Michel Roux Jr has expressed his sentiments regarding the "heartfelt" choice to shut down his family's dining establishment, Le Gavroche, in London in January 2024, marking 56 years since its initial inauguration.
The 63-year-old culinary expert assembled the staff at the prestigious two-Michelin-starred eatery to personally convey this information, prior to revealing the resolution to the media.
Roux Jr said:
"That was very hard, very, very tough.
But it's been heartwarming to see all the comments [on social media] from staff that have worked for me over the years...all the very kind words saying how wonderful it was. It is very heartwarming in one way but also very tough emotionally."
Originally established on Chelsea's Lower Sloane Street in 1967 by Michel Roux Jr's father Albert and his uncle Michel, Le Gavroche made its debut appearance in the inaugural Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland in 1974. It relocated to its present location on Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, in 1981 and secured the distinction of being the first restaurant in the UK to attain three Michelin stars in 1982.
This eatery became a notable fixture in London renowned for its traditionally opulent French haute cuisine, and has witnessed the involvement of notable chefs like Monica Galetti, Gordon Ramsay, Pierre Koffmann, and Marco Pierre White within its culinary domain. Michel Roux Jr assumed leadership of the restaurant's operations in 1991.
After guiding the establishment for a span of 33 years, Roux Jr continues to make an appearance at Le Gavroche nightly, appearing both in the kitchen and on the dining floor to welcome each guest with "a heartfelt embrace and a smile". Nevertheless, he conceded that the demands of overseeing a two-Michelin-starred restaurant had taken a toll, and in an official announcement about the closure, he cited a yearning for an improved equilibrium between work and personal life.
Roux Jr added:
"I find it very difficult when the restaurant is open not to be there. Being able to free up the evenings [will be] really special for me. It's going to be great to spend a little bit more time with my wife and my grandchildren, family is super important.
I can't say it's been brewing for a while. But during the pandemic I did almost give the keys back to the landlord.
There were times when I did think, 'why the hell am I doing this and trying to keep the business afloat', when it felt there was no way out.
That was very tough, but we came out of it strong and much better for it in many respects."
In spite of the challenges confronting the hospitality sector, Roux Jr maintained that the decision to close was not motivated by financial considerations. The lease for Le Gavroche was reaching its conclusion, and he conveyed that the choice to shut down felt "fitting and well-judged".
Despite being vocal about the adverse impacts of Brexit and escalating inflation on the hospitality sector, he noted that Le Gavroche's "privileged" situation allowed it to safeguard against these issues.
The restaurant has consistently maintained full occupancy each evening, drawing people from around the globe to savor its traditional French fare. Nonetheless, Roux Jr acknowledges the toll on the broader industry.
Roux Jr commented:
"If the cost of energy or raw ingredients goes up, I can afford to put five or ten quid on the bill and people coming to Gavroche will not really look at it.
But small independent restaurants or those that are just starting out are very price sensitive, and the cost of running a business in our industry is just horrendous.
The cost of energy is crippling, and a lot more could be done. The business rates as well are coming back full whack next year.
How are restaurants and pubs supposed to operate like that? It's just not going to work.
Sadly, there will be a lot more independent businesses that go to the wall, unless there's help from the government, which doesn't seem to be coming."
He censured the absence of governmental support for enterprises and appended – with a touch of playful sarcasm – that Members of Parliament were probably dining at "exceptionally upscale establishments," thereby shielded from the difficulties faced by businesses on the main streets.
Roux Jr takes pride in the enduring presence of Le Gavroche and the restaurant's ability to maintain a steady flow of patrons for 56 years, weathering challenges such as a pandemic, economic downturns, and consecutive transportation disruptions, alongside other obstacles. Throughout this period, the restaurant's influence on the British culinary landscape should not be downplayed.
"I think [Le Gavroche] was the beginning of a culinary revolution in the UK.
I was a child through the 1960's and 70s...the food scene in those days was absolutely dire.
This younger generation doesn't remember the terrible British food years. I grew up through it and went to English schools, I was fed on grisly mince and powdered mashed potato."
In anticipation of the final service scheduled for January, Roux Jr has devised plans to arrange "four or five" exclusive dinners at Le Gavroche, open to paying guests. These gatherings will be themed around previous menus spanning the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Notably, former head chefs of the establishment, as well as Silvano Giraldin, the longstanding general manager who retired in 2008, will make appearances during these occasions.
Roux Jr conveyed that more information regarding these events would be disseminated through the Le Gavroche newsletter, and he anticipates the dinners to sell out "in a matter of minutes."
Furthermore, the chef intends to host an event for the charitable organisations that he supports. Additionally, a special dinner for culinary college students is planned, offering them the chance to experience dining at Le Gavroche. "I aim to provide significant contributions before closing our doors," he elaborated.
Regarding the restaurant's team, there will be discussions about redundancies in the coming weeks, and Roux Jr confirmed that all suppliers would receive their payments, and the staff would be "exceptionally well taken care of."
The restaurant intends to divest its memorabilia, encompassing plates, cutlery, and engraved water glasses. This process is likely to adopt the form of an open day, rather than an auction. Unfortunately, one of the restaurant's decorative sculptures, a frog fashioned from repurposed cutlery, was stolen earlier this year and remains unrecovered. Roux Jr disclosed that numerous other figurines will be offered for sale.
The cessation of operations at the Upper Brook Street location does not mark the end of the Le Gavroche presence. Roux Jr has already engaged in discussions with hotels regarding potential pop-up ventures or residencies. Furthermore, a partnership has been established with the cruise line Cunard, bringing Le Gavroche aboard their luxurious ships for culinary experiences at sea.
The chef will persist in his commitment to the Roux Scholarship, collaborating with Compass Group, overseeing the Roux restaurants in Scotland, and spearheading food and beverage operations at the Langham, London hotel, in addition to participating in some television projects.
Despite maintaining a busy schedule, Roux Jr expressed a hope that the closure would afford him increased autonomy over his working hours.
Le Gavroche's timeline:
1967 – Albert Roux and Michel Roux open Le Gavroche on Lower Sloane Street in Chelsea
1974 – Le Gavroche is featured in the inaugural Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland in 1974
1977 – A second Michelin star is awarded
1981 – The restaurant moves to Upper Brook Street, Mayfair
1982 – Le Gavroche is the first restaurant in the UK to be awarded three Michelin stars
1986 – Albert takes sole control of Le Gavroche and Michel leaves for the Waterside Inn
1991 – Michel Roux Jr takes over as chef patron from his father, Albert
1993 – Two Michelin stars awarded
2016 – Michel Roux Jr celebrates 25 years at the helm of Le Gavroche
2017 – Le Gavroche reaches its 50th anniversary milestone
2021 – Michel Roux Jr celebrates 30 years at the helm of Le Gavroche