Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Chef's Table Owners Finding It Hard to Let Go

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Chef's Table Owners Finding It Hard to Let Go

Article excerpt

Remember the Chef's Table in Franklin Lakes? Yes, it's still open. In fact, on many nights, it might be North Jersey's best half- empty restaurant.

Two and a half years after owners Claude and Dolores Baills first put the Franklin Lakes institution up for sale, they had expected to have long served their final beef bourguignon and to be well into retirement. So why are the 72-year-old French cooking giant and his 74-year-old wife still toiling away in the kitchen and dining room, even as their business dwindles?

"It is so frustrating and disappointing," said Dolores Baills on their failure, so far, to sell their 45-seat BYO restaurant. "Never did I think it would be so hard to sell a business."

The Oakland couple appear to be victims of their own success. They transformed a former pizza joint in a strip mall into a unique and most unlikely of French restaurants, thanks mostly to Claude's exquisite French cooking and his outsized reputation from having worked at iconic kitchens such as The Palace in Manhattan and the former Claude's Ho-Ho-Kus Inn.

Customers don't care about the vinyl banquettes or the unglamorous room -- they only care that they can eat extraordinary foie gras and escargot at relatively bargain prices without the fuss of dressing up or going to Manhattan.

But take away Claude -- and his wife and son, who seamlessly run the dining room -- and what is there left to sell? Not much, buyers apparently are saying.

"Claude is very well-known," often interacting with customers, and "prospective buyers were afraid when that went away, whatever business was there would go away," said Bill Kapas, president of J.C. Kapas Real Estate Co. in Rochelle Park, which specializes in restaurants and spent a year trying to sell the Chef's Table.

"In small business, if you make it about you, it makes your business hard to sell," said Kapas, who no longer represents the restaurant. With the Baillses' retirement, buyers see "a place with a kitchen and some tables and chairs, but not much more than that."

Kapas compared that with the success he had selling the Saddle River Inn in 2013, where, he said, previous owner Hans Egg spent less time interacting with customers. Buyers could more easily envision their own concept for the restaurant, located in a former barn right on the Saddle River.

The Chef's Table is in a similarly affluent area, but has far less curb appeal, sandwiched in the middle of a strip mall.

"You've got to know where it is in order to get there," said longtime Bergen chef Arthur Toufayan, whom the Baillses identified as their most serious prospective buyer. …

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