An unlikely outpost for French cuisine that thrived despite doubts is closing its doors after 38 years in the same spot.
Le Vichyssois, a destination for diners since 1976 along Route 120 in Lakemoor, will serve its last meal Sunday, March 30.
"Most of them are crying," founder, owner and chef Bernard Cretier said of his patrons. "You would not believe it. We have customers who have been coming since the beginning."
Cretier, 67, said he is closing the restaurant because he is tired of the long hours. However, he'll keep a side business making sauces and demiglacé.
"Instead of working 16 hours a day, we'll only be working eight to 10," he said. He and his wife, Priscilla, live above the restaurant.
The name of the restaurant means a person from Vichy, Cretier's home base. But his path to the outskirts in McHenry County became a well-documented success.
While in the French Navy, Cretier served as the personal chef of General Billotte, who was the secretary of state, according to the restaurant website. He worked at Maxim's in Paris and then in Germany and Switzerland, before coming to the U.S. to serve six years as executive chef at Maxim's in Chicago, then one of the top French restaurants in the country.
But he became restless and began looking for a spot for his own place. His French country inn opened in Lakemoor in 1976.
"At the time, there was not too many locations in the suburbs," he said. "I liked the location, I liked the building and I found a banker who believed in me."
He said the location between Chicago, Milwaukee, Rockford and Lake Geneva was a key.
The building is located in what is considered Lakemoor's Main Street, an area the village has targeted for redevelopment. Just a few doors down, old office and commercial spaces are for sale or rent, and the former location of the village hall has been cleared.
Cretier says he will stay put for the time being, but will sell the building if an acceptable offer is tendered.
As for the food, Cretier was known by some as a genius with his sauces. Customer favorites are mushroom cigar in port wine sauce, galette of crab in curry sauce, roast duck in sherry vinegar sauce and sea scallops, he said.
"It's an unlikely place that lasted a long time. I'm the last of the dinosaurs for the kind of cooking we're doing," Cretier said. "We are very classical."
He said he hasn't planned anything special for the last night.
"It was a great run. I really appreciate all the customers who came to the restaurant," he said.