Xavier Padovani: harnessing high energy

Xavier Padovani’s boundless enthusiasm and determination to ensure positivity in the workplace have helped Experimental Group grow over nearly 15 years.

I have a life coach who I see regularly and he’s dealt with people suffering with PTSD after being in war zones.” This one-liner provides the perfect insight into the frenzied mind of Xavier Padovani, partner in hospitality company Experimental Group. Padovani joined the company in 2010, three years after the original Experimental Cocktail Club was founded in Paris by Olivier Bon, Pierre-Charles Cros and Romée De Goriainoff. Today, the company has more than 10 hotels, around 20 restaurants and probably another 20 bars across New York and Europe – I used estimations as the group is announcing new openings on a monthly basis.

Late last year the company announced three new hotels in Val d’Isère, Paris and Rome, while most recently it launched a bistro in London’s Covent Garden called Henri. Oh, and it opened two bars in New York this spring, yet Padovani seems to want more.

“We need to grow – we’re only just getting started,” he says. “We have structures in play to keep getting bigger and open new places, we just need to oil the machine. We have an office in Spain which is just around the corner from Portugal, we see a lot of potential in New York and across the US and we’re looking at Singapore too. Contract management is the way forward where we take someone’s property and build the hotel we want, then take a percentage each month. These days we’re more hotel focused because the revenues are more rewarding.”

Prior to joining the group, Padovani was global brand ambassador for Hendick’s gin for five years, making him well connected with the bar trade, and he puts the success of Experimental Group down to the dynamics and varied skill sets of the partners. “When I joined it was my local knowledge which brought value to the group,” he says. “The guys were really dialled into running great bars with amazing vibes and I was well connected with the on-trade and brands, so it worked well.

“Olivier is great with design and Pierre-Charles for the technical side of building a venue, while I’m more comfortable with the PR and marketing stuff.”

Padovani is celebrating his 50th birthday this year and, with venues all across the world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the founders to hang out as a group. “We have less time together these days because we’re not only busy as a company, but we have families too,” adds Padovani. “However, we take birthdays very seriously. For example it’s the 10th anniversary of La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels New York, so we have to be in the city for that, no excuses. And the same goes for our personal birthdays and I think as we get older we cherish our time together more.

“We don’t separate business from friendship, but after we’ve had our aperitifs, the conversation is no longer about work and we can enjoy a good meal together, which is important to me.”

Veteran status

In 2024, a bar which has survived more than two years is deemed a success, and anything older than five years earns veteran status. But the Experimental model for a good bar is as relevant today as it was in the late noughties.

“I was in Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown recently and the place was full of young people dancing and having fun, which was reassuring for a concept which is 13 years old. It’s not on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, but it’s a long-serving bar which is still as popular today as it was when we opened it.

“We’ve definitely seen people open hotels or bars in our style, but we see that as a compliment because ultimately people see us as successful. Imitation is flattery.”

One thing which can’t be easily imitated is the group’s determination to keep growing, yet Padovani also advocates for a healthy mind and appreciates he works on a different level to most.

“My wife always says I’m crazy, but if I sit still I get bored. I find what I do exciting and full of adrenaline, there’s never been a better time to do what we’re doing. But not everyone works the same and we take mental health very seriously across all our venues because it’s so important, especially in hospitality, to have happy operators.”

Experimental Group is one of the biggest success stories of modern hospitality. With a constant stream of fruitful new openings it would be easy to say it comes naturally, but Padovani believes it’s the mistakes they’ve made which have got them to where they are today.

“I wouldn’t say we regret anything, because everything we’ve got wrong we’ve learned from, and now we’ve never been stronger.”