Listen to Learn:
Plenty have ventured into the world of restaurant ownership, but few have done it in such a way as Louis Petit. He prides himself on an infectious happiness and his ability always to see the positive side of people. Petit feels his unique easy-going and even-tempered nature has shaped the successes of his life — and they are plentiful. Petit’s restaurants are famous for their simple menus and eclectic ambiance, and he’s an obsessive yard sale junkie, amassing an extensive collection of objects that adorn his restaurants from floor to ceiling. Born in Belgium during World War II, Petit has spent 60 years in the restaurant business — from Belgium to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he first came to America as a young man, and now in Santa Rosa Beach where his restaurants are a true family affair.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
01:03:10] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
00:00:28] KM: Thank you son, Gray. My guest today is the Little Rock Arkansas restauranter legend, Mr. Louis Petit. His Arkansas folklore began in 1975 when Jacques and Suzanne Treton – How do you say it, Louis?
00:00:43] LP: Treton, yes.
00:00:44] KM: Treton. I’m Arkansas, Treton. But it’s Treton. Decided to bring their European cuisine to Little Rock, Arkansas. Their restaurant was aptly and now famously called Jacque and Suzanne's on the top 30th floor of the First Commercial Bank Building in the Rock, Arkansas. But the Treton’s – Say it again.
00:01:07] LP: Treton.
00:01:08] KM: I can’t do it. I'm just going to say like an Arkansan. The Treton’s. Okay. But the Treton’s didn't stay long. After just a few short months, they left. And their restaurant manager, Mr. Paul Bash, took the reins. His first order of business was to hire a European staff. This is when he heard Mr. Louis Petit as Jacques and Suzanne's first maître'd. For 11 years Mr. Bash, Mr. Moore, and Mr. Petite offered the fine dining, elegant surroundings and a view of Little Rock that was unmatched.
If you have ever wondered why, or had out of town guests asks why are there so many good restaurants in Little Rock? This is why. From Jacques and Suzanne's, Mr. Bash and Mr. Petit, expanded their restaurant empire and spawned many local restauranters and local chefs
on culinary perfection. Among these restaurants, which this is just a few, was Maison Louis, Cafe Prego, Graffiti’s. And now, Keet and Petit.
It is my pleasure to welcome to the table restaurant royalty and our very own French chef, Mr. Louis Petit.
00:02:18] LP: Thank you very much you’re very kind.
00:02:21] KM: Well, hello, friend. Let's start at the beginning. How did you and Paul Bash, two international guys, meet and end up in Little Rock, Arkansas?
00:02:30] LP: It's a very interesting story really, because I met Paul Bash in Brussels, Belgium in 1972. Paul was in Brussels to learn French and French cuisine for a company, a Swiss company, Hotel Lindy.
00:02:46] KM: Hotel Lindy?
LP]: The owner of hotel – It was a Hotel Lindy. It’s a Swiss term. And we met in 1972. He was working in the kitchen, I was a maître'd, and we became friends. He was from – He didn't know
inaudible 00:03:01]. I spoke English a little bit so I was able to teach him, direct him, say, “Don't go to this part of town. Stay here stay there.” We instantly became friends. And he was there just for one year. I mean, then he returned to America.
And after one year I also left Hotel Lindy and work in Switzerland where I apply for a position, a maître'd in Little Rock, Arkansas, the restaurant Jacques and Suzane. And in doing my interview, Jacques said, “Do you know Paul Bash? I said, “Yes, of course. We are friends.” He called him, he said, “Do you know Louis Petit?” “Yeah, absolutely. Hire him.” And this is how I ended up Northern Little Rock, Arkansas.
And Paul Bash being from Findlay, Ohio, it was foreign for him as it was for me. When you come here, you have inches and ounces. And it’s a different –
00:03:51] KM: Yeah, the metric system. You don’t have the metric system.
00:03:54] LP: No. Paul took care of everything. And Paul is an amazing organizer to begin with. And he’s a great person and a great chef, of course. I mean
00:04:08] KM: How did Paul Bash meet Jacques and Suzanne’s? How did he even end up there? And why were you applying? How did you find out about that?
00:04:14] LP: It was a defining moment in life. The gentleman that got him, or the job in Brussels is an American gentleman named Neil Murray who was married to the daughter – Mr. Lindy.
00:04:33] KM: Isn’t that working?
00:04:34] LP: That’s work. They were playing golf. He was a golf partner of Jacques, Jacques Treton. And me and Mr. Murray were playing golf together. And when Jacques said, “We’re opening a French restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. Do you know anybody?” He said, “Yes, I have Paul Bash who –”
00:04:52] KM: Lives in Little Rock.
00:04:53] LP: No. He lives in Findlay, Ohio at the time. So they met. And Jacques hired Paul to run the kitchen, design the kitchen even.
inaudible 00:05:03] We had the whole floor. Remember, it was an amazing restaurant. So beautiful. The view, the sunset on Mormon lake. I mean, we have the bar, the main dinning room, the private room. And the kitchen had the best view. We could see the airport from there. It was amazing. It was the tallest building at the time. I mean, yes, it was such an adventure.
I think I remember, we met in Geneva together and my dream was to come to America. It’s another story that I mentioned to you earlier, that I was born during World War II. My generation, we are very grateful to America for making us free. So the seed was planted when I was a teenager. And my dream was to come to America. And the door opened because –
00:05:57] KM: Because you applied. So how did you find out about – You had already applied though before you knew that Paul Bash was there. We didn’t have the Internet back then. How did you find that stuff out?
00:06:07] LP: They had a thread, newspaper, called Hotel Review.
inaudible 00:06:11]. Because in Switzerland, they lived off tourism. I mean, it’s the number one industry there. You want a chef. You wanted a waiter, a maître'd. Any kind of – Dishwasher, you name it — it’s in that journal (newspaper). I saw this in Little Rock, Arkansas, which was foreign to me. Everyone says, “Why did you come to Little Rock and not to New York, San Francisco
inaudible 00:06:39].” I didn’t choose. They chose me, so to speak. So the door that opens. To me, I wanted to come to America.
