By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
A French restaurant will return to downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Gwen Le Pape, former chef at the closed Southside Bistro French restaurant at 264-268 S. Main St., plans to re-open it with a new name: “Le Manhattan Bistro.”
He said the opening date will depend on approval from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for the liquor license transfer.
The Southside Bistro closed in January, just three months after it opened when owner Isabelle Garcia returned to France to care for her ailing mother.
Le Pape, who now lives in Wilkes-Barre, said he will honor gift certificates anyone purchased for the Southside Bistro.
Le Pape, 44. who is originally from France and appeared on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” has a long history as a chef.
He said he started making desserts as a child with his mother and grandmother.
His first job was as a pastry chef in France. He later worked as a chef in a number of restaurants throughout the country and spent more than 20 years in New York City. He said he wants to bring that style of French food here to Wilkes-Barre.
“It would be like bringing a taste of the city to Wilkes-Barre without having to drive two and a half hours,” Le Pape said. “You could get the same experience you would have in a French bistro in New York and you won’t have to go so far and you don’t even have to go to France. You could just stick around here.”
He said the menu at the new Le Manhattan Bistro will be similar to the Southside Bistro, which is located in a century-owned former bank building which Weatherly resident Sam Johnson converted into 16 upscale apartments.
Le Pape said he believes the building is “absolutely stunning” and a good place for a French restaurant. He expects to employ about 20 people.
“I haven’t seen much French food around here and I thought there was a potential market here,” Le Pape said. “It was a shame that this place had to close. It wasn’t my idea. I wish we could have kept it open.”
The French restaurant adds to several ethnic eateries in the downtown area, such as Akeno Sushi, Asian Kitchen, Cafe Toscana, El Zocalo, Katana Japanese restaurant, Letts Eat Flavors of India and Tha Thai.
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, said having a French eatery add to this roster of restaurants strengthens the downtown’s position as the area’s “restaurant row.”