Serendipity is defined as ” the occurrence of events that happen by chance, in a happy or beneficial way.”
Exactly one week ago today, on August 2nd, I posted about the wonderful dinner we had in Boston at LES SABLONS. I recall the beautiful, tasty offerings from James Beard Award-winning chef Jeremy Sewall, the SWEETBREADS VOL-au VENT and the ROHAN DUCK BREAST, as well as the clever and quirky design package that somehow incorporated David Bowie, Grace Jones and Play-Doh.
So, the first part of the definition of “serendipity” is true…”the occurrence of events that happen by chance…”
But “…in a happy and beneficial way?” Well, that just does not fit here.
You see, last Friday – not 24 hours after I posted my rave about Les Sablons – the Boston Globe ran a piece announcing that the restaurant had closed for good the night before. Stop the presses!
It had been open only a little over a year.
For all my decades in this business, how could I have been so “brain dead” that I missed all the clues that everything was not well – things like being understaffed, not having the wine we selected, informing us that certain menu items were unavailable. But NO! Everything that evening bordered on PERFECT. And for a Sunday night, the place was busy and had a nice buzz.
First off, the restaurant is – sorry, WAS – striking and very well designed. The NY-based architectural team of Bentel & Bentel successfully resolved the aesthetic challenges of dealing with a 17-foot wide “bowling alley” type of space. The lighting was at once sultry, flattering….and spectacular. In 2017 Boston Eater nominated Les Sablons for Best Design.
So were there any clues that I should have up at the time?
I do remember that as our server set down the wine glasses, I remarked on their elegance and delicacy, and asked a question (to which I already knew the answer): “Do many of these break during the course of an evening?” She replied, “OMG, you can’t even imagine.”
That’s important because – although I can’t say exactly what brand of wine glasses they used; it could have been anything from Waterford to Schott-Zweisel to Reidel – stemware of that quality runs anywhere from $15 to $60 per glass. I actually said to someone at the table, “We would never use fragile glassware like that.” Do the math: $200 -$300 in breakage PER NIGHT?????
As I have read more about the closing, I learned that Les Sablons’ building had endured decades of neglect prior to the restaurant’s opening. The owners were actually inspired by the dilapidated structure as it reminded them of the run-down, cracked and sooty Paris Metro station after which it was named (check out the image of below).
The rule of thumb that we at Parasole – and most others in our industry – use to determine the viability of a site is that annual sales will have to be double the cost of the buildout. If a restaurant costs $2 million to build, then you’d better have a $4 million concept. If the cost is $4 million, then $8 million in sales has to be realized. And BTW $8 million is flirting with the stratosphere.
So could it be that the dire condition of the building doomed Les Sablons to failure? With all the structural, mechanical, and electrical issues to resolve (maybe asbestos also figured into the mix), creating a restaurant with Les Sablons’ level of fit and finish could have run $4-6 million. Factor in rent and taxes, etc., and maybe they never had a chance.
I just don’t know. I’m not smart enough to figure out what happened to Les Sablons. All I know for certain is that I’m sorry it’s gone.