I mean, and Little Rock — I have no prejudice, and I’m so blessed, and I go to New York. I have a French accent. 3 million people like me. In Little Rock, I was unique at the time. It was, “Oh, my God. We love your voice.”
inaudible 00:07:05]. And it was instant recognition. So this was amazing part of the success
00:07:11] KM: You are French royalty to us, because we didn’t have any Frenchman here. And we were like, “Louis Petit is here.” You’re like a celebrity.
00:07:19] LP: Yeah, exactly. Because we don’t think – I don’t think I’m a celebrity. I don’t think I’m famous. Yeah, I’m just a lucky waiter. That’s the way I look at myself. Because coming to Little Rock in a brand-new, beautiful restaurant, so elegant, on top of the building. It was –
00:07:37] KM: Were you scared? How did you learn anything? So you saw that there was an opportunity in Little Rock. Your friend, Paul Bash, was here. Serendipity that you all ended up together in Little Rock. But you didn’t know anything about Little Rock probably. How did you learn about it before you came? Or did you just come –
00:07:55] LP: I did not learn anything. But I just came. It was an open mind first of all — and we had heard about the trouble of the high school in 1969, I think.
00:08:05] KM: Aha, '59.
00:08:06] LP: '59. Sorry. So we knew a little bit about it. But this was okay. I mean, if we can see the idea. I didn't come here thinking – I was so happily surprised to be honest. First, the way we were greeted by the – Just to tell you an example. You know, Jacques and Suzanne
were on top of the building. When we arrived, the kitchen was not functioning. And we were just putting the rug on the floor, hanging chandelier and everything. So we would go every lunch to the group of all the European. We were about 15 people I think all together. We would go to the Minuteman downstairs, it was a burger place, to have lunch. And we would sit down a big table. And the public would come to us and say, "Welcome to our city." Oh my God. Because just hearing our speaking friends and laughing and having – Everything was new to us. And they were so nice to us. I mean, the girl behind the counter taking our order. I mean, and the public coming to us and say, "Welcome to Arkansas." Never head that — I mean, in Europe they are much more formal. I mean, they're not as open-minded. A little bit much more snob. I mean, that's why to me coming to Little Rock has been the highlight of my life.
00:09:25] KM: So everybody, including me, thinks you were born in France because you speak French. But you're actually born in Belgium.
00:09:30] LP: In Belgium. Yeah, I’m a French-speaking Belgium. I'm a Walloon.
00:09:33] KM: You're a what?
00:09:37] LP: In French, we have Flemish. Part of Belgium. And the Walloon. I'm a Walloon. Which is like — it’s a French part. I mean, that's what we do. But you have to learn both languages, otherwise you're a foreigner in your own country. Of course, and also you have to go to learn other, like German. We are so close to each other. That's why when you see America, how beautiful this country is. How big this country is.
In Belgium, from the North Sea to the Luxembourg border, this is about 200 miles. Because you're in another country in 200 miles. You can drive three thousand miles, five thousand.
00:10:17] KM: You're still in America.
00:10:18] LP: You're in still in America, speaking the same language, the same rules, same law.
00:10:21] KM: We're so spoiled.
00:10:23] LP: So spoiled It's true. It's such a beautiful country too. I made a road trip a long time ago and we drove from Florida where I live now, to Louisiana, Oklahoma, Santa Fe, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Highway 101 to Seattle, cross the Atlantic. I crossed until I hit the Atlantic Ocean and come down. And
inaudible 00:10:52]. It was beauty. The big sky the country, I mean. And it is a big country. And it is real.
00:11:02] KM: How long that take you to drive?
00:11:03] LP: About the six weeks. No. It was another dream of a child of a – Teenager dream you have. Like you want to do a road trip. You want to go to somewhere. You want to do the Pan-America and you want to do whatever dream you have.
00:11:18] KM: So you did it.
00:11:18] LP: I did it.
00:11:19] KM: How long ago?
00:11:20] LP: Oh, it was like 15 years ago.
00:11:22] KM: Oh, not that long ago.
00:11:23] LP: No. I mean, no. And I'm planning another one now.
00:11:26] KM: You are.
00:11:28] LP: Yes. Little Rock has been amazing to us in more way than one.
00:11:32] KM: You were born in Belgium. But life was hard when you were born.
00:11:36] LP: Yes, because it was World War II. Beginning. I was born in 1941. So after the war, I was five or four years old. I don't remember very much the war except what my mother told me. But like people don't realize, when the war is over, the war is not over. I was eight, nine years old, I still needed tickets to go and get some bread. To rebuild the system, rebuild the
country, rebuild my playground was the houses had been bombed. I mean we didn't even know it was dangerous. We thought it was a great way to play.
00:12:10] KM: Just a field full of glass probably.
00:12:11] LP: Half house, this thing was hanging by a thread. I mean – And there was also bombed hidden somewhere. Unexplode bomb, or grenade, whatever. Not that we – Nobody never got hurt and that kind of thing. But some people did. I mean, because somebody detonated them after –
00:12:30] KM: What did your parents do during the war?
00:12:33] LP: My mother was a single mother. I never met my father. My stepfather is a baker. I mean, was a baker, because he is dead now. And my mother was a housewife.
00:12:47] KM: Yeah. So they went – After the war was over, did he continue to be a baker?
00:12:51] LP: Yes, he continued to be a baker. Because after the war, I mean, it was plentiful. The job for everybody, and we needed to rebuild. I mean, if it didn't work after the war you were really the lazy guy.
inaudible 00:13:04]. We were so hungry. Like now, after two years of COVID, we want to go out. We want travel. We want the again. Imagined after five years of war.
