At Wallflower, Xavier Herit strives to bring perfect balance not just to his cocktails but to the complete guest experience, even to Wallflower’s ambiance—a natural impulse for this Parisian-turned-New Yorker with a Michelin-starred pedigree.
At age 16, as a new hotel school graduate, Herit accepted a position at the Hotel Plaza Athénée on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Having just been voted number one in Europe, the hotel’s landmark bar offered an invaluable learning experience for an eager young bartender in training. The hotel’s renowned Bar Manager, Theirry Hernandez, soon became his mentor. Xavier’s first lesson: top quality service is crucial, and it can help bring an old-world, four-star venue alive when combined with flair and energy. This is the perspective he brings to Wallflower, providing refined service imprinted with his own vibrant personality.
How did you get into the culinary industry?
Well…I was distracted easily at school, and my grades were not the best. When I was 15, my parents told me that I should make up my mind on an education that would lead me to a job I wanted. My school friend’s father owned a restaurant. I just followed my friend, and went to a restaurant school in the suburbs of Paris. I started my first internship at the age of 15…I probably broke more glasses that year than in the last 10 years!
Tell us about WallFlower. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the restaurant?
Wallflower was originally intended to be a cocktail bar serving bar snacks. The Chef who consulted for us at the opening created a more ambitious menu, and we’ve continued to build on that, with a la carte and tasting menus…all created in a tiny, tiny kitchen. So we are now half cocktail bar, half restaurant. Our threefold combination of great cocktail list, top-notch wine list and strong food menu is a formula we’re committed to. Accessible to the neighborhood, friendly and knowledgable service…the atmosphere and energy in this 750 square-foot room is incredible.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Wallflower’s success?
Internally, I think the strategic partnership is strengthened by trust, being reliable, making concessions…we get the job done! And complete each other! My business partner Jason Soloway takes care of the wine list and some of the administrative parts, I am more on the floor, and the cocktail guy. We have a strong base of regulars…a great location…continuous media outreach. Next I want to build on our Instagram account and increase our following there.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
I have been in New York for 11 years. When I first came I could count all the best cocktail bars on my hands…now it would take a good week nonstop to try all of them! Same thing with the restaurants, good food is more accessible and the desire for quality, the knowledge amongst our guests has increased dramatically. I think New Yorkers pay more attention to what they drink and what they eat. We respond to them. At the bar…we are in sync with the kitchen and will often find a cocktail’s inspiration in a dish.
Your Life Motto?
“Great, so I did it…and what’s next?” And, “there is always space for improvement”.
Always take great care of every guest in the house; if they make the effort to come see you, you should make the effort to insure their satisfaction.
Your greatest success as Proprietor of Wallflower? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
My greatest success as a proprietor is when I see the excitement of the people who come to visit us. When everybody is having a good time and the room is full all night, i can tell myself we really did it ! You have to take pride in what you do.
I have learned that to be an owner, you need to be entirely dedicated and passionate to your business, which means lots of hours and some difficult moments sometimes. This can be lot of stress.
There is always a week where you are going to end up with all the problems in same time, when everything breaks and you're short-staffed. But after going through those tough times, you become stronger. Every day is a new day, i still have a lot to learn…
Your advice to an aspiring restaurateur?
Small business = small problem, big business = big problem: you better start with small one!
Describe the ideal experience at Wallflower.
There are many…to sit al fresco and watch the West Village go by…to dine early, with a great cocktail, wine and dinner to begin an evening…or…another ideal experience at Wallflower is to come with a group of 4 people around 9:30 pm, start with a cocktail at the bar, then pass to the Dining room to enjoy our 5 course tasting menu (which is a deal!), enjoy some of the great wine we have on our list…then comes the dessert the lights get dimmer, the music groovier, and you can enjoy a nice after cocktail in a great atmosphere!
Most popular dishes and your favorites?
I think some of the highlights are our terrines as the Country pate or the rabbit terrine, which are made in the house, or our composed cheeses. On the main course side, our seared Sea scallops with zucchini, cauliflower and lemon brown butter are outstanding!
How do you motivate your employees?
I think our employees really take pride in being part of Wallflower. You can feel their excitement about the new dishes, cocktails, wine or with the guests.
It is important that they are in a place where they can enjoy what they are doing and themselves. Without them Wallflower won’t be the same
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Cheese and wine! Don’t forget, I’m French!
What literature is on your bed stand?
Not much literature lately … i usually try to stay connected with France by watching the news at the end of my night.
Role model - business and personal?
2 of my Role models for business are:
Daniel Boulud. by working by his side for 7 years, I have learned a different side of the hospitality business, and how to truly make feel people home.
Nicolas de Soto: I worked beside Nicolas at ECC (Experimental Cocktail Club) Lower East Side. He is one of the most creative bartender, he has been an inspiration in my career.
My personal Role model would be my wife, she runs 15 miles per week, go to kickboxing, eat healthy and takes care of our 2 kids while she has a full time job. Who can do that?! Anyway, she is the only link I have with regular day time people, she is my balance in every aspect. I am very lucky to have her.
I like mixing drinks as much as i like mixing music. I have been a DJ (more as a hobby) for the past 10 years. There is not one day I am not listening and seeking out new music.
Favorite travel destination?
I always love going back to France, my roots, to see my family and enjoy all the good products from the south of France. My mother is a great cook!
What's next for Wallflower?
We are working on opening our Brunch soon (which should be promising!), and when the right time comes, i would like open a little sister to Wallflower. Location? Where they would need us the most!
In New York, and amongst cocktail culturati in general, Xavier gained well-deserved renown at DANIEL’s bar and lounge on New York’s Upper East Side. His trademark: creating one-of-a kind cocktails inspired by the seasons, drawing on both European and American styles, always aiming for drinks with an ideal balance of acidity, sweetness, dryness and bitterness. He also became known for experimenting with a cocktail’s visual and textural elements through unexpected ingredients. Many of Xavier’s best-known creations were published in the two-volume collection he co-authored, Daniel Boulud Cocktails & Amuse-Bouches, For Her & For Him.
Following DANIEL, Xavier moved to Experimental Cocktail Club, the Lower East Side offshoot of a New-York-inspired Parisian bar. Here he enhanced his bartending experience even further, and learned from Nicolas de Soto, one of Manhattan’s premier Head Bartenders. It was important for him to immerse himself in this downtown bartending universe. Xavier brought this full repertoire of knowledge, skill and invigorating creativity to Wallflower when it opened with him behind the bar, and as a partner, in October 2013.
He says, “At Wallflower, our focus is on high quality, seasonal ingredients. Balance and presentation is the most important. Working closely with our kitchen, and with the fruits and produce they bring from the market, expands our options tenfold in terms of mixology and elevating our guests’ experience.”
Cocktails at Wallflower are characterized by forthright presentation and inventive, innovative combinations of ingredients that serve just one goal: balanced flavor. They are delicious. The cocktail list offers both stirred and shaken selections. Bottled cocktails are also found behind the bar, composed of just the right spirits and shrubs that will retain flavor and be enhanced by delicate carbonation. These are best sipped through a playfully colored straw. New drinks will appear with each season. Diners at Wallflower might even enjoy a cocktail paired with an appetizer or entrée, as well as with the music that Xavier, also a DJ, has carefully mixed for the restaurant.