We know you’ve all been buzzing about the sad news that Montmartre, the beloved and long-standing French restaurant on 7th Street SE, is closing. After a chat with co-owner and chef Stéphane Lezla, he would very much like people to know that the decision to close the restaurant was a tough one. “I wish people would listen to what we’re saying because we’re living through this experience,” he added, hoping that people understand the very personal and tough nature of the decision. He and partner Chris Raynal decided to close Montmartre permanently because during this pandemic, a sit-down restaurant model is not a concept that works. After seeing restaurants such as Pupatella and Emilie be forced to close for two weeks after staff members came in contact or tested positive for coronavirus, it’s become clear for Lezla that staying open is a very big gamble for himself and his staff. Despite rumors that they’d had problems with their landlord, Stanton Development, Lezla assured me that the relationship has been strong not just now, but for the 20 years since the restaurant has been open. “Kitty Kaupp loves duck confit and seafood salad for lunch,” he reminisced, adding that Kaupp and the Stanton team, much like so many in the neighborhood, knew they could count on Montmartre for celebrations and good times. As a matter of fact, he knows it’ll be a big loss for Stanton and for the neighborhood to have a vacant storefront where their restaurant used to be.
They are not the only ones who’ve been long-time mainstays: Part of what made the decision to close so hard was to have to say goodbye to staff members who’d been working with Lezla and Raynal for the past 20 years.
When I asked him whether he’d like to reopen somewhere else, he is categorical in saying that he is done: “I still have to process all this. When you go out to eat you want to relax and you don’t want to be twitching when someone sneezes behind you.” While he is aware that other businesses are making it work and even opening while we are in this situation, he does not want to take that risk until a more workable model for restaurants presents itself.
“Everybody has mortgages and bills to pay. We want to make people happy and cannot do that anymore,” said Lezla.
Thank you for 20 years of making us happy and being a centerpiece of celebrations for the people of Capitol Hill. Vous allez beaucoup nous manquer— we will miss you so much.