With Bouchon for sale, chef Michel Baudouin reflects on its history, his future

NEW CHAPTER: Pictured on a recent trip to France, chef Michel Baudouin is looking forward to focusing more on his East Asheville restaurant, RendezVous, and a new business venture related to his passion for the French game pétanque. Photo courtesy of Baudouin

On April 23, Asheville’s most famous Frenchman, chef and restaurateur Michel Baudouin, hit send on his keypad, and an email announcing his decision to sell his flagship downtown restaurant, Bouchon, sailed through the ether to hundreds of inboxes. Only his family and closest confidants weren’t surprised, and his own inbox, phone and social media platforms lit up with dismayed responses.

On a recent Friday afternoon, several hours before the 34 seats in the cozy dining room of his French bistro would fill with diners, Baudouin expanded on his announcement, reminiscing on the nearly 20 years since he opened Bouchon on Oct. 5, 2005.

“This has really taken me a year to actually sit down and write, and when I did, I showed it to Vonciel [his wife] first,” he says. “She helped clean it up, and when I hit send, it was like OK, I’ve done it, I feel good about it.”

It was important to him to deliver the message himself and not let the rumor mill grab hold. Even so, many misunderstood that he was closing Bouchon, which is not the case. “We are looking for the right buyer,” he clarifies.

Just as he had turned out to be the right buyer for what was then Café Soleil, a creperie he fondly recalls as the first place his then-14-year-old daughter went to eat by herself. Not long after, he was in discussion with the owner about purchasing the lease.

When they successfully came to an agreement, he closed The Grape Escape — the wine bar he had opened on Pack Square in 2001 — and moved the furnishings to 62 N. Lexington Ave., named it Bouchon and painted “Bon Appétit Y’all” on the arch over the open kitchen.

On the menu from the start were the now famous pommes frites. A couple of years later, all-you-can-eat mussels were added as a promotion that is still a culinary icon in Asheville. “We needed something to drum up business on Monday and Tuesday nights,” Baudoin explains. “Then we couldn’t take them off!”

Other untouchable menu staples are the onion soup, the pâtés, the beet salad, steak au poivre and steak frites Bouchon. Then there was the lobster ravioli incident.

“It was not my favorite dish, so I decided to take it off the menu,” Baudouin recalls. “People were so mad! I realized maybe I don’t run the restaurant, maybe my customers do. We put it back.”

The first couple of years were a struggle, as with most restaurants, though he says Bouchon’s reasonably priced menu of comfort foods and wine by the glass boosted business during the recession of 2008 and the 2020 pandemic once restaurants reopened.  In 2019, Baudouin opened the much larger (80 indoor seats) RendezVous in East Asheville, installing a pétanque court on the expansive grounds.

As he noted in his email announcement, while he is not ready to retire from the industry he has worked in for 51 years (previously in France and Texas), his priorities have shifted, and his “Medicare-affiliated body” has urged him to slow down. “I still love it and I’m not ready to retire, but it’s time to let go of some things,” he says.

Bouchon is small enough, says Baudouin, that it could be owned and run by a two-person team — one in the kitchen and one running front of house — and that is his hope.

When that happens, he will focus on RendezVous and the new business he started that mines his deep passion for the French lawn ball game pétanque, Petanque America, the only supplier of everything pétanque in America.

With the same optimism required of anyone who opens a restaurant, Baudouin slaps his hand on the table and boldly predicts with a laugh, “Petanque is the next pickleball!”


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About Kay West
Kay West began her writing career in NYC, then was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, including contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. In 2019 she moved to Asheville and continued writing (minus Red Carpet coverage) with a focus on food, farming and hospitality. She is a die-hard NY Yankees fan.

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