How did the world's leading tire manufacturer become (arguably) the the most recognizable restaurant guide ever? Well, when thinking about automobile parts, a direct association to the best restaurants across the globe isn't quite what comes to mind, yet Michelin managed to completely flip that convention on its head.
At the turn of the 20th century, cars were but a novelty in France, with just over 2,000 vehicles in circulation nationwide. Enter the Michelin brothers, Édouard and André, who, in 1889 ran a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand. On one fateful day, a cyclist who happened to be in the area, rolled in for a replacement tire, where the brothers gladly obliged. Despite failing after a few hundred feet, the Michelins were optimistic about their version, continually improving on the design and became incorporated in 1891 with the first patent for a removable rubber bicycle tire. Pretty cool, yes, but you’re most likely asking how that ties into the culinary industry.
After the brother’s initial foray in bicycles, automobile tires were the next logical step and what better way to advertise them than with the promise of exciting travel and adventure? They figured that the more people travelled, the more their tires would wear out, leading to more sales from replacements by, yes, you guessed it, Michelin! To promote this notion, the brothers created the precursor of The Michelin Guide we know today, including (but no limited to) an extensive list of restaurants, sights and hotels.
The guide was absolutely free for over 15 years but soon the brothers soon began to feel that the public was taking their popular service for granted. As a result, the Michelins started to charge for the curated guide, which, in turn resulted in less of them in circulation, increasing the value of every print. This scarcity naturally created demand, which cemented the Michelin Guide as one of the forefathers of modern restaurant reviewing, situating an institution.
From burning rubber to burning calories, the Michelin Brothers helped change the hospitality industry from one of the most unlikely origins.
Written and Edited by: Alassane Soumare / Social Media Manager