The closure of the Petit Café is not a “light” decision


The Little Cafe has been a staple of fine French cuisine in Branford for a quarter of a century, earning rave reviews and accolades from local and national press and even becoming a regular destination for the celebrity chef Jacques Pepin. But after 25 years on the Branford Green, the famous restaurant has closed its doors.

The decision “was not a light one”, said chef-owner Roy Ip. He said he and his wife and co-owner, Winnie Lui, faced significant renovation costs to upgrade their kitchen to meet insurance requirements.

“The cost was too high for us,” he said, noting that the renovation would have cost $150,000 or more. “We tried to find a solution and to obtain the financing, but the equation does not work.”

The renovations would also have closed the restaurant for a few months, he said, and with ongoing labor shortages in the restaurant industry, he feared losing staff. Profits have also “decreased significantly”, he said, due to rising costs due to inflation, and the restaurant has cut its hours to three nights a week from five as the pandemic has affected deals.

“There’s too much uncertainty out there,” he said.

The restaurant at 225 Montowese Street is officially closed, but Ip says he’s “too young to retire”. The Hong Kong-born chef came to the United States in the early 1990s and graduated with honors from the French Culinary Institute, according to The Little Cafe website.

“[We’re going to] take a break, sit down and think, see, regroup and rest a bit,” he said. “Perhaps we will have a better idea of ​​what to do with our next chapter in the business. We’re not throwing in the towel yet.”

If he and Lui were to reopen in a new location, Ip said they would consider Branford their first choice, calling the town and its people “incredible”. “The support from them has been tremendous over the past 25 years,” he said.

Le Petit Café has earned an “Extraordinary” rating from The New York Times and top marks from Zagat, and has consistently received top honors in Connecticut Magazine Reader Surveys, recently winning “Experts’ Choice” for Best French, Overall Excellence, and Most Romantic. The restaurant was nominated for a 2021 Connecticut Restaurant Association Awards in the “Restaurant of the Year” category (Middlesex and New Haven counties).

The famous French chef Jacques Pépin lists Le Petit Café as one of its local haunts in a 2018 interview with Yankee Magazine. Ip called Pepin his mentor and friend.

“He’s been very supportive of me and he’s also very genuine,” he said. “He’s a mentor, an advisor, and [he’s] helped me grow…he’s amazing.”

Ip said he was moved by the comments left by diners about the restaurant social media post, sharing memories of good meals and happy occasions. The restaurant has hosted countless birthdays, graduation celebrations, anniversaries, first dates and engagements, he said, moments full of “joy and happiness.”

“We have no regrets [over] 25 years old, he said.[Now I’ll] take a break, sit down and prepare for my next culinary journey.”


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