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Entering the ninth month of their gas line shutdown, legendary neighborhood eatery Chez Napoleon has launched a Go Fund Me to stay afloat as they await further city inspections. 

Elayne Bruno and son William Welles are hoping to save the historic Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. Photo supplied

The 62-year old, family-run restaurant has been closed since the end of last year, when Con Edison shut off the building’s gas over concerns of a leak in the system. Since then “my mother and I have been lost in a sea of bureaucratic red tape while dealing with New York City’s Department of Buildings, the Fire Department, Con Edison, and the plumbers,” said owner William Welles. Since 1982 he and his mother, Elayne Bruno, have operated the restaurant known for its decadent, family-recipe French fare in an intimate, convivial setting. 

“We’ve been filling out forms, sending requests for permits, and waiting weeks on end for necessary inspections to finally happen to make any forward moving progress toward re-opening our doors to our customers,” added Welles. “And although our building’s owner has generously suspended our monthly rent while we cannot fully operate, our restaurant’s insurance has denied our claim of ‘loss of income’ because this was a building-wide issue…not a restaurant issue. Because, yeah…insurance companies.” 

Chez Napoleon is one of the oldest French restaurants left in Manhattan. Photo: Phil O’Brien

While inspectors never found a gas leak, the building’s system was deemed not up to code, which jump-started an elongated, circular cycle of approval applications, inspections, paperwork – and massive fees. The restaurant – already struggling after months of COVID-19 closures and being shuttered in December 2021 at the peak of New York’s holiday tourist season – now faces thousands of dollars in repairs, paperwork and equipment fees. Welles told W42ST that the awaited fire valve alone could cost as much as $4,500. 

“Being a proud restaurateur family, my mother and I have held off for as long as we could before turning to a GoFundMe request…but now, alas, the time has come to humbly ask for your kind help to keep our “hyper-traditional” 62-year old restaurant safe from extinction in a city that has seen thousands of beloved neighborhood establishments disappear since 2020,” said Welles. 

Funds raised will go towards replacing the food inventory lost by the restaurant in the shutdown, ongoing utilities such as taxes, permits, licenses and insurance maintained during the temporary closure, maintenance and cleaning costs needed for the eventual re-launch, “And most importantly, enough funds to secure paying the wages of our incredibly loyal staff when they can return to work after so many months of unemployment,” said Welles. 

Though they have faced an unexpectedly laborious wait to reopen, the team at Chez Napoleon is still optimistic that the Hell’s Kitchen mainstay will once again open its doors to newcomers and neighborhood regulars alike. 

Said Welles: “Like Napoléon himself, we might be small, but our determination and will to combat this is strong; but we need your help to win this battle to save our family business.”

Elayne Bruno and William Welles behind the bar at Chez Napoleon. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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