Wilton Says ‘Au Revoir,’ as Bon Appetit Cafe Closes for Good

One bright star on the Wilton restaurant scene has dimmed, as Bon Appétit Café closed its doors for good after Saturday evening’s dinner service. Owner Dominique Arrighi made the call to shutter the 5-year-old restaurant due to rising rents at the Kimco-owned Stop and Shop Plaza at 5 River Rd..

Response to the news of the closure on Facebook and elsewhere was united in its sadness, with many people expressing surprise that the restaurant was going to close, and several others saying effort needs to be made by local officials (selectmen, town planners and others) to help businesses in Wilton stay open.

“A huge loss….. Our town planners need to figure out how to support business!” wrote Elizabeth Salguero on the GOOD Morning Wilton Facebook page.

“Getting very difficult to run anything in town. Our Selectman should look into all the vacancies and help our Center come back! Wilton isn’t the town I moved in to,” was the thought that Patricia McManus expressed.

Amy Foodman commented, “The owner of that plaza is a huge company based nowhere near here. They could[n’t] care less what kind of business is there…as long as they can pay the ever-escalating rent.”

We stopped by on Friday night to have a farewell drink or two with Lionel Arnal, Arrighi’s partner and the lead chef in Bon Appétit’s kitchen. He told GOOD Morning Wilton that they’d take a bit of time to figure things out and undoubtedly enter the food scene fray again–although most likely not in Wilton.

Long a local favorite and well-reviewed, Bon Appetit served such delicious authentic French faire. On a personal note, with French family we loved going to the restaurant to remind us of a vrais Français taste of home. Arnal and Arrighi, who also cooked, simply wanted to prepare really good, authentic food that pleased everyone who walks through their front door. It was the kind of place where children would get to expand their culinary palate a bit and grown-ups would have a hard time deciding between beloved standards (mussels! coq au vin! paté maison! soupe a l’oignon) or inventive sauces and heartier, locally-sourced exotic dishes.

Who knows, maybe the timing of the restaurant’s expansion in 2012 from the small sliver of a storefront to it’s current twice-as-large space was something from which they could never rebound, especially given the state of the economy. We like to blame a lot of stuff on that “state of the economy” in Wilton, but there’s too much rumbling about a difficult landlord and high rents, most especially in that shopping plaza to chalk it up to just the state of Wall Street.

Yes, it was said that prices were high at Bon Appetit. Given the owners’ dedication to authentic cuisine and quality food preparation, it came with the territory. I wish it was a place that more people would have supported more often, and I wish Wilton had more of a draw for clientele from outside of town.

It’s a shame to look around that shopping plaza and see “For Lease” sign after “For Lease” sign. There’s much talk about Kimco not caring because of how large the commercial real estate company’s interests are around the country, and there’s too much precedence about small local owners losing the high-rent fight with the giant. Any ideas on how to help on that battlefront?

In the meantime, we wish Dominique, Lionel and all the others bon chance and a final merçi for your years with us in Wilton. And let’s take it as a reminder that to keep the landscape populated with great, small local businesses, we need to make sure we’re supporting them with our dollars and traffic.

12 Comments

  1. Al Galletly

    July 21, 2014 at 7:48 am

    I’ll add my “sad news” as well. Totally agree with Liz, Patricia and Amy’s comments about the out-of-town — and completely out-of-touch — landlords. Don’t know what, if any, leverage the town might have with the owners of that property. Probably very little, but Bon Appetit isn’t the first casualty of over-priced rents. One has to wonder when the next shoe(s) will drop.

  2. Mary Wagner

    July 21, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Very sad to lose Bon Appetit. Warm, wonderful restaurant. Why is it nail salons seem to be the only business to multiply? Wilton has too many “for lease” signs !

  3. Pam Rouleau

    July 21, 2014 at 9:55 am

    What a loss
    – one of our favorite places. Hopefully Dominique and Lionel open shop, again, someplace close.

  4. Pam Rouleau

    July 21, 2014 at 9:55 am

    What a loss
    – one of our favorite places. Hopefully Dominique and Lionel open shop, again, someplace close.

  5. Pam Rouleau

    July 21, 2014 at 9:55 am

    What a loss
    – one of our favorite places. Hopefully Dominique and Lionel open shop, again, someplace close.

  6. Pau J

    July 21, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Sadly, you need to sell a product people actually want. There are several popular and long lasting restaurants in town. Clearly they are doing something right. Or maybe we have enough for our population. A classic example is that silly coffee place that has opened and closed twice, next to the nail salon. With three other coffee houses in Wilton, who thought that business plan made sense? Look at the Little Pub locations. Packed every night. Its all about what the most people want, very tough to be in a niche market in this town!