00:13:13] KM: Yeah, you really do.
00:13:15] LP: Some people lost their youth. Some people – Not their life, but just the best year of your life that they're supposed to be fancy free. No. You were worrying about am I going to eat tonight?
00:13:28] KM: What was your first job and how old were you?
00:13:30] LP: I was 13 years old when I worked with my stepfather in the bakery.
00:13:34] KM: Aha. And then you ended up going to work in the hotel. Was that your –
00:13:38] LP: Endorsement in the restaurant.
00:13:40] KM: What was the catalyst that changed you to go ahead into the restaurant career?
00:13:45] LP: Because, I’ll be honest with you, the pay. I mean speaking with a friend, a young guy like me. He was 15 years old. I was 15. And he said I work in a restaurant and he said I make so much money because we get tips. And that's the beauty of the restaurant business. I mean still today. If they say if I hire you, there's a limit to your salary. Even if it's a hundred thousand dollars a year. In the restaurant business there's no limit. I mean, how far how much the restaurant – How well the restaurant works. And sky is the limit.
00:14:15] KM: Yeah, how good the service is.
00:14:17] LP: How good the service is. That's why I became really good at what I do because I realized immediately that if you care, if you are really attentive, if you remember the name of people, the little details, detail, for instance, remember
inaudible 00:14:34]. He used to come Jacques and Suzanne all the time. And I remember he likes J&B drink. J&B with water and ice on the side. So he would come. Boom. It was there. He was impressed by the fact that –
00:14:51] KM: Yes, I’m impressed when people remember. You spawned that restaurant, GraffitI’s, that I think is still around.
00:14:56] LP: Yes .Yes, I mean it has been bought now. But we were there for the 31st anniversary. And Paul McGee –
00:15:03] KM: Paul McGee could remember your drink the minute – Vodka soda? I’d be like, "Yes."
00:15:10] LP: Yes. It's impressive, right? It makes you feel so welcome first of all. And so it's just a feel-good feeling. You arrive
inaudible 00:15:22]. He sees a thousand people in my mouth. I mean –
00:15:26] KM: Oh, and you don't even have to see. You didn't even have to see Paul for two months. And when you walk in. He may not know your name, but he knows what you drink.
00:15:33] LP: He was very excellent at that. And that's the secret of a successful restaurant. To surround yourself with this kind of talent. I mean, this kind of –
00:15:42] KM: That's exactly what other restaurateurs have told us is that it's all about the talent and treating your people good.
00:15:47] LP: Absolutely. The success of the restaurant it's always the teamwork. I mean, people know me. And they will give me a chance to – They will give me the first try yeah. But if they are disappointed, there's too many choices, I mean. So you better have your act together when you open the door. I mean –
00:16:04] KM: You know, teamwork is something that's never been brought up in all the restaurant entrepreneurs that I have interviewed and they've never put it quite like that. But it is such a team from – I mean, if the busboy can mess you up, the expediter can mess you up, the chef can make you, salad –
00:16:20] LP: The weakest link in your –
00:16:23] KM: Will show up in a heartbeat.
00:16:25] LP: Absolutely. But we have – The synergy of the talent of people. Someone would see if there is something is wrong. And then they will correct it before it hits the – For instance, like with the food runner. The system is well done the manual. You are greeted and then you are seated. Then you take your drink order. Then someone will come and take your order. Someone else will bring your order. And you have this ballet going it's so smoothly. It's very smooth. And it's not just the chance of luck. I mean, it's just well planned.
00:17:01] KM: It's a ballet.
00:17:02] LP: It is, absolutely. And that's what you want. You want to leave the restaurant is this nice note. I mean, you don't want to say oh my God we have to wait – Call the waiter three times. So I need like one thing the advice when we train our waiter, when you bring the food, one glance at the word do they need bread. Do we need to refill the water? Do we need in one thing. If they're doing iced tea, more iced tea. You can register that and do it and you are so happy as a customer because you don't have, "Can I get some more tea?" And sometimes you're going to start it's so frustrating and whenever you're out there.
00:17:37] KM: And you're paying all that money and you're having to beg people to wait on you it just drives you crazy. But then again you can be overweighted on and you're like, "Would you leave me alone? I’m talking. Quit interrupting me."
00:17:44] LP: Yeah. That's another talent that you have to – Don't be obtrusive. I mean, I don't go every two minutes
inaudible 00:17:49] once you've said it thank you. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. That's sweet.
inaudible 00:17:59] Tommy and Jake and their wives are involved also in the business. And that's the best thing that could happen to me because now it's this amazing talent of people. And the synergy between us makes it – I wouldn't have done it without them to be honest with you.
00:18:17] KM: Right. All right this is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with the famous restaurateur of Little Rock, Arkansas, Mr. Louis Petit. Still to come, more Arkansas restaurant folklore. Louis' culinary impact not just to us diners, but also to the new restaurants and people they inspired. Tips to restaurant wannabes. And what's he doing now? Hoes he still love his work? More to come after the break.
00:18:45] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed along with Kerry's experience and leadership knowledge. In 1995, she embraced the internet and rebranded her company as simply flagandbanner.com. In 2004, she became an early blogger. Since then she has founded the non-profit Friends of Dreamland Ballroom. Began publishing her magazine, Brave. And in 2016, branched out into this very radio show, YouTube channel and podcast. In
2020, Kerry McCoy Enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com, an online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years. And more recently, opened a satellite office in Miami, Florida. Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com. Back to you, Kerry.
00:19:46] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with one of Arkansas's favorite sons and restaurant royalty, Mr. Louis Petit, who was introduced to Little Rock in 1975 when he was hired as the first maitre'd of Jacques and Suzanne's European restaurant, atop the First Commercial Bank Building. So before the break we talked about Louis was born in 1941, about the war. How he ended up in Little Rock. How much he loves Little Rock. You should be a spokesperson for Little Rock. You should go around and promote this city because everything you say is right on and it's always so true. And I hear that so much from the people that I interview. Gray, we should do the best of compilation of all the great things that –
00:20:26] GM: People who came to Little Rock scene.
