By: Dan Macdonald
Four years after opening the first Le Petit Paris in Mandarin, owner Alex Chezaud plans to open his third location this spring.
The new restaurant will be at 7111 Bentley Road (formerly Bonneval Road) at Philips Highway and Butler Boulevard, near the Southpoint area.
The spot was formerly Fresh-Mex & Co., whose owners opened at 10281 Midtown Parkway in St. Johns Town Center.
Chezaud opened the first Le Petit Paris in 2019 at 9965 San Jose Blvd. in Merchants Walk in Mandarin.
The second location opened in 2021 at 363 Atlantic Blvd. in the Shoppes of Northshore in Atlantic Beach.
Le Petit Paris recreates the cafe cuisine of Chezaud’s native Paris.
It serves salads, sandwiches made with baguettes and croissants, quiche and pastries.
The menus and daily specials vary slightly between locations.
Each restaurant has a selection of coffee and tea beverages as well as soft drinks, beer and wine.
They are open for breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
The menu reflects the food Chezaud’s mother made. He imports his bread and many other ingredients from France.
“It’s all based on the water that’s used back in Paris. It’s the same thing as the pizza dough in New York. The water is a key component,” he said.
The new restaurant, like the other Le Petit Paris locations, will offer outdoor dining. Because the new one is near two busy roads, Chezaud is using landscape buffering to reduce noise.
He expects it to seat between 110 and 120, including outdoor seating for about 50. He plans to employ a staff of about 70.
His two store general managers, Santiago Dvivero in San Marco and Lena Kuschner at the Beaches, have been with him since day one.
He said Le Petit Paris offers higher than usual wages as well as insurance to help maintain staff and consistency.
When it opens in April or May, the new restaurant will be about 4,000 square feet, double the size of the other locations.
It will allow the company to offer catering services. It also will serve as the prep kitchen for the other two restaurants.
With the increased size comes an increase in budget. The first was built-out for $85,000 and the second cost $150,000. The new one has a budget of $350,000.
Wilkinson Construction and Handyman to Go are handling the build-out.
Like the first two restaurants, the new location is a second-generation restaurant – already built to code and therefore reducing construction costs. The first two were former Jimmy John’s, he said.
Chezaud’s wife, Yevah, is in charge of the interior design.
Each restaurant has its own personality. The San Marco location reflects urban Paris while the Beaches location is inspired by the South of France.
Chezaud wants the new location to offer an escape for workers in offices near the restaurant. It will have a soft, pastel and green decor inspired by the art of French impressionist Claude Monet, he said.
Chezaud, 37, was born and raised in Paris. His mother is American. While in Paris, she bought Florida property in St. Petersburg, where his younger sister later moved.
When his sister decided to open a cafe, Chezaud agreed to come to Florida for six months to help establish it. His background was in upscale dining and hotel restaurants.
While working with his sister, Chezaud met his future wife while she was in dental school. Upon her graduation, they moved to Jacksonville to be closer to her family.
“I was living in Paris and I was happy there. But I enjoy the laid-back life and the American culture overall,” he said.
“People think Paris is a more relaxed lifestyle but it is like any big city like New York or Boston. They are very crowded and noisy. I wouldn’t do that again.”
However, recreating the Parisian dining culture is his goal. His restaurants do not have drive-thrus.
He understands that few Americans have the luxury of a long Parisian-like lunch break, but he hopes diners will relax and converse while there. That is why there are no televisions in his restaurants.
“I want people to come in for a nice lunch instead of sitting in the car waiting in line to go through and just eat a sandwich,” he said.
Franchising is not part of Chezaud’s immediate plans. He doesn’t want to divest himself from the brand he is creating.
“My emphasis is on the quality of the food. I don’t want to cut corners. So my margins are lower than some restaurants,” he said.