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Chapel Hill restaurateurs to close Bonne Soiree

Owners to relocate to New York City

Chip Smith, who owns Bonne Soiree with his wife, Tina, talks about their restaurant while preparing for dinner on Saturday.

The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans fills the air as Tina Smith shakes grounds together, seeking the perfect medium between sour and sweet. Her husband, Chip, runs back and forth from the kitchen, readying pans for the night’s cuisine.

Preparing for the dinner rush is a typical afternoon for Bonne Soiree’s owners. But they’ll only have a few of these afternoons left in Chapel Hill.

The French restaurant — nominated for a top culinary award this month — will close April 30 after more than four years when the Smiths move back to New York to continue their culinary careers.

Tina Smith said she and her husband are looking for someone to take over the restaurant to continue its unique and warm character, but they haven’t found anyone interested yet.

“We still think it’s necessary for a college town to have a restaurant like this,” she said.

Tina Smith called New York City the epicenter of the food world, and she hopes to open a restaurant within about 18 months.

“The rents are steep in Chapel Hill, there’s a new landlord, and we miss New York very much,” she said.

The couple met in New York City while both working in the restaurant business. They plan to start a restaurant there because of bigger opportunities and sentimental value, though they don’t know exactly where or what kind, Tina Smith said.

If the restaurant doesn’t work out, she said she plans to do something with wine, and her husband would continue to work with food.

Bonne Soiree is located in the Courtyard, a walled-in retail and restaurant area on West Franklin Street. Plans are in place to renovate the location and add a parking deck, all of which could be completed as soon as August.

John Weigle, project manager for the Courtyard renovations, said the plans will continue even though the restaurant is leaving.

“We will not be making any changes in our plans based on what they’ve planned to do,” Weigle said. “We’re just going to keep on working until we get it done.”

Conrad Thurstone, owner of the neighboring Asian restaurant Penang, said although he doesn’t view Bonne Soiree as a competitor because of its different cuisine, his restaurant could still be affected by its departure.

“They have contributed to the attractiveness and popularity of the Courtyard,” Thurstone said.

UNC junior Evan Shapiro has been to the restaurant twice with family and said he regrets the restaurant is leaving.

“Competing restaurants might get better business because people will go to them as a second resort, except I think they won’t get the same experience,” he said.

The restaurant was nominated for the James Beard Award earlier this month, but Chip Smith said he will only be excited if they make it to the semifinals.

“The first time we got on the big list, we became so wrapped up in it,” Chip said. “Now we’re honored to be on it again, but it’ll only become a focus if we continue to get closer to the end.”

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