    • Susan Searles Schmitt

      July 21, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      Pau you are absolutely right about selling a product people want. But Bon Appetit has a great product and we were very fortunate that they supported our community as well. Dominique sponsored several events like our library’s fundraiser and some others. We don’t know everyone’s lease details and when they are up, but I worry about when Tom E Toes, Cactus Rose and Sweet Pierre’s leases come up for renewal in that same plaza. Will we be saying good bye to them as well? There are at least 4 empty storefronts in that plaza and Bon Appetit will now make it 5. It is about location for sure Pau and that is why the Little Pub has done well to find locations with lower rents outside of Georgetown and Wilton. But with the rising rents in the town center through the Kimco properties we probably will be loosing more businesses in town as well. Sad indeed.

  7. Keith Rodgerson

    July 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    A very real example of why some of Connecticut’s businesses are failing. We allowed a large development to occupy half our town center and let the developer’s attorneys transfigure our zoning laws, development patterns, traffic patterns and roads, and historic architectural character to fit their needs. It crippled Village Supermarket, killed the 100 yr.old Ancona’s, and exacerbated vacancy and the town center’s commercial market anemia. It was then bought out by a huge REIT with no community buy-in or input. This is something an economic development staffer could have informed the public about from the get-go before concessions were made. The KimCO REIT has done what would be expected: eviscerate vibrant private investments such as Bon Appetit by greatly escalating rents on entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, our representatives in Hartford do whatever they can for these large, multi-state or multi-national corporations so that with ease they can siphon out every dollar from our local business investors, state coffers and resources. We just lost a huge asset to our community for the sole benefit of KimCo’s shareholders. They don’t care about what occupies this space so long as it is, ideally, a chain “credit tenant” that pays maximal rent. We as a community have a vested interest in non-chain businesses that serve an amenity to our village. They support more private local commercial investment opportunities for our citizens, keep revenue local, and create better jobs. We have not invested in the capacities we need as a town to control development outcomes. We are wide open to harm not just in the center but with what was proposed on 44 Westport Road and with the wide latitude of possible and presently schlocky outcomes on Route 7. We need seasoned economic development hands on deck before we lose any more of our character and economic vitality. Discarding Bon Appetit for a chain would be quite unfortunate. Hopefully Dominique will find a location in Ridgefield like so many unique businesses have these days have so that we can continue to enjoy his delicious cuisine. We can’t let Wilton Center crumble like South Wilton has under the shadow of Wal Mart. We can’t allow for our neighborhood to be portfolioized like so many others have been across the US. Don’t believe all the nonsense about our business climate in CT. Those lobbyist studies were crafted just to help make quick bucks come ever-quicker for those well outside our borders looking solely for a rate of return. A level playing field for hard working tenant-investors and for a properly staffed town is what really at the end will either place-make or place-break in and around Wilton Center. We have every right to fight to compel the good and repel the mediocre. All businesses are not created equal and we must weed out and tend our garden if we want it to bear fruit. We need more tools and skilled advocates to secure a future. Losing Bon Appetit dims that future in a grimly predicative fashion: http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/state-business-tax-climates-jobs-data-analysis.html

  8. Janice Orefice Dehn

    July 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    So sad — we celebrated many happy events there — sorry to see Dominique and Lionel go….

  9. Katharine Ballou Sanford

    July 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    I am very disheartened to see another fellow retailer go down. Even though Chou Chou has been in existence for 13 years it has always been a struggle to balance sales with rents.
    Kimko has been simply brutal to deal with. They are heartless and are in no way compassionate in their concern for the independent retailer. I could cite numerous situations where they have been downright punitive. The hardware store and frame shop would tell you the same.
    If it is at all possible the residents of the town that are concerned with the abnormal number of business closing might band together or petition Kimko as to their unfeeling practices. As they are a publicly held company they may not enjoy the bad press.
    Having said all this I want to thank every one of my customers who have supported both Chou Chou and petite Chou Chou. You are all very special to me and it is an honor to serve you
    Katie and I are so happy to be a part of the business landscape of Wilton.

    • Susan Searles Schmitt

      July 22, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Thank you Katharine for sharing. I was tempted to post a comment yesterday on their FB page but didn’t know if it would do anything. It is scary that they own most of our town center and don’t care for the independent retailer or filling the vacancies they have.

  10. Neil Gluckin

    July 27, 2014 at 10:31 am

    It’s a shame that Bon Appetit had to close, particularly given the fact that it had so many ardent patrons in town. Even more, it’s infuriating that so much of Wilton’s local economy is dependent on a huge absentee landlord. We’re not going to improve the situation if we don’t organize ourselves for action. One group I know of that might be able to help us is called the Business Alliance for Locally Living Economies (https://bealocalist.org/). I have no experience with them (or in this field, for that matter) but I’ve heard BALLE representatives speak at NOFA conferences and was impressed by what they had to say.

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