00:20:29] KP: Say when they get here, they're always pleasantly surprised in how they love it and how they've stayed. But now we're going to talk about Jacques and Suzanne. So the Treton's started it, who are Jacques and Suzanne. And then they left after just two months. Why?
00:20:43] LP: No, not two months. It was two years.
00:20:46] KM: Oh. Well, I, somewhere, read two months and thought, "Golly! That's like nothing."
00:20:50] LP: No, of course, it was two years. No. True story. Suzanne didn't really appreciate Little Rock that much.
00:20:57] KM: Oh, we don't want her being a spokesperson.
00:20:58] LP: No. She was a kind of a spoiled lady from Geneva, Switzerland and very nice person
inaudible 00:21:04] and so was Jacques. But Little Rock was not a cup of tea. I mean, no. Again, that's why, Louis Petit, I love America so much, again. Because the bank, First National Bank Building, Fin Livingston, who was the president at the time, they said we cannot go to the stockholder and say we just blew a million dollars up there with two years because they are leaving. So instead of that, they came to Paul Bash
inaudible 00:21:34] at the time. She's now a lawyer. But she was a partner at the opening of the restaurant and me, Louis Petit, and say, "If you stay, we will make you co-owner of this restaurant." And we sign $300,000 of that each. Because that's opportunity. Only in America do you get this opportunity. And it's, again, a defining moment that you have to seize. Because I was scared to sign this note to business. Maybe you don't remember. Jimmy Carter was president. The interest rate was 21%.
00:22:08] KM: Oh, we did not.
00:22:09] LP: It was the oil embargo. We could not we say, "Please, keep the air conditioner on 72 to try to save." It was a different time. But again –
00:22:19] KM: You signed a note with 21% interest?
00:22:23] LP: Yes. And we paid it over ten years. Don't get me wrong. And it's a beautiful story. But I mean, again, like I said, my mother said you don't go in prison for debt. So just do it.
00:22:38] KM: You don't go into prison for debt. No you don't. That's a good thing to say.
00:22:42] LP: Just sign the paper. You believe in it. Do it. And that's what we did. We believed in what we did. Because we loved that – And the city loved us, right? And you don't find this kind of love all the time.
00:22:56] KM: You know, you said something so entrepreneurial. You just said debt is an opportunity. People don't realize that. People think that debt is a death sentence. They're like, "Oh, don't go into debt." You're like, "No, debt is an opportunity for cash. Cash is what you take to take risks."
00:23:13] LP: Absolutely. Look, we became successful of course and we opened Graffiti, which was an amazing success also from the day first. I mean, and of course for Maison Louis
inaudible 00:23:26] French name.
00:23:30] KM: The what?
inaudible 00:23:30] French name. It was a small restaurant.
00:23:33] KM: The
inaudible 00:23:34] French name. Oh, I forgot about that one.
00:23:36] LP: Amazing place. Denny, he was a team in the Jacques and Susanne. One of the best chef ever. He has some – Because as you know, you can buy cookbooks. I mean
inaudible 00:23:49] French and the taste.
inaudible 00:24:00] French. You cannot write that in a cookbook. It says “guideline.”
00:24:09] KM: Yeah. Put in a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. But then you taste and you, "Oh, no we need a lot more salt."
00:24:16] LP: Exactly. The thing is the talent that those people have. But yeah,
inaudible 00:24:20] and all those restaurants.
00:24:22] KM: And sauces. You got to know – I love a sauce. Excuse me. You got to know when a sauce – You can't read how to do a sauce in a cookbook. You got to do it over and over and over again. Fail, fix it, fail, fix it. And have a passion for learning about it. Because if you don't –
00:24:38] LP: No. Again, I mean, that's where you come back to the talent of people like
inaudible 00:24:43] and all those amazing guys over the years that followed us. And we trained, I mean, so many people. I think Peter Brave –
00:24:53] KM: Did Peter Brave come?
00:24:55] LP: He was young. He this talent
inaudible 00:25:03]. We didn't create Peter Brave. Peter Brave had it himself to be a wonderful chef. Don't get me wrong. But I mean, so many people came to our kitchen, I mean — 16, 20. I mean, remember, Evet?
00:25:17] KM: Oh, yeah.
00:25:18] LP: I mean, an amazing lady. I mean, great chef also.
00:25:22] KM: She's a caterer now, isn't she?
00:25:23] LP: No. She had some health problems. Because as you know, restaurant business, you're always standing up. I mean. So her health was a bit difficult. But yeah, she still has a talent. She's a caterer. Her mother was already in the catering business. When we arrived we met Mrs. Brady the first time with the discoverer –
00:25:44] KM: Yes, Suzette was at 1620 with you.
00:25:47] LP: Who?
00:25:47] KM: Suzette. Not Suzette. Who did you –
00:25:51] GM: Evet.
00:25:52] KM: Evet was at 1620.
00:25:53] LP: Evet Brave, yeah. She became the owner of 1620. But she started, again, at Jacques at Susanne. And she was also 16 or 17 years old. I mean, very smart. Very, very smart kid.
00:26:06] KM: So let's come back to Jacques and Suzanne. I got to find out, they were in debt when – They were in debt.
00:26:11] LP: No. They were not in debt.
00:26:13] KM: But they wanted to sell it and the bank –
inaudible 00:26:15]. The bank put up the money to create Jacques and Suzanne, and nothing at the time because they banned a million dollars. I mean in 1975 that's a lot of money. Lots of money. It was a perfect restaurant, I mean a beautiful appointment, velvet booth, overlooking the city
inaudible 00:26:32] chandelier, riddle glasses.
