For years — years! — I’ve been hearing rumors that Rover’s jaunty “Chef in the Hat,” Thierry Rautureau, has longed to hang his chapeau at a little bar-centric bistro, something far less formal than his four-star restaurant, Rover’s. Maybe you’ve heard those rumors, too: that he’s planning to take over the Falling Waters space (didn’t happen), spending time in the company of real estate brokers (I’ve seen that with my own eyes) or chatting about the idea with other chefs who’ve gone beyond the “one, singular sensation.” In the end, it turns out he need to look no further than the nearest corner.
Break out the Champagne: “The Chef in the Hat” is opening a new bistro!
Luc! It’s a frame shop.
He expects to open in time for Valentine’s Day. But for now he’s looking for a little love. Wanna invest? Has he got a deal for you! Call him crazy — like a fox — but here’s his plan:
Starting August 31 and ending three weeks later, The Chef in the Hat is passing the hat, selling what amounts to futures in Luc’s future: a limited number of $1000 gift certificates worth $1300, redeemable for any merchandise or services sold at either Rover’s or Luc. Once you’ve got a certificate in hand, you can do with it what you please.
Want to buy dinner at Rover’s? Dinner to-go at Luc? Finance a catered event? Purchase a stack of Rover’s cookbooks or give the gift that keeps on giving to the Francophile on your Christmas list? Operators are standing by. So, what’s the catch? The certificate will be mailed in three installments: on March 1st 2010, 2011, and 2012. No cash refunds.
And if you’re worried that, say, Thierry may eat too much foie gras — or Chinese food — and have a heart attack, leaving you in the gift certificate-lurch (or less dramatically, never come up with enough money to pull off what it takes to turn a former frame-shop into a corner bistro) he offers a Gallic shrug, insisting that he, and Rover’s, are in it for the long haul.
Lunch at Sea Garden? Count me in. Yo, chef! Pass the shrimp!
“I’ve been here for 22 years,” Thierry says of his professional home in the heart of Madison Valley’s business district. “And I’ve eyed that corner for 22 years.” Now that the space he’s been lusting after is available, he’s worked with his friendly landlord to open a second, far more visible — and affordable — venue. “Business-wise, it’s always made sense to be on that corner,” says the James Beard award-winning chef whose existing restaurant fronts the 2800 Building’s cloistered courtyard, and whose office will be close enough to Luc to shoot a baguette from a well-pointed bow.
As insane as his investment-scheme may sound, he says, “Many people spend thousands of dollars at restaurants every year.” When you think about it, “$1000 is not a lot of money if you’re getting 30-percent added value. You can’t lose on that one. Nobody’s giving you that!” These days, he says, with banks looking at restaurateurs and laughing out loud, you’ve got to get creative with financing. Look where it got Obama, he insists. “One million people give one dollar” and you’ve got more than enough to open a 60-seat bar and restaurant. “The whole idea is that people get involved. You trust the guy who’s doing it — and it helps to know the guy.”
Between his involvement at charity functions, not to mention his radio show and TV appearances, this guy definitely has a fervent fan-base, including those who would be happy to lend him big bucks. “I’ve had a few options with investors who wanted to lend me hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “but they wanted my blood, and I’m not going to give them my blood.” As for his $1000 gift certificates, “it’s like the worldwide micro loans,” insists Monsieur Chapeau.
Luc, named to honor his late father, will have a menu that reaches beyond his native France to embrace global influences. “I don’t want to be just a french bistro, even though it’ll be a French bistro,” he told me, sharing his vision for Luc.
There will be windows that open onto the street, a sidewalk terrace, a small, two-room venue. Here, friends, family and neighbors might order classic French dishes like whole roasted chicken and boeuf bourguignon — as well as others with Asian or Moroccan influences. Plans include nightly dinners, Friday lunches and weekend brunch. In addition, “I’m going to try to have a grill outside every day, and do something different,” Thierry says, envisioning specials like grilled duck breast with flageolet beans or salmon with olive tapanade and couscous. “It’ll be like stopping by my house and having something to eat.”
He plans to keep his same crew at Rover’s, and with the help of chef de cuisine Adam Hoffman and GM Scot Smith, train a new crew to work at Luc. But the busy chef says for now his focus is on the bigger picture: “Right now I”m worrying about the most important things, like the architectural design — and selling those gift certificates.”
So, tell me Eaters: has the Chef in the Hat gone off his hat, or does this sound like something worth investing in?