Reinventing a spot that succumbed to the pandemic's crushing effects on fine dining.
By Ludo Lefebvre as told to Caroline Pardilla
Ludo Lefebvre is a classically trained French chef who worked for the likes of Guy Martin and Alain Passard. In Los Angeles in 2007, he pioneered pop-up dining with his LudoBites events. In 2013, Lefebvre opened the fine-dining restaurant Trois Mec with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, followed by French bistro Petit Trois in 2014, and his largest restaurant, Petit Trois Le Valley, in 2018. In 2019, Trois Mec earned Lefebvre his first Michelin star. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he closed the restaurant in July 2020.
I decided to close Trois Mec after seven years because it’s not the time now to share one-star Michelin food in the parking lot. I don’t want to do that. Plus it didn’t feel right in the current environment. It just didn’t feel right to do that. But even when it’s all over, things will not go back to what they were, for sure. People will not want to be in a tiny space, at least not for a while. I needed to rethink what to do with this location and be creative with that, but it’s challenging because it’s a tiny place.
When we heard the guidelines, when Mayor Eric Garcetti gave us new rules, for me it was taking a chance to reopen Trois Mec in these conditions. It was a very hard decision to move on and try to figure out something new. And that’s when I decided I’m going to expand Petit Trois, which is next to Trois Mec. Petit Trois is a small restaurant, too, so we’re going to use the space of Trois Mec to make Petit Trois bigger with a private dining room.
I’m going to make the move when we can seat people inside. For now with Trois Mec, we use the space to produce food for José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. I am very thankful for José Andrés to support us like that. But also, you know, it was just not about me. I need to keep doing things to support my staff. I have 91 employees, so I felt personally responsible to them and their families. Some people want to keep working. It’s a big responsibility as the owner of the restaurant to just continue to operate the restaurant, and to make sure you’re keeping your staff also. Because the staff need to live, too.
So when the pandemic happened, we opened a goods store in the Petit Trois in the Valley. The restaurant became a grocery store. And the guests were amazing supporters. The guests would consistently order from our goods store. It was a big success! I am very, very thankful for all the people who supported us to keep our doors open. I was so thankful.
But it was very hard for me to close Trois Mec. And it’s still hard for me when I wake up in the morning, you know, I’m very sad. I earned a Michelin star, and I worked for that all my life. But I needed to close my Michelin-star restaurant because business surely makes no sense now. I need to do something else. I need to keep my staff. I need to be creative and reinvent myself. I can always do one or two years in another fancy restaurant, but now is not the time for that.
It’s just so tough for everyone. I would never think I would experience something like that in my life, in my career. I was not trained for that. It’s still so hard now, too. Sometimes I’m so lost. I wake up every morning and it just shoots me into the unknown. It’s a very scary time.
People cannot really afford fine dining. People haven’t made money for the last six months. Everybody got hurt. And I mean, me, too. I cannot spend that much money on food at a fine-dining restaurant now. People don’t want to stay for three hours at a restaurant. People want to eat pretty fast. They are still very scared because of the pandemic, with COVID. I wouldn’t want to stay three hours at a restaurant in a fine-dining room. I want to eat in one hour and go home.
Even if the government decided to tell me, for example, and the people in the restaurant business, “Now you can reopen your business at 50 percent capacity,” Trois Mec is going to die. I don’t have enough seats. At Trois Mec, we have exactly 28 seats. So if I cut it by half, it will be 14 seats. I cannot live on 14 seats. I still have a lot of staff to pay at Trois Mec, and with 14 seats, I cannot live like that.
For Trois Mec to be able to reopen, it will have to be at 100 percent capacity to be able to pay all my staff, my bills, and to be able to serve that level of quality.
But even if we had a vaccine, I don’t think people will want to go to a tiny restaurant. It’s scary. If somebody started coughing in a little room, oh my God, everybody would be freaking out. It happened sometimes at Trois Mec, when COVID was here and people talked about it. When people were coughing in the restaurant, nobody wanted to sit next to that table. It was just crazy. So obviously, Trois Mec is just too tiny. It makes more sense for me to expand Petit Trois, and I can always relocate Trois Mec.
And I don’t want to do fancy food to-go meals in the box. I don’t want to do that. I was not trained for that. It’s a better possibility to expand one of the restaurants. I don’t need to do to-go food for Trois Mec. I know some restaurants are doing that now, some Michelin-star restaurants, and I think that’s a great idea for them. But I’m taking that opportunity to expand Petit Trois.
However, I’m launching a new to-go concept at Trois Mec. You cannot serve people inside, so I need to be creative and wake up. I’m not going to wait six months for the city to tell us we can finally serve people inside. So I need to do something different. It’s not Trois Mec food. It’s way more simple.
The concept is something I wanted to do for a long time—a kebab concept. I love kebab. I grew up with kebab in Paris when I was a young kid. I have so many memories with kebabs. When I didn’t want to spend that much money as a young kid, I ate kebabs every night after work. What I love about kebab, it’s a lot of different cultures and different countries that have kebabs. This is going to be more French kebab. We’ll have the herbs de Provence Dijon chicken kebab, we have a steak au poivre kebab, lamb vadouvan curry kebab, we have a ratatouille kebab. Voila, voila. I love kebab. The name is Ludobab. And all the kebabs are wood-grilled so the flavors are amazing. I’m very excited.
I’m a fancy chef. All my life I worked toward creating a Michelin-star restaurant, and I love that. So for sure one day I will reopen a fancy restaurant, for sure. Not now, but maybe in one or two years. Now I’m going to focus on Petit Trois and my little kebab concept, and we’ll go from there. You know, day by day, day by day.