00:26:35] KM: Linen tablecloths.
00:26:37] LP: Linen tablecloths. The silverware was –
00:26:41] KM: Was silverware.
00:26:41] LP: And it was not – At the time, another parenthesis. I mean, the Han brothers in Texas, they were trying to corner the silver market and people were stealing. Thinking it was not real. It was in plated silver.
00:26:59] KM: Oh, it was. They didn't know. So there was this silver crisis in America and everybody was locking up their silver cabinets because all their housekeepers and people just kept breaking in their houses and stealing their silver chests.
00:27:15] LP: It was so crazy. I mean, but yeah. But coming back to Jacques and Suzanne. Yes, it was such a wonderful restaurant. It was not overpriced. Don't get me wrong. I mean –
00:27:23] KM: Oh, it was pretty heavy priced. But not overpriced for what you got. It's not perfect.
00:27:27] LP: No. No. But it was like expensive. I mean, there's no question. And yes, if you want to go first class, you're going to pay for it. Because the stuff we use, I mean you should have seen – Another detail
inaudible 00:27:40] table size and with like seven different vegetables, I mean, carrot, turnips, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower. And it was like a beautiful rainbow on your plate. But it took hours for the ladies to get by hand. And I hear sometimes some people say, "Oh, I think they're using canned potatoes. They all look the same."
00:28:14] KM: Wow! They're so beautiful.
inaudible 00:28:17]. See, that's the care. There's the love you put in the thing. The mushroom was completely – It was sculpted literally. I mean that's incredible.
00:28:27] KM: It was incredible. I only ate there maybe once or twice. I couldn't pronounce anything on the menu. I was completely intimidated.
00:28:33] LP: Our job was not to make you intimidating. I mean, it just makes it easy because you don't go to the restaurant. It's not a test. It's not like you have to start to – It's a pleasure. It's a joy. But the beauty I think – I remember, Jacques and Suzanne, you would get dressed, first of all, to come to – So it started at home. You were putting your best attire.
00:28:53] KM: That's the best place to start.
00:28:54] LP: And you arrive and the surrounding with you. It's magic. I mean, the chandelier, the lighting in on the city. My God.
00:29:05] KM: So many people don't realize that when you dress up and go somewhere, you are complimenting the hostess. You are complimenting the restauranter. They sometimes get self-conscious about it and they think, "Oh, I don't want to overdress." Or what if somebody thinks I look funny? When, really, what it is no matter how you dress, as long as you show you took effort, you are paying compliments to the people that are waiting on you, to the people that are serving you, to the restauranter, to the hostess, whoever. But yeah you look like you cared enough to dress up I guess is what I'm trying to say.
00:29:38] LP: Remember, also at the time, it was mandatory to wear a jacket and a tie for the man. So if you don't have one, we would give you one. We had some. And the lady, of course, you can wear your best attire. That's okay.
00:29:52] KM: Which we love to do.
00:29:54] LP: Yes, I mean. That's it. Yeah, like it's part of the fun. I mean, I think –
00:29:59] KM: It is. I do too — to play dress-up. When I was single, we used to get dressed up to go out to the bars and stuff we would start at 7 or 8 o'clock. Well, we played dress-up all the way to ten o'clock at night before we ever even got out the door. And that was never as much fun as getting dressed at the house.
00:30:18] LP: Of course. And the times are changing. You have to adjust today. But yeah, but Jacques and Susanne was really, I mean, an incredible adventure for all of us.
00:30:26] KM: It was. It was an experience. So did the Trenton's ever come back and see it again after they left?
00:30:33] LP: No. No. Unfortunately. We stay in touch with them. I mean, I saw Jacques sometime in Geneva later. They got divorced after that. It was kind of sad of course. I mean –
00:30:44] KM: Why did they ever pick Little Rock in the first place?
00:30:48] LP: They didn't pick Little Rock either. Again, one thing, I have to give credit and admire immensely the vision of the people
inaudible 00:30:57], he was president of the bank at the time. And the board in those day when they see we should make a restaurant on top. The crown jewel of this building should be a restaurant. It could have been a head office for a big company. I mean, make a lot of money on the rent and not bother. Because it was a challenge to make a restaurant there. We could not use gas for instance for the kitchen. We had to use electricity because of the nature
inaudible 00:31:25]. The building blow up, I mean.
So it was a lot of planning and a lot of and – So in 1972 or '71 when they planned the building, they said we're going to do a restaurant on the 30th floor. And so much admiration for that and to have the vision. Because Little Rock, maybe if you know that until 1972 I think was a dry country. Liquor was not –
00:31:51] KM: Little Rock? Really?
00:31:55] LP: Yes. So in '75, I think '72. I could be wrong with that. But when we arrived at 75, we brought all the great wine and everything. And then the straws distributor existed and
inaudible 00:32:06] and all those places. There was wine and liquor on Little Rock, don't get me wrong. I mean, the big place at the time was sticking ale and the little bottle and bruno on Asher — that’s where they were.
00:32:21] KM: That's about it though. So we talked a little bit about all the people you inspired. But after 11 years you decided to close in 1986 Jacques and Susanne's. Why did you decide and how was that decision made?
00:32:37] LP: I’m going to tell you the truth, I mean. When we came First National, it was First National bank building with the Finn Livingston. And First Commercial came when they merged. But it was not really a merger. It was a takeover. I mean, First Commercial became the top dog. And they didn't have the same vision and Finn Livingston have. I mean, because it was a very expensive restaurant to run. I mean, if we were not subsidized by the bank, we would not have been able to sustain it. And the new bank, they didn't want to do that.
00:33:11] KM: All about making money.
00:33:11] LP: Absolutely. And you have to respect them. Don't get me wrong. Yes. But you see, the vision again of the people that if we divide the cost of this restaurant by all the square footage in the building, it's pennies per person. I mean, it's not right.
