Small Business Survivors: Midtown’s Benoit adapts and transforms amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Laëtitia Rouabah and Marc Hofbauer of Benoit.
Photo courtesy of Benoit

As New York City continues to bounce back, a Midtown French eatery is bouncing back as well.

In 2008, Benoit first opened its doors at 60 West 55th Street, just steps away from Fifth Avenue and Central Park. The space was formerly occupied by La Côte Basque, which officially closed in 2004, and Benoit kept the space’s French influence in place.

“The bistro echoes the original Benoit in Paris, which first opened its doors in 1912 and became part of Alain Ducasse Enterprise in 2005,” said Laëtitia Rouabah, Executive Chef at Benoit. “In the city’s dynamic urban environment, guests can enjoy a quintessential Parisian bistro experience that has been reimagined and modernized.”

Benoit boasts a traditional French menu with elements that not only encapsulate the tastes of Paris, but also the vibes. However, in 2016, owner Alain Ducasse decided it was time to give Benoit a modern boost without losing the Paris charms.

“In August 2016, Alain Ducasse transformed the original Benoit into a more modern 21st-century dining destination. I took on the position of Executive Chef,” said Rouabah. “At Benoit, I stay true to the quintessential French bistro fare I love and bring a contemporary flair to the new menu.”

Like many other businesses, in March 2020 Benoit found itself in a quandary due to the pandemic. With many restaurants closing down, Benoit followed suit at the same time, not just for the safety of their staff but for the customers as well. Regardless, the staff of Benoit was saddened that they could not continue to serve the public on top of the lingering fears regarding COVID-19.

“Like everyone else, the pandemic had a huge impact on Benoit, and not being able to operate anymore was devasting news,” said Marc Hofbauer, General Manager at Benoit.

Benoit remained closed until May 2020, when they immediately started to fulfill delivery orders and curbside pickups. Once the city and state allowed outdoor dining to expand in the summer of 2020, Benoit seized the opportunity to have customers go back to their quaint Midtown spot to enjoy a seat, albeit different than what they are normally used to during a Benoit dining experience.

The Benoit staff also went the extra mile and built the designated outdoor dining area themselves. The area was also outfitted with heaters and curtains so Benoit was able to facilitate outdoor dining as an option for New Yorkers throughout the winter months.

“We knew that we needed to adapt to this challenging situation and come up with new solutions!” said Hofbauer. “It was the opportunity for us to develop a new skillset, and completely rethink delivery, curbside and outdoor dining. Our own team built a terrace/outdoor patio for the Summer 2020 and upgraded it with heaters and curtains for the winter. It has now been converted to ‘L’Orangerie,’ fully equipped with music, fans, and beautiful orange trees and flowers. “

Over the months, Benoit has been able to shift back toward indoor dining while still maintaining its updated outdoor dining spot as well as delivery and pickup orders. The restaurant is continuing to welcome back guests, both native New Yorkers and tourists alike, and is happy to help the city begin to thrive once more.

“Outdoor terraces are a great addition to New York City, and it is a true pleasure to see the city vibrant again,” said Hofbauer. “We are also extremely happy to finally be operating indoors again. Our private dining room, main restaurant, and wine bar are fully open which allows us to continue what we love doing the most.”

Benoit is open Monday-Friday from 12 to 9 p.m., on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. / 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. / 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information or to check out their menu, visit benoitny.com.