entrepreneur for more than 20 years. He founded several successful companies in hospitality, travel, and real estate. Passionate about technology and the environment, he is a long-term investor in Tesla. He is also a partner in Gravity Ranch, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund investing in deep technology spinouts from Stanford research institute.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

As a veteran entrepreneur with over two decades of experience, I’ve founded several successful hospitality, travel, and real estate companies, my true passion, however, is hospitality. I love telling a story and harkening back to points in history through food, ambiance, and culture. In 2010, I founded The Group, a New York-based hospitality company to provide authentic dining experiences by celebrating tradition and invoking modernism. The first establishment we opened was Olio e Più, an authentic trattoria located in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, where we specialized in classic Italian dishes, focusing on house-made pasta, hand-stretched pizza, and time-honored favorites such as Caprese salad, fritto misto, and tiramisu. Not long after that, we expanded into different restaurant concepts catering to other cuisines like French and Japanese Omakase and Kaiseki. Our restaurants unify the neighborhood’s character with authentic cuisine and lively local culture. Today, we employ over 400 people, ranging from executive leadership, corporate management, and finance to in-house branding and marketing to front and back-of-the-house teams at each location. With over 100% growth in the past two years and a dedicated team of experts and experienced industry professionals, we plan to employ over 1,000 people who will contribute, develop, and build a platform for sustainable growth as the company continues to expand internationally.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you when making this film?

One of my favorite stories in the film is about our magnificent glass ceiling and how I discovered it in France before returning to New York. I was getting ready to leave when I decided to make one last stop at François’s shop at Les Puces antique market to finalize some details about a few smaller items that I was buying for the restaurant, and that’s when I saw the marvelous ceiling for the first time. I always think, what if I never went back to Les Puces that day? Would I have never found a piece as grand as that? The glass ceiling I’m so proud to have discovered that day is La Grande Boucherie’s most remarkable ode to classic European culture. It has touched nearly every staple piece of French culture-first, existing as a neighbor to the Opera Garnier and then finding a home at the oldest flea market in Paris, Les Puces, before making its way to the states. Its history and intricate design actualize the effortlessly luxurious Parisian experience that we want our guests to enjoy. It’s only natural that this piece of art serves as the crown jewel of La Grande Boucherie. This beautiful story unfolds in the film Making La Grande Boucherie. You can see a clip of the trailer HERE.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I carefully sought out renowned artisans and design leaders like Sylvain Mabille de Poncheville and Gilles Cheramy, along with Legeard Studio founder and architect Julien Legeard, to assist with the design and aesthetic of the elegant Parisian eatery. In the film, Making La Grande Boucherie, I highlighted an appreciation for each artisan for their generations-old techniques. I drew inspiration from mere excitement to showcase the evolution of how La Grande Boucherie came to be and the collaborative efforts behind the creation. The building itself tells a story through its architecture and fine details, so it was important to me that the film set the tone for this story. It was important to me to expose the creative processes of sourcing materials and creating a menu for Manhattan’s newest restaurant staple. Being able to see and appreciate the creation of this magnificent space, I think, will only elevate the experience La Grande Boucherie provides.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I’m very inspired by Elon Musk because he raised people’s expectations by exploring, defying the odds, and making his dreams come true. He is an inspiration to entrepreneurs, a visionary, and an innovator who’s determined to achieve his goals despite the obstacles in his way to positively impact the world.

Let’s now shift to the focus of our interview. How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

We’re hoping to get our film picked up by a distributor to share our trials and tribulations with the world and show our viewers that we can overcome any obstacle. To be candid, we were nervous as our opening date approached, with COVID-19 looming over us. This film is a true testament to the grit of New Yorkers, construction crews, and design teams who pushed the limits to rapidly complete the project until the grand opening of Manhattan’s largest restaurant during what would come to be known as one of the most challenging times in history for the restaurant industry. It always helped to remember the little wins we celebrated and accomplished throughout the process. As we rapidly approached the restaurant’s opening date, it helped to see all of those “little celebrations” put together in one monumental building.

