Blind French eatery seeks to conquer New York

Fri Dec 2, 2011 1:03pm EST
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By Natalie Huet

PARIS (Reuters) - A French restaurant where diners cannot see what they are eating, often spill their wine and must conduct conversations while staring into pitch darkness has proved such a success in Europe that it is making a foray into the Americas.

After expanding from Paris into London, Moscow, Barcelona and St. Petersburg, the "Dans Le Noir" chain, staffed by blind waiters, will open an outlet in the neon-lit tourist hub of New York's Times Square this month.

What seemed at the outset to be just a bizarre fad, has proved surprisingly popular, as patrons who have often never encountered a visually impaired person before discover what it is like to be blind and realize how skillfully the blind adapt.

"When I started this business, everyone thought I was crazy, from my bankers to my mother," Edouard de Broglie, 49, CEO of the chain's owner, Ethik Investment, and founder of the restaurant chain, told Reuters.

"I wanted to show that a company where 50 percent of staff are very heavily handicapped can perfectly well be profitable, thrive each year and become international like any other one."

Dans Le Noir, French for "In the Dark," is not the first restaurant of its kind, although it has spread the fastest, having served more than a million people at its restaurants and temporary venues in Warsaw, Geneva and Bangkok.

Pioneer Blindekuh, German for "Blind Cow," opened in 1999 in Zurich, starting a blind-dining trend that spread to France with de Broglie's eatery and has spawned a series of copycat venues in cities around the world including Berlin, Shanghai, Montreal and San Francisco.

Dans Le Noir uses visually impaired waiters to guide patrons past heavy black curtains into a pitch-dark dining room where they are served a surprise two or three-course menu.   Continued...