With Chez Nous, Fanny and Patrick Panella presented me my dream restaurant. It’s a concept I always wanted to do.
I was working at Carolina’s and Juan [Cassalett] and I would always go to Bin 152 and we just developed a friendship with Fanny and Patrick. Fanny would come to Carolina’s some Saturdays and stage and she was always asking questions like, “Would you want to open a restaurant?” I was like, “Oh yeah, someday,” but it wasn’t like I need to do it right now.
Then they found this house. Their plan was to live in it. Then one night she called me and asked me to come to Bin one night after work.
Fanny said, “You know the little house? What if it was a restaurant and you were a part of it?” I said ‘Yes.’ I just felt like this is good. It was just like she described, a small menu, small staff.
When we were working on opening, for almost a year we’d have meetings every Thursday night, like seven hour meetings where each person had a form and we’d test recipes and then grade them. We’d analyze each dish discussing whether it fit our concept, it’s country of origin, does it belong as an appetizer, entree, or dessert? And then it would be, “Did you like this dish? Would you tell people about it? What would you pay for it?” I mean every day I had to fill these forms out, but it was great because we talked through every detail. A Chez Nous dish is something that’s so simple it has like four ingredients tops in it. I’ve always enjoyed cooking like that. This is the cuisine I love to cook. It’s simple. Straightforward. It’s clean.
Now Juan and I joke, I don’t even know if I could cook more than two things at once. I can’t imagine a station in a normal restaurant. It’s great. It’s challenging. We don’t have a walk in. We have one reach in and two low boys. We’re definitely not for everybody and we’re totally OK with that. When people ask for special things, honestly, it’s really difficult to accommodate because we are so small
When we started it was just me and Juan in the kitchen and Fanny and Patrick up front. When it’s your business, it just forces you to put every ounce into it because you know you’re going to make this work and be great. You do what you have to do to make it work. There was never a point when I thought it wasn’t going to work. I mean sure, we barely have a sign and we’re in an alleyway and in a neighborhood some people think is weird and sketchy, even thought it’s not. But people found us. I think that had to do with the conviviality of it. It’s a neighborhood place. You just walk in and we present something different. We offer a really unique dining experience that’s something off the beaten path.
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