We also recently announced expansion plans to bring our timeless French concept restaurant, La Grande Boucherie, the trattoria and enoteca, Olio e Più, and Japanese dining experience, Omakase Room, to Chicago and D.C., as well as our first ever garden-themed concept that will be part of the Boucherie brand, Le Jardin Boucherie that is expected to open in Miami, Florida. All new territories are anticipated to open in 2023.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions that never manifest. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you would step up and act for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Finally, seeing all the hard work from my team and myself being told in one complete documentary-style film and then shown on the big screen during our premiere. I was relieved and joyful, of course, but even for someone involved with this project from conception to execution, I was taken aback by the fantastic outcome. It is far more impressive than we could have ever imagined with sketches and blueprints. Viewing the completed film was humbling and emotional at the same time. It brought me to tears a couple of times, especially after seeing the final product. It was a surreal feeling looking back at the time when La Grande Boucherie’s story was still beginning to take shape, and the pandemic was looming over us. We certainly faced much adversity in creating La Grande Boucherie. We made sure to create a safe workplace for our team and provide a comfortable and safe space for our guests to dine while abiding by our aesthetic vision for the building, so we took protocols and regulations from the CDC regarding COVID-19 into consideration during the earliest stages of construction. As our opening date approached, we were nervous. We, along with the rest of the world, had just experienced a devastating once-in-a-lifetime occurrence with the introduction of COVID-19 into our lives, and I think it conditioned us to fear the future, appreciate the past, and hold onto the present. It’s imperative to recognize that while La Grande Boucherie was being constructed, New York City was under great stress. Like many others, we wanted to inspire hope for a better tomorrow in New Yorkers. It became imperative that we completed this project during those somber times to show our community that there was a path to move forward, and for that, I am genuinely grateful.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual impacted or helped by your cause?

It’s so great working with other creatives like the Artisans, who are aligned with my mission. Believe together, we help and inspire people on many levels through the beauty and creativity at each of our establishments.

Are there three things individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Continue supporting small businesses, local restaurants, artists, and artisans that continue to honor centuries of family traditions, like those responsible for the handcrafted iron railings and pewter countertops at La Grande Boucherie. We’re continuing this support to these renowned artisans by collaborating with them for future projects, like the new restaurants we’ll launch in 2023 in DC, Chicago, and Miami. The caliber of work produced by these talents is unmatched, and it’s an honor to continue working with them to carry our vision and be part of expanding our brand beyond New York.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Don’t have partners; I’m happy I was told this and listened to this advice. For me, anyway, it was best to do this on my own as, from my experience, people can have very different perspectives and clash with your vision of what you want to achieve.

Your next project must always be bigger. This mindset will continue to inspire you and drive you to do better and build on what you have already built.

Your Mindset is the foundation of everything. All relationships consist of thoughts and feelings, and it’s the same with your business. Learn to generate feelings that drive productive action because that’s the way to achieve your goals.

Manage your energy and your time. We should always be managing and conserving our energy; in the long run, it will enhance the business we’re trying to achieve.

Don’t Skimp on Marketing. If you know your customer and market, this should be less of an issue and makes a world of difference when done right.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Making a positive impact on our environment and/or society is the only way to find meaning in life. Focus on your strengths and use them to impact others positively. Positive change starts with investing in yourself.

Is there a person in the world, or the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why?

I am always looking to collaborate with other very talented artisans from around the world who specialize in stain glass, iron railings, and custom tiles. In the film, Making La Grande Boucherie, you’ll see that I brought on renowned artisans Sylvain Mabille de Poncheville and Gilles Cheramy, Legeard Studio founder and architect Julien Legeard, to carry my vision through generations-old techniques with their plasterwork, painting, metalwork, and woodwork. I chose to work with these talents because they have an execution that respects tradition and art, and I knew they would carry my vision of creating something as authentic as the most beautiful restaurant in Paris in 1920.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Things are what you make of them” — Emil Stefkov, Founder and President of The Group.

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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Emil Stefkov Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.