00:33:28] KM: Oh, I see.
00:33:30] LP: But what do you offer with the Mary Lynch,
inaudible 00:33:34] from a big lawyer, big law firm.
inaudible 00:33:38] advertising. We brought guests from out of town. We had people from New York. Oh, when, they said, you have this kind of restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas." It was the best business card you could get. I mean, it was you have to be proud to be in Little Rock and this kind of talent, this kind of – So they saw that. The new owner did not. I mean, it was more like a business. And it's okay. We don't no bitter feeling. I love Bill Bowen too. I mean, he was a great guy and a nice person.
00:34:13] KM: Well, it inspired a lot of the First Commercial owners. They did a great service to the city of Little Rock because they inspired so much restaurant talent and chef's talent.
00:34:27] LP: Exactly. They made a survey of that. I think we did 34 restaurants —
00:34:32] KM: 34.
00:34:33] LP: Spawned from the Jacques and Susanne school so to speak. Actually, we do not train everybody, but we inspire them. And that's a good thing.
00:34:43] KM: I want to talk about every one of those. So let's take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll continue our conversation with the famous restauranter of Little Rock, Arkansas, Mr. Louis Petit. Still to come, more Arkansas restaurant folklore, Louis' culinary impact, not just to us diners, but also to the restaurants and people they inspired. And what he's doing now? Does he still love his work? More to come after the break.
00:35:04] ANNOUNCER: We've got great news from the Dreamland Ballroom. Dancing into Dreamland is back for the 11th year. That's right. 11th annual Dancing into Dreamland happens on February 12th, 2022. They're changing up the formula a bit with a Valentine's gala right there in the Dreamland Ballroom. Don't worry, all the things you love about the longstanding fundraiser are still in the mix, a real night of revelry in the centenarian structure culminating around a friendly dance competition, food, drink, a silent auction. Attendees will have the pleasure of viewing several spectacular dances. And varying genres will fill the night. You'll be able to vote for your favorites via text. It's a very fun evening, Dancing into Dreamland. And not the least important thing is it's a terrific fundraiser for this extraordinary historic venue. A panel of celebrity judges will pick their favorite act, and they'll be awarded a special cash prize. Dancing into Dreamland is back, February 2022.
00:35:49] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with one of Arkansas's favorite sons and restaurant royalty, Mr. Louis Petit, who was introduced to Little Rock in 1975 when he was hired as the first maetre'd of Jacques and
Suzanne's European restaurant atop the First Commercial Bank Building in downtown Little Rock.
Let's talk about some of the restaurants that you started. And I just want to tell everybody at the break, we were talking about the way Louis talks. Son, Gray and I, were talking about he has a beautiful way of speaking. And then he uses the word beautiful a lot. And that he's just lovely. And I told Gray, I was going to start putting that word in my vocabulary.
00:36:28] GM: Beautiful.
00:36:32] KM: All right let's talk about, you said you spawned – Spawned, is that the right word?
00:36:37] LP: Yeah.
00:36:37] KM: Okay. Spawned 34 restaurants in Little Rock.
00:36:40] LP: That's what – I didn't count them personally. I mean, it was –
00:36:45] KM: 32, 35, 36.
00:36:45] LP: Yeah. But talented work with us in the kitchen and then opened their own place. And I was I was saying Peter Brave, Evet Brady of 1620
inaudible 00:36:55]. Then they did also the Purple Cow. That was same the same family. I wasn't environment. So Graffiti, of course, and that was 35 years. I was part of the opening.
00:37:14] KM: I mean and Maison Louis.
00:37:15] LP: I branched out with my partners, and I wanted more so to speak. And in a partnership, you have four partners. You have to listen to form opinion. And that's okay. We are still a friend today. We never fought or anything like that. But yeah, I wanted more. I mean, I was thinking – So I said I’m going to branch on my own and do – Because again, Jacques and Suzanne lives those 10 years and I wanted more like a bistro type food. I mean, more every day. Jacques and Susanne, let's face it, was a special occasion restaurant. And people they
would celebrate. We would have – Whether the births were, you get engaged, or your anniversary. You would come. Great celebration. It was a perfect set up for that and the perfect setting. But it was feast or famine for instance. We find out the hard way here. When they have a Razorback game for instance, the worst night.
00:38:16] GM: Nobody shows up.
00:38:17] LP: Nobody shows up. And was thinking –
00:38:19] KM: Whoa! Weird.
00:38:20] LP: Weird, I mean, because that's football game. Restaurnt, yes sir.
00:38:28] KM: Most restaurants boom ater a Razorback game.
00:38:29] LP: Of course.
00:38:31] KM: But they're casual.
00:38:33] LP: Yes, exactly. No, small thing like that. I mean, and again, yes, we're at the restaurant in North Little Rock was the open.
inaudible 00:38:43] Restaurant name –
00:38:45] KM: Oh, I was going to ask you
inaudible 00:38:46] Restaurant name.
00:38:48] LP: Suzanne and
inaudible 00:38:48] Name worked with us at Jacques and Suzanne as a maetre’d and his wife who now owns
inaudible 00:38:53] Restaurant name. She an amazing restaurant owner, a very talented.
00:38:57] KM: Did you already say Alouettes?
00:38:58] LP: Alouettes, yes.
00:39:04] KM: Why did you close Maison Louis? It was going great. I used to eat there all the time.
00:39:07] LP: But that was the more – I would said personal problem. I made a mistake to work with my wife.
00:39:14] KM: No. That was Prego.
00:39:17] LP: No. After.
00:39:17] KM: That's a different wife.
00:39:18] LP: No. It was the same wife.
inaudible 00:39:20]. No just kidding.
00:39:24] KM: So Maison Louis was with your wife. But Cafe Prego was with your wife.
00:39:28] LP: Yes, it was really smart. When I started Cafe
inaudible 00:39:31] Name of restaurant, I did with my son. Then my son moved to Florida where we opened a restaurant there. And then Jacqueline came back and worked with me. I mean, she's very good at running restaurants, but we don't have the same philosophy as far as management and I’m much more much softer than she is.
00:39:46] KM: Oh, she's a fiery woman.
00:39:48] LP: Yes, she is. We are still friends. Yeah. And I still love her. Don't get me wrong.
00:39:54] KM: You were married a long time.
00:39:56] LP: Yeah, 25 years.
00:39:57] KM: Well I was talking to another, Jim Keet, your business partner at Keet and Petit, and he's been married 50 years this year. And I said this restaurant business and hotel business and service industry is tough on marriages. I don't know –
00:40:11] GM: Top it off with the fact that he goes up in a plane every few days.
00:40:11] KM: Yeah, he told us about flying on his plane.
00:40:17] LP: Oh yes, he's an amazing man. He's totally incredible.
00:40:21] KM: He's a pretty incredible guy. But we talked about the stress that this career that you've chosen is on a marriage and children and all of that.
00:40:33] LP: Yes. It is, definitely, and it is very difficult to stay married in the restaurant first of all. And the hours. You always work with Christmas, Saturday night, whatever. But for me it was not a problem because I really love what I do. And I’m good at it.
00:40:48] KM: But you're a French man, and you like women.
00:40:51] LP: I do.
00:40:54] KM: There's a lot of women in the restaurant business.
00:40:57] LP: I can resist almost anything except temptation.
00:41:00] GM: Wait a minute.
00:41:05] LP: No. No. It's true. Always difficult I don't want to give away the secrets. But no it's true. The restaurant business is you always people are celebrating you are part of that celebration. You become almost intimate with them because if – Like my son said, "Dad, if you want your customers to enjoy the thing, you have to party with them so to speak." You're still working. Don't get me wrong. I’m not drinking or anything like that. But yeah, they're cheering. The cheerleader. And it's difficult for marriage absolutely.
00:41:40] KM: So now you're at Keet and Petite, your latest restaurant to open in Little Rock. I think it's your latest one in Little Rock.
00:41:47] LP: Yup. Cypress Social Club is the latest one that opened one year ago.
00:41:51] KM: Are you a part of that?
00:41:52] LP: Yeah.
00:41:52] KM: Oh, you are. So for the people who don't know, the Cyprus Social Club is the old Cock of the Walk in Maumelle. And you kept the cock of the – Am I saying it right? Cock of the Wall? Yeah.
00:42:03] GM: Kept the street name.
00:42:04] KM: Kept the street name Cock of the Walk. I think that's really clever. Like Grace said, it was –
00:42:10] LP: It was a landmark. I mean, it was there for 35 years.
00:42:13] KM: If you were to change the name of it since the restaurant so far back away from the street, and you did change the name of the street, nobody could find it because everybody'd be like, "I don't know where it is. Where's the street?"
00:42:22] LP: Yeah, it's very difficult to find.
00:42:25] KM: It's way far off.
00:42:25] LP: But it was looking for it's beautiful. I mean, again –
00:42:29] KM: It's what I hear. It's new from the top to the bottom.
00:42:32] LP: Yes, Jim did an amazing –
00:42:33] KM: What's the kind of food?
00:42:35] LP: It's more like a New Orleans a little bit. More casual a little bit more casual than Petit and Keet. But very good food, oysters, and alligator. And the green tomatoes. More Cajun, yeah.
00:42:49] KM: So Petit and Keet, how did it come about? How did you and Jim Keet, even though you've probably known each other because you're restauranters forever. How did y'all end up –
00:42:55] LP: About 45 years. But we've been friends. And Jim has a condo in Florida next to our restaurant. We would get together. One night when we went to – He invited me to have a bottle of wine and full bottle of wine later. We decided it would be a good idea to –
00:43:15] KM: Well, everything good after four bottles of wine.
00:43:19] LP: Jim came up with the idea. He said, "Louis, you have a good name, and our name." Because Jim is much more experienced in opening restaurants. He's opened 150 I think all together. So yeah. Is it an incredible entrepreneur. I mean, that's uh –
00:43:34] KM: What city is the Raw Bar in Louis Louis in Florida. What city is it actually in?
00:43:39] LP: Louis Louis is in Santa Rosa Beach
inaudible 00:43:42] Beach.
00:43:43] KM: Which are all right there in the panhandle.
00:43:44] LP: Yeah, next to seaside.
00:43:46] KM: Next to seaside. What is next? You got another restaurant in the making?
00:43:50] LP: No, no, no, no, no. No.
00:43:55] KM: do you still love what you do?
00:43:55] LP: I still love what I do.
00:43:56] KM: You do. I can tell.
00:43:57] LP: I enjoy it. I feel so special because all the friendship that you create over the years. I still go to work with pleasure. And that's one thing I wish to anybody who has a job. I am the leader. Again, I my first thing I do in the restaurant is hello. I kiss, depending on if — in Europe, we kiss them. The thing. Hug and kiss. It's a new day. Happy to see you. You're part of the success. And let's do it again today. I mean, in the restaurant business, the most important thing is to be consistent. That's what we are aiming for, I’m aiming for. Not to be the best restaurant in the world. People say you are, but no. We know better. We are a very popular restaurant. And we try to be consistent, the quality, the service, the mood every day, day after day after day. Forget yesterday. We start all over today. Keep those feet on the ground. And that's an advice I would give to anybody who opened a restaurant. I mean, just love what you do. And just keep it simple.
00:45:11] KM: And be consistent.
