By Roger DuPuis , Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — This week diners will be able to say bonjour to Le Manhattan Bistro once again.
When the revitalized French restaurant welcomes guests to South Main Street under the stewardship of restaurateur Rob Friedman, one thing will be conspicuously missing, however: “New York City prices.”
“Some pricing on the menu is not as high as it used to be, which is super important,” operations manager Sheila Humphrey said during a recent interview.
Le Manhattan, located in a renovated former bank at the corner of East Ross Street, will formally reopen on Friday.
Diners will still have a full array of classical French dishes to choose from, Humphrey and Friedman said, but there also will be American fare for those seeking something a little more familiar.
More than that, guests also will have the choice between eating in the main dining room or opting for the more casual, cozy settings of the back brick room or a bar-lounge area.
“We also are going to have an exclusive bar menu with everything under $20, and a raw bar element, oysters and clams,” Humphrey said, as well as burgers and fries.
“So let’s say we have people who come here on a first date and they’re maybe intimidated by a fine dining atmosphere, they could eat in the back brick room or in the lounge and have the dining room menu in there as well along with the bar menu,” she added.
What isn’t changing? The name.
“We decided even though there were some issues here toward the end of its run, in its prime this place had a good reputation, so we felt we’d keep the name,” Friedman said of Le Manhattan. “I like getting involved in successful restaurants.”
Its renaissance comes three months after the restaurant closed suddenly on Nov. 30 when former operator and chef Gwenaël Le Pape was evicted due to judgments of more than $60,000 for rent, fees and bills owed to suppliers.
Friedman’s decision to take over the business boosts a restaurant and hospitality portfolio that already includes Kevin’s Bar & Restaurant in Kingston, the Beaumont Inn in Dallas, Cork Bar and Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre, Grico’s Restaurant in Exeter, Back Mountain wedding venue Friedman Farms and the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
“I don’t want to just arbitrarily pick a place, but the ones I’ve purchased in the past have excellent reputations and have been successful,” he added. “Part of the key is hiring the right people.”
He’s been assisted in that role by Humphrey, a self-described “100 percent entrepreneur” who also is in charge of the Beaumont Inn.
“It’s very exciting working for Rob because there’s always a new adventure for me,” Humphrey said. “I’ll say to him, ‘We need something fun and new.’”
“I said that to him two months ago and he brought me Le Manhattan,” Humphrey added with a hearty laugh and a smile.
Fun atmosphere, polished look
Returning to Le Manhattan are two familiar faces, chef Jonathan Minor and general manager Patrick DeRojas, both of whom worked at the restaurant during its prime.
Minor also has cooked at French restaurants in New York for many years, Friedman said, and DeRojas previously spent three years at Le Manhattan.
“We’ve tasted some of his creations and he really is amazing,” Friedman said of Minor.
DeRojas, meanwhile, brings a diverse customer service history that dates to a stint as a bouncer in State College.
“I’m most excited about seeing the customers again,” he said of Le Manhattan.
“That was my favorite part of the job, because you never know who’s going to walk through the front door,” DeRojas added. “And in this position you have a great opportunity to make them have a great experience. I like them to feel like they’re having a mini-vacation.”
That getaway from the ordinary will bring them into an historic building where new linens, seating and carpets will grace a main dining room through which servers will glide in French uniforms complemented by scarves and bow ties.
“We’re really trying to bring that atmosphere of fun back, but a polished look as well,” Humphrey said.
A divider will help bring some intimacy to the bar-lounge area, where Humphrey and Friedman hope they can attract clientele from downtown Wilkes-Barre’s expanding residential and professional populations.
The restaurant initially will operate as a BYOB, until its liquor license is approved.
“We’re trying to draw in the the young professionals and get that bar going again, that’s one of our main missions,” Humphrey said.
“It’s exciting to be downtown,” Friedman said. “It’s nice that it’s become such a residential haven now for young professionals.”
The historic bank building in which Le Manhattan operates is a prime example.
Sam Johnson, from whom Friedman is leasing the restaurant space, previously renovated the structure to include more than a dozen upscale apartments.
“The space itself is very unique, which got me excited about this project,” Friedman said. “And then the French cuisine. How many places can you go for a really classical French dinner?”
Those who crave such French delights will find Le Manhattan open every day except Tuesday, Friedman said, with dinner offered on Monday and Wednesday to Saturday, with brunch served on Sundays.
The newly revived restaurant’s website is lemanhattanbistro.net.