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The owners of beloved Hell’s Kitchen restaurant Chez Napoleon have set a fast-approaching reopening deadline — stating that if the single piece of paper keeping the 62-year-old institution shut is not issued imminently, they will close permanently on November 30, ending an 11-month struggle which has seen them lose $750,000 in revenue.
Elyane Bruno, 75, and son William Welles — who have operated the French standard W50th Street just east of 9th Avenue since 1982 — closed the restaurant on December 8 last year, after an apparent gas line problem led to the discovery of a litany of issues within the 124-year-old building. Since then, they have been caught in a nightmarish 329-day battle of bureaucratic paperwork, requiring them to coordinate with four private contractors, three city agencies and two elected officials in an attempt to reopen.
William told W42ST that the restaurant must reopen by November 30 or they will be forced to shutter Chez Napoleon forever, after losing an estimated $750,000. Just one golden ticket now stands in the way of serving its beloved escargot, canard and steak au poivre: an Ansul test report from the FDNY, demonstrating that the kitchen’s fire suppression system is working properly.
Once received, there are still several hurdles for the Chez Napoleon team to overcome — they will submit the FDNY letter to their contracted plumber, who can then send on the approval to the Department of Buildings, who can then alert ConEdison of the repairs, who will then — finally — send a representative to turn the gas line back on, allowing them to open for business.
But all of those steps depend on the Ansul report, which should have been issued when the FDNY first inspected the kitchen’s exhaust chimney. The FDNY issued an approval for the chimney this week after two more inspections, but without the matching Ansul report, William’s plumbing contractors are unable to move forward.
Who can help push them over the line? William told W42ST that while he has been in touch with Ariel Palitz, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife, “there isn’t much that she can do that this stage — I believe that she can be of more help once we are back up and running,” he added. District 3 City Council Erik Bottcher’s office has been working with the team at Chez Napoleon to expedite the process, and William said that they’d “been keeping up with our plight.”
Council Member Bottcher told W42ST: “Chez Napoleon is a beloved small business and we’ve heard from countless residents since they were forced to close. My team and I have been working with them since the beginning of the year, through various inspections and bureaucratic backups at various agencies.”
He added: “It’s unbelievably frustrating how difficult it is for small businesses to navigate all the City’s agencies and regulations. I’m committed to supporting William and Elyane, and all the small business owners who are just trying to keep their doors open.” W42ST also reached out to the FDNY for an updated timeline on the missing approval letter and we will update if we hear back.
The Hell’s Kitchen fixture has spent over $21,000 on paperwork and repairs alone, in addition to having missed nearly a full year of pivotal revenue. “We have lost about $750,000 in revenue/income due to being closed for 11 months,” said William, adding that between the loss of perishable supplies and dashed opportunities to serve their loyal patrons, it was difficult to gauge exactly how much money they had forfeited.
Though a recent GoFundMe campaign had raised just north of $22,000 — enough to cover current repair costs — William said that they needed to open in order to recoup general operating costs, as well as upcoming fees like the State Liquor Authority’s pricey yearly license renewal.
And unless they are able to get that final chain of communication to reopen, William and Elyane fear they won’t be able to return to business at all, ending decades of the family’s stewardship of an institution which first opened in 1960. Elyane’s parents had been working at Chez Napoleon when she started as a waitress under the original owners, before she bought the restaurant with her mother, Chef ‘Grandmere’ Marguerite Bruno in 1982. Eventually Elyane took over, serving up her beloved Grandmere’s recipes.
William told W42ST that between the exorbitant cost of repairs, the loss of revenue, and their own personal expenses, he and his mother had exhausted their resources. “Even though we are business owners, we are also not getting paid during this ordeal, and now we are trying to survive on our savings alone after all the PPP and Restaurant Revitalization grants have dried up,” he said.
“Our absolute final goal is to re-open Wednesday, November 30th — one week short of one full year of being shut down due to this nightmare,” said William. “If we cannot meet that deadline, then my mother and I will start figuring out how to permanently close our business for good.”
W42ST has been closely following the 11 month saga, and last month presented Elyane and William with a Special Award at our annual Best Of awards ceremony, in recognition of the family’s struggle and the outpouring of affection from Chez Napoleon’s regulars — some of whom have been dining there for decades. After nearly a year of covering the hospitality nail biter, we here at W42ST are holding out hope that the cherished local fixture has yet to serve its last coq au vin.
Hoping everything works out! My family’s favorite restaurant-we’ve spent many happy hours there! Crossing fingers!
I feel so sorry for Elayne and William. As a business owner I am all too aware of how the city and state agencies who are supposed to be helping us appear to be trying to destroy us. Why can’t our elected officials get the system to work?
Sounds like their Waterloo. Hope they prevail!
I started going to Chez Napoleon in 1991, when I lived across the street. I loved entering a time warp of a 1950’s Paris Cafe. Elyane & Jeanine ran the floor with military precision. Marguerite was still running the kitchen and William held court at the bar. Many memories of a classic, well executed menu. I will return for their opening. Paul Altizer
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