00:45:13] LP: Be consistent. That's the most important quality in a restaurant. Next time when you are, you tell your friend, "Oh, have you been to Cyprus. Or have you been to Petit and Keet? Have you been to any other restaurant?" And you go back and it's not good. It's not good. It's a terrible thing that can happen to you. And you feel bad because you think, "Oh my God. Last time I was there, it was this and this. It was so perfect. And now it's a disappointment." So keep it simple. Do it again and again and again.
00:45:41] KM: I think that's good advice for any business. Be consistent.
00:45:45] LP: Absolutely. Yes. And have a new restaurant and it's only one year old. And you have to babysit. And you can never let it get to your head and say, "Oh, yes
inaudible 00:45:57] we are full every night. You call it canary no we are fully booked sorry. Nothing for two days. Still, keep your eye on the ball. Don't let it get to your hand. I mean, it can stop tomorrow.
00:46:10] KM: It's all about, you said, loving what you do. And I think sometimes that's a choice, don't you?
00:46:16] LP: It's a luck. I think sometimes you would say I feel it's my universe. I mean, when get into – I pass the door, I see my collaborator. We're happy to see each other. The
synergy between us is good. I’m like the chef, the orchestra in this role. We greet you. You go to some restaurant, they sit you and then you don't see the waiter for 10 minutes. And that's stupid. I mean, we don't do that. We send you to the bar. Or we send you to your table. We send you a table. We know you're going to be taking care. I mean, and those little details makes a good service.
00:46:51] KM: So what do you think restaurant business of the future looks like, staffing, food sources, trends, service, take out versus dine in.
00:46:59] LP: I think people want still to go to the romance of a restaurant. I mean, I think we are blessed because now once if you sell shoes if you sell clothes you have Amazon you can order and they send to your house and you try it and you send it back if you don't like it. In the restaurant you still have the ambiance. I mean and you open the door – I mean, what I love most about the restaurant is it's a very sensual business and because there's the music, there is the material in the world, the chairs, the wood, the bar, the wood. Your senses, and the smell. And we pay great attention to the lighting, for instance. I just want to go and do this I think like if you eat the breakfast place like you know this little neon line on your face. I hop or whatever. You feel, "My God." Need to get out of here. I look like hell. But we pay very a lot of different lighting, music, ambient, chair, furniture.
00:48:01] KM: Everything, the whole experience.
00:48:03] LP: The whole. It becomes a whole. I mean, and like you said, you smell, you arrive. It smells good. It smells elegant. It smells –
00:48:11] KM: What do you think about this trend for all the restaurants to be so loud now?
00:48:14] LP: That's a mistake, in my opinion. We tried – Generally, we put some tile on the ceiling to absorb – The floor is marble. So it's pretty loud. In the bar it's wood and it's not loud. Music is not too – Yes, it's mostly most of the time it's too loud. I don't like that either.
00:48:34] KM: There's kind of a philosophy that people like it when it's loud. But I’m not sure they do well.
00:48:39] LP: Not all the time. I don't think. Yeah, I don't like it too loud personally. I like to listen my conversation. If I’m speaking with you, I don't want – Or even if I have to guess one word out of two, I mean it's not fun anymore.
00:48:52] KM: Right. It's too much work.
00:48:55] KM: The restaurant career, in your career, which is awesome. What are you most proud of?
00:49:00] LP: The fact that I inspire my children to be in the restaurant business. And I don't say I told them. When were in age of choosing a profession, 18 years old, whatever, you want to go to school, do you want to be a lawyer, do you want to be a doctor, do you want to be a plumber. Whatever you want to do, I will support you. And they say, "Dad, let me think about it." I said, "Why are you thinking about it. You're going to come and work with me because I’m going to think about it on my money." And they liked it. I mean, they were introduced – One of my son, Ollie, is the one who created the Red Bar. He said, "Dad –" He was seven years old when he came to Little Rock and I was at Jacques and Susanne. He said, "When I saw you going to work with your tuxedo –" At the time we were working, tuxedo, bow tie. And he said you look like James Bond to me. And remember, but then he worked at Jacques and Suzanne when he was like 14 years old for 14 years as a busser for one summer. And he fell in love with it. And he said I like the ambiance. I like the – It's like a ballet. I mean, are you coming in and out of the kitchen. And I’m trying to – And we try to teach people not to be noisy, not to be obstructive, not to be you – You have your dinner then your table your played this gun and it's not like it's a big bust up and then – I mean, we try to do that with finesse. That's something I’m proud of that my children are in the restaurant business with me and they love it and they're good at it. I mean, they're even more successful than I’ve ever been. And sharing with the gym and in these families, I mean, it's another story –
00:50:34] KM: It just keeps going on. Are you ever going to quit?
00:50:37] LP: No. No. I will never quit. As long as I'm wanted. I mean, as long as I'm physically able to do it, of course I don't –
00:50:44] KM: Yeah. You're probably going to work tonight, aren't you?
00:50:46] LP: I am, yes.
00:50:46] KM: Aha. There we go. I knew it. And probably tomorrow again too.
00:50:53] LP: Yes, that's what we do. But again, to me, it's a privilege. Because I’m going to see people that I like, people I enjoy, people are happy to see me. Because since I don't live here anymore, it's a little bit not as often as before. We keep the friendship from 45 years on. I mean, it's so many amazing.
00:51:12] KM: Our celebrity, Louis Petit, restaurant royalty. Thank you so much for coming on.
00:51:16] LP: Thank you for having me. I enjoyed very much being with you.
00:51:19] KM: Thank you for coming. And I am going to send you a Belgium flag, an Arkansas flag. I guess I’m going to have to send you a Florida flag, and an American flag for all the places you've lived. Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you so much.
00:51:31] LP: Thank you. Me too. And thank you, Arkansas. Thank you again for all your support, your friendship. And please stay hungry, my friend.
00:51:39] KM: In closing, to our listeners, I want to thank you for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
00:51:58] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest. If you'd like to sponsor this show or any show, email me, gray at email@example.com. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay
informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you like to listen. Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.