Three months after the death of his father, Kevin Vanlancker, the boss of Chez Léon and Armes de Bruxelles, takes stock. After putting out the fires, he takes the necklace back. Covid-19 debts have been frozen and will be repaid; business is picking up, but there won’t be any more blows. All Plan Bs have been exhausted.
When we enter the restaurant “Chez Leon”, the table on the left, which overlooks rue des Bouchers, has always belonged to the family. In recent years, there have been Rudy Vanlancker, the representative of the fifth generation of these renowned restorers, known worldwide for selling mussels. Three months ago, “Monsieur Rudy” killed himself by jumping out of the window of his office located under the roofs of the establishment founded by his ancestors in 1893. In a somewhat brutal way, the sixth generation, represented by Kevin Vanlancker, Rudy’s son, had to take up the torch. But we understand that everything was ready.
Today, it is therefore Kevin who is at the table of his family. On the wall, behind him, he has just had a small copper plate installed in memory of his father. Accepting to take stock of this recovery in painful circumstances, Kevin Vanlancker speaks bluntly.
“Everyone was saying he killed himself because he was at the end of it and the kid wasn’t going to hold out.”
“It took me two or three months to put out the fires and reassure people. Two months before his death, my father said in an article that he had swallowed twenty years of savings in the company. Everybody said that he had committed suicide because he was at the end of his that the kid was not going to hold“, explains Kevin Vanlancker, specifying that it was necessary to reassure Finance&Invest Brussels, the banks and the suppliers.
But there is one thing that almost everyone was unaware of. Father and son had prepared the succession. “I had inherited the restaurants four years ago, my father had prepared the whole estate”, explains Kevin Vanlancker before adding that since that time, he is the managing director of the group. This operation was even validated by the Advance Decisions Service (SDA) of the FPS Finance. “We had to prove that it was a restaurant that we wanted to perpetuate from father to son”.
We feel it, the representative of the sixth generation called to manage the destiny of the two establishments (Chez Léon and Aux Armes de Bruxelles) is ready. I have to say that establishments had to be refloated during the pandemic to avoid sinking. “My father sold the brand image for France (Léon de Bruxelles) which is a thirty-year job. He could have pocketed that money and taken it easy in the sun, but he reinvested in the restaurant. He also sold his vacation home, I think that’s kind of what caused his end,” says Kevin Vanlancker.
Rudy Vanlancker’s decision to end his life is certainly the result of a accumulation of trouble. “He had to make an effort for the attacks and for my son’s cancer, then we had the Covid, we were starting to see the end of the tunnel when the war in Ukraine pointed the end of his nose”, explains Kevin Vanlancker .
And the latter to prevail over the level of aid granted to restaurants in Brussels. Between 2019 and 2021, Vanlancker family restaurants lost 8.7 million euros in turnover, which represents a decrease of 74.15%. To make up for this, they will soon collect a bonus of 7,500 euros. But Kevin Vanlancker does not want to dwell on the subject, preferring to thank those who helped him raise his head.
There are Finance&Invest Brussels, which has always been present to support the establishments. there is the bank Belfius, also, “one of the only banks which distributes umbrellas when the weather is nice and which does not take them back when it rains”. And there is the restaurant union delegation (110 people work at Chez Léon) who agreed to postpone the end-of-year bonuses until they return to normal.
All is not rosy though and Kevin Vanlancker does not hide it. “Everything related to the Covid has been put on hold. Today, I have a lot of debt, I won’t hide it from you. I have six-figure debts vis-à-vis the ONSS and the withholding tax. I have several million, but there are plans and moratoriums, everything is under control. I have payment plans and, since 2022, I have paid all my outstandings, I am fully up to date and I will settle the Covid little by little”, explains Kevin Vanlancker.
Since the Easter holidays, business seems to be picking up, tourists come back and the numbers are good. Where he had counted on a turnover of 550,000 euros for the months of April and May, he closed these months at more than 800,000 euros. “We feel that the mayonnaise wants to resume,” adds our interlocutor.
“If a grain of salt comes to seize up the machine, I no longer have a plan B, my father has used them all”.
Rudy Vanlancker had four children. If each owns a quarter of the deal, Kevin Vanlancker is the managing director and he has control of the business. “I had my first general meeting last week, the first without my father and I hope the last that I end with a shitty year; 2022 seems to be starting up well”, he adds, aware to walk on eggshells.
If everything goes well for one or two years, he will be able to rebuild his cash flow and resume management as before, while erasing the Covid debts in parallel. But beware of scrapping if the machine seizes up. “On my debt table, unless I win the Lotto, I have no more room for anything. If a nuclear warhead threatens NATO, if there is another Covid, I no longer have the house of my father’s holidays for sale and I no longer have the possibility of opening credit with the banks. Today, we walk on eggshells. If a grain of salt comes to seize up the machine, I no longer have a plan B, my father used them all”, explains Kevin Vanlancker, seated at the entrance of his restaurant.
“Monsieur Rudy” is no more, here is “Monsieur Kevin”.
- At the beginning of the month of March, Rudy Vanlanckerthe boss of Chez Léon and Armes de Bruxelles, was killing himself.
- Three months later, Kevin, Rudy’s son, is on the job. It took put out fires and run the shops.
- The estate was settled since four years.
- After having “frozen” the debts due to the Covid, the representative of the sixth generation intends to put its establishments back on track.