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Chez Napoleon was finally given the go-ahead to reopen on Tuesday afternoon, after a 12-minute inspection ended a 358-day snafu. Con Edison inspectors approved turning the gas back on, allowing the beloved Hell’s Kitchen French standard to plan to reopen on December 1 — a week short of a full year since it was forced to shut down.

William Welles is ready to celebrate Chez Napoleon getting the go-ahead to reopen — which he and his mother Elyane Bruno say will happen on December 1. Photo: Naty Caez

W42ST has kept the spotlight on the closure, which started with a faulty gas meter and turned into a Kafka-esqe bureaucratic nightmare for William Welles and his mother Elyane Bruno, who have run the W50th Street restaurant for 40 years.

On November 3, we revealed that Elyane and William had set a make-or-break deadline of November 30 for the restaurant’s future: if they were still fighting red tape by then, they would need to make the heartbreaking decision to close. But on Tuesday, that possibility was thankfully taken off the agenda.

Elyane Bruno and her son William Welles plan to be back in business on December 1 — which will delight their long-time customers. Photo: Phil O’Brien

And in the end, it was William who had to rush to be at the restaurant, a day earlier than he had expected for the Con Edison inspection. “The roughest part is that you keep waiting and waiting,” said William. “But as soon as something happens and it’s like boom-boom-boom, you have to be here!”

After a Zoom call with City Council Member Erik Bottcher’s office, the Department of Buildings, and the FDNY, “We were told we’d get the gas back on Wednesday at the earliest,” said William. “But this morning, my mother woke up and told me they’d contacted her and they’d be in this afternoon!”

Rushing into Manhattan from Queens, William arrived to find plumbers waiting for Con Edison — after all the rush, was it a false alarm? “We’re waiting, and we’re waiting, and finally we called Con Edison,” said William. “Their dispatcher said ‘Oh I didn’t know we had to do this today, we’ll send someone over’ — it’s just never ending, even when you’re at the finish line.”

Time came close to running out for Chez Napoleon, but with just days to go before a deadline William and Elyane had set, the gas was restored. Photo: Naty Caez

In the end, the faulty gas meter that kicked off the long shutdown was the last piece of the puzzle. “The whole problem in the first place was the meter, and it’s the last thing they put on,” said William. 

He wondered how long this seemingly simple repair would have taken in a world where navigating the city’s maze-like approvals process functioned as it should. “All in all, I think if everything would’ve worked systematically — it probably would’ve been a three week closure,” said William. 

“It was such a long process. I can’t imagine where we would be at if I didn’t have help from the city and Erik Bottcher’s office,” he said, also adding that local Hell’s Kitchen business owners like Robert Guarino of Marseille and 5 Napkin Burger were crucially supportive. “Robert did an email blast to his list of Marseille clientele, and we got a great amount of donations just yesterday, which was a huge help.”

Donations collected by the restaurant’s GoFundMe will help kickstart Chez Napoleon’s road to reopening, he said, as the need to restock, reimburse repairs and re-staff the restaurant will require significant upfront funding. 

William Welles is already getting ready to reopen. But he warned: “This is like opening a brand new restaurant again.” Photo: Naty Caez

“There’s still work ahead. Today’s a red letter day, but there are still some tough times ahead,” said William. “But I’m looking forward to working and getting back into the groove of normal life.” 

He told W42ST that they plan to layer back in menu items and service capacity as they get their bearings, but they’re used to the process of a hard reboot after COVID-19 and the subsequent restaurant closures. “We have done this already,” said William, “and we want to see where we are along the way and make sure we can get things running smoothly — this is like opening a brand new restaurant again.” 

All being well, Chez Napoleon will be welcoming guests on December 1, a herculean effort for William and his mother but one which will be welcomed by Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Naty Caez

Despite the road ahead, William said that he and his mother were thrilled to have this chapter behind them. “The worst of it’s done. But now, the work begins,” said William. “But it’s nice to be back open and be part of Hell’s Kitchen again.” 

Toutes nos félicitations, Chez Napoleon! 

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12 Comments

  1. So heartening to learn of neighbors & other businesses assisting!
    Three cheers to Erik Bottcher, all who contributed & W42St.com for the needed publicity!

  2. Thanks to all and to W. 42nd St. We live in Chelsea and didn’t know about Chez Napoleon. Now that we do, allons y!

  3. I have NO DOUBT that the continued coverage of this story helped push things along (thank you, W42ST!). My co-op has been struggling for 2 years for a permit to replace our boiler and each winter are in jeopardy of having no heat, in spite of begging the city to tell us what else they need. NYC bureaucracy is disgraceful!! Congrats to Chez N for their success. I will be going there soon to show my support.

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