Luc and Liz say ‘au revoir’
VAIL – Liz and Luc Meyer, owners of the Left Bank restaurant in Vail Village, have taken one day off in the past five months. This has been the couple’s typical winter schedule for the last 35 years. Until today.Luc and Liz are passing the Left Bank torch on to young French chef Jean-Michel Chelain and his wife, Kimberly, who have worked for the Left Bank for five years. Today is the last dinner served under the meticulous guard of these Vail pioneers.”We love what we do, but it’s time to slow down,” Chef Luc said. “Who in their 60s works 12 to 14 hours a day? Besides, Jean-Michel is ready to keep on the legacy of the Left Bank.”Liz, who is British, and Luc, who is French, opened the Left Bank in 1970 on Thanksgiving. Luc didn’t even speak English at the time. They had discovered the opportunity – the bankrupt Red Ram restaurant – while vacationing. Luc cooked for the building’s owner, Kaiser Morcus, and they were in business. Morcus was thrilled to have a French chef own and operate a local restaurant.”We never dreamed Vail would be what it is today,” Luc said, while preparing for the dinner crowd last Tuesday. “But we believed in Vail, and our philosophy was to invest in Vail.”Throughout the years, Luc and Liz helped open nine different restaurants in the area, including Lord Gore, Racquet Club and Mirabelle. Luc attributes their enduring success with the Left Bank to hard work and dedication.”My customers know when they open the door, I’ll be here,” said Liz, who in addition to calculating the books also runs the front of the house. “I took one week off to have a baby.”
Left Bank has earned a reputation for impeccable service. Luc and Liz are tough on their servers to ensure the diners’ experience is consistently good.”One of the keys to success is attentiveness to customers,” Liz said. “Attention to detail, seeing their needs before they ask for them.”Liz has memorized all the quirky requests of regular customers, from their favorite drink to their special tables. For many return tourists, Liz said, the Left Bank is an essential part of the Vail experience.Vail Mayor Rod Slifer and his wife, Beth, have dined at the Left Bank for 27 years. What brings them back each time?”Two things,” Beth said, while waiting for a to-go order of salmon cru last Tuesday. “Our friendship with Luc and Liz, and the incredible consistency of the food. It never disappoints – ever.”Beth said, before their daughter, Alexandra, became a teenager, the family would eat at the Left Bank once a week on Sunday nights.”We still celebrate all our birthdays here,” she said.The Left Bank menu has changed little in its 35 years, largely because of the potential outcry from regular customers, Luc said. He could never stop serving his peppercorn steak, rack of lamb and chocolate souffle. Some restaurant trends, however, have changed the way they do business.
“In 1970, we had 20 different wines on our list,” Luc said. “Now we have 400 selections of wine. We used to sell more liquor like whiskey, gin and vodka.”Health-conscious trends have crept into Luc’s traditional butter-based French cooking. He has added some Mediterranean-type entrees using olive oil and herbs to the menu. One notorious Left Bank characteristic has remained the same: In 35 years, the restaurant has never accepted credit cards.”In 1970 when I opened, I couldn’t get any banks to give me credit cards, I had no credit reference. It’s hard to believe because today you get five applications a day in the mail,” Luc said. “In 1975 when President Ford came to dinner at the Left Bank and we started doing really well, American Express, MasterCard they all called me to say, ‘Oh, you should take credit cards.’ I said, ‘No one wanted to help me then, and I don’t need you now.'”The new owners will be taking credit cards, but as of now, that is one of the only changes they plan to make. Luc and Liz will still be in the background helping with the transition, and the couple is definitely not leaving Vail. “I have lived in nine different countries, and the quality of life is best here in Vail,” Luc said.Bravo! concerts, gardening at their Potato Patch home, fishing, traveling and spending time with their infant grandchildren is on the couple’s schedule during the next couple of months.”We’ll be able to have a family Christmas,” Liz said. “The first Christmas since the millennium.”
Today will be sad for Luc and Liz, as the Left Bank has been their entire life, but they hope all their customers will come in for dinner to say “au revoir.””It’s very sad not to see my customers,” Liz said. “It’s my social life. That’s the hardest part.”
Left Bank will close after today and will reopen May 12 under the ownership of Jean-Michel and Kimberly Chelain. Just 35 years old, Jean-Michel has 21 years of cooking experience. “Since he was 14-years-old, Jean-Michel has been in the kitchen,” Kimberly said. “It’s what he’s always wanted.”Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado