Amid a revival of classic French restaurants across the country, Ludovic Lefebvre is quietly growing his Petit Trois concept, one that he feels has legs beyond his home base in Los Angeles.
Lefebvre, who is originally from Auxerre in Burgundy, is already known for his higher-end Trois Mec and more-casual Trois Familia, along with the original Petit Trois in Hollywood, a shoebox-sized restaurant with only a handful of seats.
Last month, Lefebvre debuted a flagship location of Petit Trois in LA’s Sherman Oaks neighborhood, where the chef lives. It’s his largest restaurant so far, with 49 seats, another 12 at the bar and 14 to come when an outdoor patio opens.
It’s a concept that has won high praise from those who love a perfect plate of escargot, a simple croque madame or a traditional frisée salad with a poached egg and lardons. Coming next door will be an adjoining more-casual outlet for takeaway, with rotisserie chicken, breads and pastries.
Though still in the throes of opening jitters, Lefebvre is already thinking about taking Petit Trois to new markets, perhaps opening a couple more in Southern California and then maybe Denver, where he has family.
He is also thinking about developing a Riviera-style bistro as a counterpoint to Petit Trois’ more-northern-France butter-and-cream emphasis. The Riviera concept would feature more vegetables, grilled meat and fish, and olive oil rather than butter, he said.
“It’ll be a restaurant where you feel like you’re in the South of France, like you’re on vacation at the beach,” said Lefebvre.
Some observers see a resurgence of traditional French restaurants, pointing to the success of acclaimed chefs like Dominique Crenn’s new Bar Crenn in San Francisco and Daniel Rose’s Le Coucou in New York.
Miffed not to be included, Lefebvre said he’s been offering authentic French fare in the U.S. for years. He spent 12 years in his native France training with chefs that include Marc Meneau, Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard. In 1999, he became chef at the iconic French restaurant L’Orangerie in Los Angeles, later moving to Bastide, before he opened Trois Mec in 2013 and the first Petit Trois a year later.
“When I started French food four years ago, French food was going down. French food was not at the top of the chain. Three or four years ago, I would get so much press about it. And it was good. I was happy for my culture, for me to represent my country. I’m French,” he said.
But Lefebvre, who has been twice nominated for James Beard Awards, said he is not trying to pioneer a revival, but simply to open restaurants that he misses from France.
“I opened the first Petit Trois, tiny like that, because when I go back to my tiny city in Auxerre, there’s a little bar called Le Rendez Vous, and it’s so tiny and it feels so good. It’s everything where you get happiness,” he said. “For me, a restaurant is about the food, but more for me it’s to create a life inside the restaurant. I was missing that from France.”
Part of the challenge in the U.S., however, is recreating that energy and everyday accessibility in a tight labor pool, he said.
“To be creative, open a restaurant and raise money, I would say that’s an easy task. But to create a team, it’s very difficult,” he said. “It’s like [movie] casting. If I don’t have a good team, I’m going to fail.”
Lefebvre uses an 18-percent service charge at his restaurants, which he said allows him to pay more equally between the front and back of the house. He doesn’t call it “hospitality included,” because it’s not mandatory.
“I want to pay more hourly and also to try to balance equally between everybody, the waiter, dishwasher. Everybody’s working very hard, everybody. It’s not just the waiter,” he said.
Lefebvre is also able to offer benefits like health insurance in part because of an innovative partnership with fellow chef-restaurateurs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, whose Los Angeles restaurants include Animal, Son of a Gun and Jon & Vinny’s. A second Jon & Vinny’s location is slated to open in Brentwood, Calif, this summer.
The three have created a restaurant group with shared ownership and purchasing power, but separate branding.
If one of the partners needs a vacation, for example, another might step in to cover for him, Lefebvre said.
The group has also joined forces to invest in up-and-coming restaurateurs.
Shook and Dotolo are investors in the Los Angeles restaurant Kismet launched by Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson — often called “the Sarahs” — a Mideast-meets-California concept which is also part of the group, along with a fast-casual falafel shop variation called Madcapra.
Lefebvre also has outlets of a fast-casual fried-chicken-bites concept called LudoBird at Staples Center and Universal CityWalk in LA. In addition, he may do food for Air France, he said, and he offers cooking classes online and has various partnerships with appliance brands.
“I love to explore new things. To me, cooking outside the restaurant is cool too,” he said. “I have a big canvas. I can play a lot.”
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
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