La Petite France is sold but not closing

The original owners of the restaurant bow out, but new owners will get help


 Saturday, June 3, 2006

 Those rumors about La Petite France, Richmond’s first authentic French restaurant, are true.

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Chef Paul
Elbling and his wife and co-owner, Marie-Antoinette, have sold the
restaurant to a Vietnamese immigrant who, like them, came to the United
States with next to nothing.

Rumors are
false, however, that the 35-year-old haute-cuisine establishment is
closing. La Petite and its classic French menu, recipes, chefs and
staff will remain the same.

The five
children of Lilly Nguyen, who fled war-torn Vietnam in 1975 after her
husband died, bought La Petite outright for $400,000 as a gift of
appreciation for her.

bought it because they know I want to come back in a restaurant. I love
a restaurant," Nguyen, 65, said. "They say, ‘OK, Mommy,’ and they
bought it for me."

Nguyen once
owned two Café Indochine restaurants, one still in operation in
Carytown and one closed in Shockoe Slip. She sold them years ago
because of health problems, but has recovered, she said.

That’s one of the reasons Paul Elbling wants to take a break.

tired," the chef said yesterday. "It’s time." He said he needs
hip-replacement surgery after standing in the kitchen for more than 15
hours a day since he was 13 years old.

The Elblings immigrated in 1967 just after they were married in France, and opened the first La Petite here in 1971.

Elblings are training Nguyen (pronounced "when") and her daughter Tina,
who will assist running the dining room with her mother. Paul Elbling
will continue to help them as a consultant. Come fall, he will consult
and teach part time at Johnson & Wales University culinary school
in Charlotte, N.C.

Tears welled in Marie Elbling’s eyes yesterday when she said the couple had indeed sold the restaurant May 15.

Nguygens had been trying to talk the Elblings into selling for about
eight months, Paul Elbling said. But he said the decision to do so was
made quickly.

On April
21, he told a Times-Dispatch reporter he had no intention of selling or
retiring: "I’ll be 66 in August and I’m too young to retire. Eventually
one day, yes, maybe, but right now, not at all."

"It is stressful and very emotional," Marie Elbling said. "Our customers are our family."

The original article can be found at RTD.  The Buyers were represented by Richard Holden, Principal Broker at Bandazian & Holden.