Tuesday, September 1, 2020
The pandemic feels a distant memory on the breezy lawn of L’Auberge Chez François: tables dot the restaurant’s spacious outdoor area, conversation floats through the air, and waiters’ masks are the only reminders of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. But though the restaurant now bustles with customers, it is still recovering from the initial impact of the pandemic.
L’Auberge, a 44-year fixture in Great Falls, closed completely for three months starting in March—a loss that even its now-recovered sales cannot recoup, owner and chef Jacques Haeringer said.
“The restaurant itself is doing well for now, but it’s certainly not going to make up the difference for those lost three months,” he said. “If sales drop off, or they go back down another phase [in Virginia’s reopening plan], it could terminate the business.”
L’Auberge is also bracing for a second blow later this year, Haeringer said. Jacques’ Brasserie, the restaurant located on the lower level of L’Auberge, currently relies heavily on a large outdoor seating area to satisfy social distancing measures. Cold weather will certainly limit this capacity, he said; “we’re just trying to build up a war chest to get through the winter.”
The restaurant furloughed most of its employees during the three months that it was closed, and it has declined employment to eleven of the 89 employees it had prior to the pandemic.
Still, Haeringer has been heartened by the decisive support the restaurant received upon reopening. He said that throughout the pandemic, the restaurant’s leadership has sought to preserve the “normal” experience of L’Auberge, opting not to re-open until June, when indoor dining was permitted.
“It was very important not to open back up until we could guarantee a very similar experience to what [patrons] were used to,” Haeringer said. “They came for a reason; we have been very successful for a long time for a reason; and we needed to make sure that we continued that.”
L’Auberge has also continued hosting special events at a limited capacity, including weddings and cooking demonstrations. They have also offered a socially-distanced “musical brunch” and “wine dinners,” in which patrons could pick up packages of wine and cheese to enjoy from home.
Haeringer attributes the restaurant’s success in reopening to its tried-and-true business model and operation—“if you’re successful at a certain thing, don’t change,” he advises—but also to the loyalty of his broad base of customers.
“While we were closed, people bought gift certificates...We had cars lined up for a long time for the special carry-outs,” he said. “Without their support, during that critical time, we wouldn’t be here.”
WHERE AND WHEN
L’Auberge Chez François
322 Springvale Rd, Great Falls, VA 22066
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.