The Making of a Philly Restaurant 2008

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


Anticipated opening: “The third week of May.”

Peter has the frantic enthusiasm of someone who hasn’t slept in 10 days, not since his son Jules was born. “As soon as we get the vanilla box, all we need is two days to move in and — ”

“Two long days,” John Gonzalez interrupts. “Four human days.” John recently left his position as general manager at Striped Bass to become general manager at La Minette — and a general reality check for Peter’s unflagging optimism.

“Two days to move in,” Peter repeats, “and a week to train the staff.”

Two days or four, a week or a month, La Minette is becoming a reality. Reality is an adjustment for Peter, whose image of the restaurant is so clear, he’s been heard complaining about the need to post glowing red exit signs. (“They’re not French.”) Reality is the $41,000 sprinkler-system surprise, the last-minute decision to have exposed brick in the dining room to save the four inches of space drywall would require, the relocation of the restaurant’s front entrance to meet fire codes. Each compromise becomes a debate between authenticity (Peter) and money (Peter’s father). “I have to defend authenticity,” Peter says, and he does, sometimes loudly. “Otherwise I’m just going to be another restaurant, a restaurant with no soul.”

The construction concerns seem never-ending, but slowly, Peter and John are shifting their attention from the real estate business to restaurant business. There are wines to be tasted to create an affordable, all-French wine list, and cocktails to be mixed. There are recipes to be perfected.

Peter cooked the first “La Minette dinner” several months ago in his parents’ Old City loft, as part of his efforts to woo John to join the project. “When I tasted Pete’s salmon tartare, I was convinced,” John says. Now it’s time for the chef to get back into the kitchen. Christophe will fly in from France to help Peter test dozens of recipes in his South Philly home kitchen, but after that, Peter’s on his own. The sous-chef couldn’t secure the visa he needed to work in the United States. Which leads to the question of staffing. To serve dinner six days a week, Peter has budgeted for two cooks in the kitchen; John plans on six to 10 people in the front of the house.

“I’m not scared of anything,” Peter says. “But I’m … trepidatious. I’m trepidatious of staffing. I know I’m going to find people, and I know I’m going to find some duds.”

“I’m nervous,” John says.