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Cue the Edith Piaf, don a beret and get ready for an infusion of French spirit right here in La Petite Roche. Terry's Finer Foods, a long-time Heights institution, is getting a makeover — Parisian style — and adding to its grocery offerings a 50-seat bistro, complete with tables covered by Provençal tablecloths, oil paintings of scenes along the Seine and haricots verts as slender as young shoots of grass.
In this post-Bush era, it's OK once again to be an unabashed Francophile, not that Lex and Ellen Golden, the new owners of Terry's, ever hid their passion for all things French.
After a trip to France in 1984 for his 40th birthday, Lex, a banker by profession and food-lover by nature, and his wife, Ellen, fell in love with the country and its culture. It's a love affair that continues to this day, and Ellen's French antique business, also in the Heights, has allowed them to return there often.
Which brings us to their current venture chez Terry's. The Goldens purchased Terry's last December from Gene Lewellen, who had owned it for many years. Lewellen had worked for the original owner, who opened Terry's in the 1940s, before buying the business.
“We had shopped there since the early '70s upon moving to the neighborhood,” Golden explained, drawn to it by its charge accounts, service and friendly people. Lewellen, who worked long past normal retirement age, “had tried for some time to sell it but found quickly it needed to go to someone in the area who appreciated its uniqueness—which we did,” he said.
The Goldens have honored the character of Terry's — continuing with the charge accounts and still emphasizing attentive service along with fresh meat and seafood, gourmet items and seasonal produce — while implementing some welcome changes.
Golden is a man with a certain joie de vivre, especially when it comes to fine wine and good food. In his office, petite new potatoes brought from France sit in cups on the windowsill like a school science project, pierced with toothpicks and poised to sprout; pale pink and white ceramic bistro plates spill from a newly opened box.
Golden proudly shows this reporter an enormous refrigerator just being installed, which will house an expanded cheese selection, and introduces us to the carpenter responsible for the handsome new wood shelving. The completely remodeled space is more open and light-filled than in days past; the feel is casual, not over-done, not too-much-of-a-good-thing. Golden says that they wanted to keep it simple.
Meals with family and friends have always been central to the Goldens' lives, so it's no surprise that this is not their first foray into the food business. Years ago, they opened the restaurant Chattie's, which was operated by their children Alex and Amy, “until,” says Golden, “they discovered banking suited them more.”
He explains that it felt like the right time to give it another go at Terry's by enlisting the help of Jim “Bubba” Justice, the grocery's longtime manager, and local chef Patrick Herron, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and former owner/chef of Beechwood Grill and the Afterthought. Together they have remodeled and updated the store and will soon begin construction on the 50-seat restaurant which they hope to open in the fall in space that once housed Sue's Pie Shop. Golden says the restaurant will be modeled on the modest French bistro, with rotating plats du jour (daily specials) and items like shrimp provençal and duck confit.
The Goldens shared their dreams for the market and restaurant with Justice and Herron by taking them to Paris for a week in July to visit local markets and take in the sights.
There they stayed in an apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower and dined at their favorite bistro, Le Comptoir, and their favorite brasserie, Balzar.
They hope to operate their restaurant in the style of Le Comptoir, “which serves more casually and without reservations during the day, then switches to tablecloths, reservations and more complete service at night,” said Golden.
A photo of Herron and Justice outside the bistro looking sated and happy now hangs by the entrance of Terry's, alongside another of Justice sampling an escargot.
They also took time to survey several street markets, flush with fresh vegetables, meats and seafood, and made a 5 a.m. trip to Rungis, the primary fresh food and flower market for Europe and North Africa. And they strolled through the famous Marche aux Puce (flea market) and enjoyed a sidewalk lunch at Deux Magots.
Even though they also worked in a tour of the Louvre and, Golden said, visited every major site in Paris, Justice remarked on the airplane back home, “I only remember eating and sleeping the whole trip.”
Le pain quotidien
While in Terry's, I ran into Roger Webb, a longtime customer and chef in his own right, who says he's excited about the changes. Burgeoning shopping basket in hand, he leans into the meat counter to share what this store means to him, “I've been coming here regularly for years, daily. When my wife, Dale, owned the City Farmer, she would come down here and ask if I'd been in yet!” Sure he appreciates the high quality of the meat and produce, but says that really it's the friendliness of the people that has kept him coming back. That esprit de corps is apparently shared by Terry's patrons and employees alike.