The Finer Things
Hamptons French Quarter
Charles de Viel Castel is bringing delicious and hand-selected products from afar to his new high-end boutique on Main Street in Bridgehampton.
Charles de Viel Castel is a creative person who’s unafraid to walk a different path. The French-born financier founded his first successful entrepreneurial business, CVC Stones, in 2015. For his next act, Viel Castel recently opened L’Épicuriste, a high-end specialty-food store on Bridgehampton’s Main Street that caters to chefs, guests, hosts, and everyone in between. Digital Party dropped by for a coffee and a chat.
What made you decide to start L’Épicuriste and why now?
We realized that the Hamptons has a lot of chefs and people who come out here, but there is a limited amount of prepared foods and non-local products.
L’Épicuriste is a place to find ingredients you can’t find anywhere else. We stock macarons, spicy French mustard, Momofuko Chili, and Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise. It’s a place you can come and find house gifts like soaps, cutting boards, or these wonderful Colombian woven placemats, or combine simple ingredients for a very easy lunch. For example we have burrata from Italy that’s flown in every week … you can have it with summer truffles. We have a pre-made truffle risotto which takes 10 minutes to cook, and it’s one of the best risottos I’ve ever had.
The idea was to have complicated and simple recipes all together, with hot sauces that come from Africa or spices that come from the Middle East. There are a lot of things you can’t find locally.
Living out here for years, and also during the pandemic, made us better cooks and want to be better cooks, so with the recipes we have here, you can suddenly transform what you used to do into something much more interesting.
Are you only focusing on products you can’t find anywhere else?
No, not entirely. We have a very local touch, we have baguettes from Armin & Judy, and flower arrangements from local florist Missi Flowers, as well as a coffee from Java Nation, by the train station—the owner is a coffee master not on Main Street. We have a local artist who works out of Springs, Sydney Albertini, who has a waiting list of two years. She’s an old surfing buddy of mine and she very generously gave us two paintings and the first one sold in four days.
You are right next to Pierre’s restaurant, another French proprietor. Has this posed any problems?
People always ask, “Is there a conflict?” But no, we get along really well. There is good camaraderie and I buy coffee at Pierre’s place all the time. He bought saffron from me the other day. All the local store owners have come by, Pierre has been nothing but wonderful, so that local Bridgehampton community has been really nice. They send us customers and we send ours to them.
Maybe you’ll make it in a local French neighborhood.
Yes, a little French corner.
L’Épicuriste is not your first venture, you were the founder of CVC Stones, a successful jewelry company with a large Instagram count of 27,000 as well as a celebrity and cult following. The stones have been worn by Bee Shaffer, Sienna Miller, among others. And you founded Stelac Advisory, a private equity business. What do you think your experience with those businesses can bring to L’Épicuriste?
The businesses are obviously worlds apart, but what is relevant about my private-equity venture is that I’ve seen a variety of different deals in many different sectors. I did deals in restaurants, we invested in Shake Shack and many consumer products like baby foods, beef jerky, and lots of pet foods. I was never supposed to be doing jewelry and yet, here we are seven years later and it’s doing better than ever.
One of the lessons I’ve learned is that you should get out of your lane. Opening a retail store is a huge amount of work and much more than I had expected. I think having a bit of ignorance is better. If I’d known how much work it would have been, I might have had reason to pause, but I had to be persistent. And you are going to make mistakes and you have to be open to that.
What is the secret to building a successful brand/business?
The secret is a good team, always. Kelsey Ficara, the store manager, and Carla Braschi in New York.
Having local talent was the most important decision and hiring the right people. But the biggest challenge is going to be, being able to shift from the summer into the fall, and then the winter, when it gets quieter.
One of the things we are doing is working on the gift baskets. Here is where I’m using my experience at Stelac because I spend quite a bit of money on corporate gifts. We are building the backend of the website so we can have e-commerce capability that will allow you to buy pre-made gift baskets that we can ship anywhere in the U.S. That is going to be a main focus once the season is over, but I hope it’s going to be a year-round store. “I don’t want to bother with cooking, so I will pick up one of the pre-made Momofuko noodles.” Most of the things are not perishable. Burrata and the caviar and the smoked salmon are but most everything else has a pretty long shelf life. And it’s evolving.
We did a collaboration with From the Bouwerie founder Alexia Leuschen, who gets products from all over the world, like marmalade from the Agnelli gardens to products from La Palmeraie in Morocco. She’s friends with the artist Lola Schnabel who does these old vintage candlesticks, and she found original, one-off cookbooks by Julia Child. Alexia was going to only go online and I said, ‘Why don’t you do a table with us?” And it’s been a huge success.
What are some of the mistakes you’ve made in this business?
We didn’t order enough when we first opened and we were scrambling to get enough product in. Supply-chain issues hit us, but now we are properly stocked.
Would you move into clothing?
No clothing right now. It’s all cohesive: Food, experience, and gifts.
No one would question the elegance of your products but they are on the pricier side…
We are not price sensitive when we buy. If those hand-embroidered napkins were made by an artisan by hand, which is a unique work, then the cost of that is the cost of that. We apply a margin that’s reasonable. We believe that customers understand that. Some of our products, like our olive oils and so on, are cheaper than at Citarella but the burrata from Italy is going to cost what it costs.
We have a lot of companies that are socially responsible. We buy canned tomatoes from a woman-led company in San Marzano, Italy. They are 20% more, but it’s a conscious decision to support female-run businesses. We like supporting local artisans.
My wife Vanessa [a fashion-house brand consultant and mother of their two sons] has been so helpful. She got all the soaps and placemats and introduced me to Missi Flowers, because she uses them. She’s our customer: She likes to give nice gifts when she goes to people’s houses, she likes to host, and she likes to cook. I think we are our own best clients.
You are a well-traveled, sophisticated person, with Argentine and French connections. To what degree do you think your upbringing has been part of your success?
I don’t know about sophisticated, but I credit my decision to come to America and live in New York. Here, when you start something, people encourage you, they say “go for it”, whereas in Europe it would be “Why do you want to change your job. If you are in finance, stay in finance.” I think the culture here, and the entrepreneurs that I’ve met, have shown me that you can start a baby-diaper business having worked in a different industry before.
I love food, so that’s another big reason for this. I have tried every single product in my own kitchen and that’s how I decide what I like.
LÉpicuriste is located at 2466 Montauk Hwy, in Bridgehampton. They’re open daily from 10am–6pm.
All photos courtesy of L'Épicuriste.