People who make Monaco: Kate Powers

Kate Powers is a well-known face in Monaco. She’s the manager of harbourside eatery Stars’n’Bars, one of the Principality’s most successful ventures. We asked her all about it, and soon discovered that Kate’s entrepreneurism runs in the family:

‘My mother and brother had already opened the former Le Vesuvio restaurant and renamed it Le Texan (on the suggestion of Prince Rainier), serving TexMex and American specialities. I met my partner Didier Rubiolo there and – with a lot of hard work and love – Le Texan became very popular, with a very diverse clientele from movie stars and millionaires to local business people and families.’

But it wasn’t just the food that made Le Texan an innovation at the time, she says: ‘We were especially successful with families and children, with our kids’ menus and birthday parties. Although Princess Grace had introduced Hallowe’en to Monaco when we were children growing up here, no other business was doing it yet. We were the first to introduce it as an annual celebration. At first it was only us and our staff in costumes  – but boy has that changed!’

After five successful years, it was time to expand. A friend introduced Kate and Didier to a huge warehouse in Fontvieille, and they came up with the idea of setting up a sports bar, with children’s play area and night club. ‘Our creative juices had just started flowing, when the government decided to keep that area for other purposes. Thank God – because they moved us to the Harbour of Hercules! We were blessed with our beautiful new location. It had been the old industrial district and was an old run-down building – perfect for what we wanted to create: I called it the ghetto of Monaco!’

Kate has clearly lost none of her zeal: ‘SnB was a project created out of inspiration and love. People thought we were crazy to open such a big complex eighteen years ago during an earlier economic crisis – but it felt so right to us. There was a niche we felt there was a real need for. We followed our hearts, injected the place with love, all the time driven by an inner feeling. You know the baseball pitch in the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ – ‘If you build it, they will come’?  It was just like that: we trusted our intuition, as we always have done.’

The baseball reference reminds me to ask Kate something: she’s originally from St Louis, a US city that was originally set up by French fur traders. How did it feel to be bringing back a little of the States to this part of the world?  She puts me right: ‘I was born in St Louis but was actually raised from an early age in Monaco. The whole idea was to bring Monaco and US together in our concept. Our logo, for instance, is a combination of the two flags.  Sports bars are popular in the US, usually based on football or baseball and hockey –  but we had many varied sports celebrities living in Monaco, and imagined a more fun, diverse collection. Now, thanks to donations from our celebrity clientele, we’re probably one of the biggest sports bar museums! There are also over 300 photos on the walls with various celebrities who have been our customers over the years.’

I put it to Kate that perhaps it’s that combination of a wide ranging clientele, from royalty and racing drivers, to day trippers and tourists, that’s the secret of the bar’s success. She agrees, but thinks it cuts both ways: ‘Celebrities enjoy coming because they can eat discreetly without lots of fanfare, and other customers enjoy the thrill of knowing that on any given day they may be sitting next to a famous race car driver, film star …or prince!’

But according to Kate, location also plays an important part in creating that special buzz. ‘Each May, the restaurant is located directly in front of the Monaco Grand Prix paddocks where the greatest Formula 1 drivers in the world and their teams set up headquarters during the four-day racing event.  It’s the ideal place to indulge a bit of people-watching. We have a long history of working with Grand Prix personalities, and the restaurant is filled with helmets, racing suits, car parts, even an entire Formula 1 car, given by the drivers!’

And it doesn’t stop there. At the other end of the busy summer, SnB plays host to the Monaco Yacht Show: ‘We generally host the largest ‘Captain’s Party’  in the principality, providing a ‘home from home’ for hundreds of ‘yachties’ during the season. ‘But our most important clients remain families and their kids, especially the ones who have grown with us over the last 18 years. I’ll always remember standing in front of Stars a couple of years after opening and watching the children from the International School walking by. One 3-year old stopped, looked up over my head at the entrance and said ‘I love Stars’n’Bars’. I couldn’t help but choke up and thank God for guiding me!’

Stars’n’Bars is a local bar, but it has a really cosmopolitan feel, with Fusion on the Port specializing in oriental dishes, and British comedy nights; it’s a unique global blend which Kate and Didier are now translating to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Did they foresee the same enthusiasm out there for the brand? ‘Change is important, and it’s exciting for us to be launching Monaco’s first restaurant franchise that will bring our style of food and service to customers around the world. The first opened in Abu Dhabi in November 2010 and a second is planned for Dubai this spring. Like Stars’n’Bars in Monaco, the decor of the new restaurants will capture the spirit of international sports such as racing, tennis and yachting but it will also celebrate the cultural and social aspects of the principality.

‘Individual sections of the restaurant will feature large photo murals of Monaco, places and events and there will be non-stop audio-visual presentations promoting Monaco news, events, charities and activities, including a focus on Prince Albert II’s leadership in protecting the environment.’

That focus is perhaps one of the most important for Kate, who was strongly influenced by the Prince’s mother, Princess Grace. ‘She was and is a big part of my inspiration in doing my best for the country and supporting it. And with the prince, we share an ecological view for sure.  SnB is strongly committed to respecting the environment, conserving energy and avoiding waste wherever possible. I’m a stickler for all things green. Since 2005, Stars’N’Bars has organized Monacology Week, an annual event whose objective is to inform and support young children, teenagers, adults, and also managers of companies, to commit themselves and support environmental actions. We have also worked with the Prince Albert II Foundation to educate local restaurants on how to use alternatives to the endangered tuna and have participated in the Sail to Barcelona event to raise consciousness about pollution and our oceans.

‘We think the combination of our successful American-style food and service, international sports focus tied together with the glamour of Monaco should produce an exciting franchise opportunity all over the world. We’ve also received interest in the franchise from Brazil, Monte Negro, Singapore, Germany and, yes, even the USA!’

Thinking about Kate’s success, I can see why she finds the Grace Kellyconnection strong in Monaco. ‘I feel her spirit is still strong here. She was and is a big part of my inspiration in doing my best for the country and supporting it. I think people will always refer to Monaco and Princess Grace – when I travel sometimes I’ve been asked where Monaco is, and when I mention Grace Kelly, they get it!’