Versailles relaunch combines the classic with the new

Above, Marc and Evelyne Penvenne have tried to infuse Versailles’ classic feel with new energy and a fresh look. Below, the classic sweets the restaurant has been known for are on display and make for quite an impressive (and delicious) sight.  —Ken Borsuk

Above, Marc and Evelyne Penvenne have tried to infuse Versailles’ classic feel with new energy and a fresh look. Below, the classic sweets the restaurant has been known for are on display and make for quite an impressive (and delicious) sight.
—Ken Borsuk

With more than 30 years in town and a legion of dedicated patrons, many consider Versailles a Greenwich institution, and now it has once again opened its doors on Greenwich Avenue.

Versailles’ story is one characterized by change. It is a restaurant that over the years has undergone new locations, renovations, and owners.  Evelyne and Marc Penvenne, a husband and wife team and the owners of popular creperie Méli-Mélo, have now taken the helm at Versailles.

After being operated by the Versailles family for decades, the restaurant was closed in April 2013. With it’s long history in town, its absence was felt by many, who were both surprised and sad to see it go. Evelyne and Marc were among this group of people.

“Every customer was saying that they were sad to see Versailles go, and for us, it was the same thing,” said Ms. Penvenne, who runs the front of the house of both businesses.

Over the years, the Penvennes have been approached with countless offers to duplicate their 20-year restaurant, Méli-Mélo, something that they hesitated to do in different towns. When the opportunity arose to run Versailles, they jumped to take it.

The convenience is unparalleled, with the two restaurants being a mere stone’s throw from each other on Greenwich Avenue. With the presence of the Penvennes, a few of their Méli-Mélo staff and loyal diners, Ms. Penvenne comments that it simply feels like the family has just gotten a little bigger.

Both of the Penvennes’ daughters, 24-year-old Anne-Charlotte and 31-year-old Anne-Laure, have worked in the family business, as hostesses and waitresses at Méli-Mélo. Another longtime member of the team is Cedric Lamouille, who has been with the company for five years as Méli-Mélo’s executive catering chef, and previously spent 15 years at Jean-Louis restaurant. Mr. Lamouille will now be moving across the street to man the kitchen at Versailles.

With the oversight of Mr. Penvenne, the chef of Méli-Mélo, the menu at Versailles has been revamped, with more affordable options that are rooted in French cuisine. There is also a new wine list that features a selection of affordable wines from a wide variety of French vineyards. Mr. Penvenne describes the wine list as “typical French,” characterized by wine from small, quality French vineyards.

As a whole, Versailles has undergone quite the transformation in its relaunch, which took place with a soft opening that began in December. The previous location was somewhat of an upscale locale, but with the new iteration the Penvennes say they have taken a page from the classic, authentic French bistro. They’ve recreated the homey, comfortable and cozy banquetted feel of these establishments. It’s a place where you can stop in any time of day to grab a pastry or to sit down and spend some time.

“We wanted to basically reproduce a Parisian bistro. I think the ambiance is completely different, I would say it’s more casual. It’s a low-key place that you can go any time during the day,” Mr. Penvenne said.

“It’s like the bistros that we knew when we were growing up,” said Ms. Penvenne.

Certain parts of the original establishment were left untouched, such as the foyer’s classic tiles, and the signature gold V emblazoned on the kitchen door. The Penvennes adopted this symbol as the operation’s updated and refreshed logo, to symbolize a modern and new take on Versailles. They’ve also coined a new nickname, Bistro V, to accompany the new image of the restaurant.

Now a few months in, the Penvennes are pleased to report that the reception from the community, and from Versailles’ loyal original customer base, has been resoundingly positive. With the team ready, Mr. Penvenne hopes to cultivate a strong dinner business and continue the familiar patisserie, breakfast and brunch menus championed by the original Versailles.

“The Versailles customers definitely come back. I think that everybody in town, including us, were sad to see the place closing. People are so happy to see us over here, because there was something missing on the Avenue,” said Mr. Penvenne.

The Penvennes credit the early success of the restaurant to the culture of Greenwich, whose residents enjoy dining out and trying new cuisines. The audience of diners is certainly eclectic, composed of foodies who love to dine out, longtime Versailles supporters, and Méli-Mélo fans.

“With any restaurant in Greenwich, people try everything. Wherever you go in town, you’re going to see basically the same faces,” said Mr. Penvenne. “Definitely Versailles is a different type of restaurant (than Méli-Mélo), but we do have a lot of customers from Méli-Mélo that know us and know the quality that we provide. Because of that they try Versailles.”

Both the Penvennes stress that Versailles and Méli-Mélo are very different, with each offering a unique experience. Méli-Mélo is more of a creperie and juice bar, while Versailles is staunchly an all-day bistro. Mr. Penvenne calls the atmosphere and ambiance of both restaurants “completely different,” with the only commonality being the quality of the product.

From the original Méli-Mélo, a tiny, shoebox-sized restaurant of 550 square feet, to a move to an expansive prime location in 2011, and now Versailles, the family business certainly has grown. The Penvennes admit that while working in the restaurant industry can be tough with its demanding hours and fast pace, they love what they do, and the town they do business in.

“To get in two places, you have to love it. It’s not work, it’s pleasure… We have loyal customers — definitely Greenwich is a wonderful town to do business,” Mr. Penvenne said.

Prior to opening Méli-Mélo in 1994, Mr. and Mrs. Penvenne lived in St. Barths, where they worked at a large hotel restaurant. A career in the food industry was somewhat of a given for Mr. Penvenne, whose family had worked in the food business for generations. After moving to Greenwich in 1990, he had stints at Jean-Louis and even at Versailles, as a manager. In a sense, his return two decades later can be seen as a homecoming of sorts. He’s hoping to do his best to continue the restaurant’s legacy.

The Penvennes decided to relaunch Versailles simply because they couldn’t bear to see the restaurant go. Thanks to their efforts, now even more generations may enjoy the pleasures that Versailles has brought so many Greenwich residents over the years.

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