By Sabina Mollot
Petite Abeille, the Belgian restaurant well known for being family-friendly as well as its mouth-watering Croque Monsieurs, will soon be turning 20.
Yves Jadot, who owns the restaurant’s two locations (one in Peter Cooper Village, the other in Chelsea) with his brothers Christophe and David, said the company is going to be celebrating the landmark in part with a contest to design a new logo for the restaurant. Currently, it’s an image of a cute, smiling bee, since the meaning of Petite Abeille is “little bee.”
“What we’re saying is she’s all grown up,” explained Jadot. “She’s going to be 20 on July 19. She needs a facelift because she’s not a little girl anymore. The logo is a bit childish so we’re trying to make it more mature.”
July 19 is also when the restaurant in Peter Cooper will be holding its annual Belgian Day celebration, which usually includes a Miss Belgium pageant.
As for the art contest the company plans to hold, the winner will get a $1,000 cash prize as well as a life time of free brunch. Details on how to enter will soon be on the restaurant’s website.
Jadot, in a recent interview with Town & Village, mentioned his eateries were growing up in another ways as well. For instance, at the Peter Cooper location, he’s been adapting to the influx of 20-somethings, including many students, into the neighborhood. While still a family-oriented place, the décor at Petite Abeille has been getting gradually changed, with art that’s a bit darker added alongside the current decorations on the walls of Tintin cartoons and Jadot is planning to bring in a pool table by the bar area.
“It’s one of the reasons we’re changing our logo,” said Jadot. “We need to attract those other clients in Stuy Town.”
The Belgian-born restaurateur is no stranger to change. “It has to change, little by little, to keep up with the competition,” he said.
At one time, Petite Abeille had four locations in Manhattan, but the small chain has recently been streamlined. Two of the restaurants, one in Tribeca, one in Greenwich Village are no longer open. The West Village one, Jadot said was closed because the place was too small. More recently, the Tribeca location closed due to rent and recent competition for the lunch crowd from food trucks as well as healthier options in the area for fast food. Lowering prices as a response didn’t work since Petite Abeille is a place diners go for more leisurely meals and there wasn’t enough turnover. So instead, Jadot said he’s turning that space into a cocktail bar. Jadot added that Tribeca has been a tough neighborhood to survive in, with many of the people who work in the area opting to go back home to Brooklyn or New Jersey rather than stay in Lower Manhattan for dinner. “Twenty restaurants go in one year,” he remarked.
But the rest of Manhattan is tough too. While Jadot said he would like to open more Petite Abeille locations, this time, he said, he’d like to open them in outer boroughs, in Astoria or Brooklyn. Additionally, the concept would be different — more of an “express” or fast food style, said Jadot, similar to Dig Inn or Pret.
“Because,” he explained, “soon that will be the only style of restaurant in Manhattan unless you’re expensive. The rent is so high you have to do volume and to do volume you have to be in a busy neighborhood. I don’t think Petite Abeille could do that.”
It’s safe to say Jadot, who came to the United States 30 years ago, knows the industry pretty well. He got his start through his mother, who owned a café that he sometimes worked in.
Now, with partners, he also owns Vamos!, a Mexican restaurant next to Petite Abeille on First Avenue and 20th Street and a three-concept establishment located at the William Hotel in midtown. One is The Peacock, an upscale English restaurant attached to The Shakespeare, an English pub as well as the Raines Law Room, a cocktail bar. There’s also a Raines Law Room next to the Petite Abeille on West 17th Street. To cater to the college crowd, there’s also Le Maison du Croque Monsieur, a sandwich shop at 13th Street and University Place.
The location at Peter Cooper opened in 2004. The original location of Petite Abeille, in Chelsea, opened in 1995.
Since then, the restaurant’s more popular dishes have included beef stew, mussels, Belgian waffles, stoemp (mashed potatoes with seasonal veggies like leeks or carrots thrown in) and baked mac and cheese made with ham and gruyere. The restaurant also has a gelato stand. There are also 15 different kinds of beer on draft and over 40 in bottles.
One of them is a house beer made with honey. It’s manufactured in a home Jadot owns in Westchester; he previously lived in Stuyvesant Town for 12 years but moved after facing a steep rent increase.