"I don't like to stay in the same place," laughs Georges d'Arras from the bar. "I grew up like that, moving, moving, moving."
His laugh carries a thick French accent, as you might expect from a master of the cuisine who came to America on Independence Day 15 years ago. He motions to the rows of upturned stemware that line the counter next to a ceramic, bone-white model of the Eiffel Tower, and goes on to tell a story about a boy proposing to a girl in front of the model one night "in that spot right next to where you're standing." Le Bistro du Beaujolais (8134 Columbia Rd., 440-235-8883, lebistrodubeaujolais.com) is that kind of place; it's been that way for the past nine years.
The son of a businessman, d'Arras was raised with French wine and quickly developed his own palate. After attending culinary school in France, where he met his wife and Beaujolais head chef Claudie, d'Arras moved to Cleveland with the dream of owning his own restaurant.
The couple would operate their first spot in Westlake for five years before closing its doors for the more fitting, old-school charm of their current Olmsted Falls location, a renovated home built in the 1830s. Certainly always holding a penchant for the quaint, d'Arras jokes, "We like old things, even if we don't like that we're getting older.
"The first time we went to look at the building, I walked in and I said, 'I cannot do anything with this,'" he recalls. "But I told Claudie we should go back one more time. Little by little, everything was making sense. And I could see exactly what we could be. It reminds us of home."
Their 2005 opening landed just a week after Thanksgiving. Since then, their master plan when devising seasonal menus has called upon their annual trip to France to visit family and culinary school cohorts. They come back home inspired by the spontaneity of bustling French markets, the exchange of new recipes between old comrades, and the exploration of new dining destinations throughout their stay.
Similarly, Beaujolais' service is informed by charm. D'Arras beams most proudly between stories of returning customers who introduce him to their growing families. Le Bistro du Beaujolais is, again, just that kind of place.
"Around the wine, you can talk about many things," he smiles.
But the couples' timeless over trendy staying power hinges on more than just tête-à-tête.
"I have a very strong temper, I won't deny that," says d'Arras. "But if you don't have a strong temper, many people will play games with you. You have to be strong. You have to believe in what you do."
Their resiliency was tested in early 2009 when an electrical fire closed the restaurant for 10 months and 10 days.
"I don't like to turn my back on a failure," he says. "If I was closing because of a fire, it would not be fair. We're alive. We're here."
It's only appropriate that every year they honor their anniversary month by hosting a Beaujolais Nouveau party, paying homage to the specialty red wine's release at exactly 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of November. In France, the tradition incites frenzy over obtaining the first coveted bottles. In Cleveland, the spectacle is much more a one-night celebration of good friends drinking late into the evening.
"It's a way to say, this is another year, it was good, bad, rough. Let's have a good party. It's a festive wine. It's something that you drink like that," he snaps his fingers, "and done."
In high spirits, it seems the couple finally have found a place to settle down.
"When I'm here, my home is France," says d'Arras. "When I'm in France, my home is Cleveland."