Chef Georges Perrier says his plans to close the iconic Le Bec-Fin are off.
While champagne corks popped as part of the New Year's Eve revelry inside his French restaurant on Walnut Street, Perrier gave patrons something else to celebrate as he spread the word that Le Bec-Fin would remain open and that he was granting a partnership to his chef, Nicholas Elmi, 30.
Perrier, 67, said in an interview that the restaurant, a French idiom for "the good taste," would close - but only temporarily - in August for extensive renovations to the downstairs bar, known as Le Bar Lyonnais, and to the mezzanine dining area.
Impassioned pleas from far and wide led to a reversal of his announced intentions in the summer to shutter the restaurant forever, Perrier said.
"I have received an outpouring of letters from all over the world, begging me not to close," he said, scoffing at any notion that his plan to sell had been a ploy.
Though Perrier has declined to discuss business, customer counts seem to have improved since late July, as many patrons booked what they believed would be their final meals at the landmark. Perrier moved Le Bec-Fin into 1523 Walnut St. in 1983 after 13 years on Spruce Street.
He had shown a strong case of seller's remorse, hinting to friends in recent weeks that he would not close. He had declined to address the issue before Friday night.
It was clear through the fall that Perrier did not have his heart in a sale, even though his restaurant's popularity had been waning in this age of dressed-down dining.
"I've thought about this for a long time," he said in July. "The food is still spectacular, but I think it's time to move on."
Perrier initially denied that he had signed a listing agreement in the summer, even after The Inquirer showed him a copy of the prospectus. The next day, he acknowledged to staff that Le Bec-Fin was winding down. At the time, he vowed to open at least two restaurants elsewhere in the city.
Perrier was asking $3.9 million for the art deco building. The business was priced at $600,000.
A representative of Mallin Panchelli Nadel Realty, the real estate broker handling the sale, did not reply to a message seeking comment on the listing. Two commercial brokers said Saturday that the property had received little interest.
Le Bec-Fin, which has won virtually every distinction the culinary world offers, has in recent years lightened up, offering a la carte meals priced at perhaps a third of the traditional fixed-price menu and relaxing the dress code. It still has its signature dessert cart and one of the best wine cellars in the region.
Perrier, who also owns Georges' in Wayne and has interests in several other restaurants, said he also planned to open a bakery, the Art of Bread by Georges Perrier, at 920 Montgomery Ave. in Narberth in the spring.
Contact staff writer Michael Klein