The Making of a Philly Restaurant 2008

What, you thought it would be easy opening a little French bistro?

FALL 2007

Anticipated opening: “A truly educated guess: February 15th”

When Peter saw a boarded-up shell of a space in Queen Village almost six months ago, he said, “My gut feeling is that this is the one.” This, despite the three-story-high dalmatian painted on the facade of the long-abandoned building, a marketing gimmick for a short-lived nightclub across the street. Now, finally, he has the keys to 623 South 6th Street. This corner already has two restaurants — creperie Beau Monde and Middle Eastern Shouk — with rumors of a third, though La Minette’s entrée price will be $3 or $4 above the neighborhood average.

“The numbers make sense,” Peter says of the building (though the financing plan was complicated; Peter’s father partnered with a developer to purchase the building, which then sold the first-floor space and basement to the restaurant for $750,000). In truth, though, it wasn’t money that convinced Peter. It was the aged iron pillars dividing the 70-by-25-foot room that first sold him on the space. Even months later, when one of those fluted pillars stands, unavoidably, in the middle of the kitchen, Peter gushes about their charm. And the 14-foot ceilings? “The ceilings automatically change the restaurant. You can’t be a country bistro with 14-foot ceilings,” Peter says. You can almost see him mentally renovating his restaurant, weighing the authenticity of this new obstacle. His conclusion: “You are a city bistro. You see a spot, and suddenly the style of the furniture in the restaurant changes in your head.”

Peter props open the door to let some light into the empty building and begins the tour. The restaurant’s entrance will be in the northwest corner of the long, narrow room; a small bar will anchor the southwest corner. The liquor license was pricey — $65,000 for the one previously held by Bennigan’s, plus $5,000 in legal fees — but the approval process was smooth.

In the “kitchen,” Peter pivots on one foot to show the economy of motion the design allows for; he walks the dimensions of the basement; he can even describe the soon-to-be-built bathrooms. Peter has already filled the rooms of his father’s Northern Liberties art studio with furniture and tchotchkes to decorate the space. On a vacation to visit Peggy’s family in France, he collected authenticity: copper pots, linen-lined breadbaskets, fogged mirrors, even an iron chicken. His father has been busy with local auctions, hunting for patinated sideboards and burnished chandeliers.

But right now, there’s nothing here except raw space — the grill of a car over here, an old furniture sign over there — and nothing but darkness and months of construction ahead. “I’m not ready to worry yet,” Peter says. His left hand comes up to his face, under his glasses, and rubs his eyes. “I come from a long line of Jewish worriers. I know when to worry. I have other things in my life to worry about. How do I open a restaurant and still be a good father?”

That’s one timeline that won’t change: Peter and Peggy are expecting their first child on April 1st.