Two sisters opening French-American cafe in Harrison this week
Charlotte and Carrie Denoyer like to say they grew up sitting on banquettes. That's because their Parisian-born father, Jean Denoyer, has been in the restaurant business for 51 years (he opened La Goulue in 1972 in New York City and currently has Bar Italia, Orsay, La Goulue, and Le Colonial).
The two sisters — Charlotte is 30; Carrie will be 28 in April — recall spending every Friday after school ensconced on the restaurant cushions at La Goulue eating cheese soufflé and French fries and absorbing everything going on around them.
Every important moment of their lives — birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, holidays — were spent at their father's restaurants, not to mention working at them, with Charlotte starting at 15 and Carrie at 14.
Now, they have their own place, Café Deux, which opens Wednesday in Harrison. With 11 tables and plenty of bar stools, the all-day French-American cafe, with the mantra, "from coffee to cocktails," is big on French-inspired dishes — expect a bacon, egg and cheese on a croissant, a Croque Madame with maple ham on brioche, Steak Tartarte, Salade Lyonnaise and Steak Frites, as well American favorites like branzino and pasta.
There's also Rishi (loose) teas and Australian style coffee, which is the Denoyers' favorite flavor profile, not to mention a host of inventive cocktails such as a Berry Smash (bourbon, lime, muddled strawberries and a foam top), Boulvardier (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Campari, orange bitters and Luxardo cherry), Espresso Martini and Spicy Margarita. They also feature kombucha and a variety of non-alcoholic drinks.
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And there's chocolate from their sister company, Cupped Desserts, which they started in 2019. These mini cups, which are handmade in their onsite chocolate production kitchen within the cafe, come in 22 flavors ranging from peanut butter to wild blueberry matcha latte and speculoos sprinkle. The cups are displayed upon entry, giving the place a European feel.
First chocolate, then restaurant
It's a long way from Charlotte's teaching background — she taught for seven years in Harlem and the Bronx — and Carrie's experience as a freelance graphic designer who also tutored and taught. But then again, the switch is not surprising given their background.
The idea for the cafe, said the sisters, was always there. "It's something you talk about, joke about, dream about but never think will happen," said Carrie.
Food and chocolate have long been a passion. "Neither of us like to end a meal without at least a bite of chocolate for dessert," said Carrie.
And, so, in 2017, it started with chocolate, with the goal of creating something sophisticated, ethically sourced and high quality that was also casual and nostalgic for the flavors they enjoyed as kids. (A high-grade peanut butter cup, with a crisp 68% dark chocolate shell, was their first seller).
They were teaching by day and making chocolate by night — sometimes into the wee hours of the morning before they had to get to their day jobs. "It was a crazy time," said Charlotte of the business that officially launched in 2019. With demand growing, they needed a larger space.
Then the pandemic happened, giving them each time to reflect on what they really wanted. And that meant getting more serious both about their chocolate, which was fast becoming a thriving enterprise, and their restaurant plans. Ideally, they wanted a space large enough to accommodate their chocolate production.
Harrison made sense for a few reasons. One was familiarity. Though the two grew up in New York City, they spent summers in the area. "In our search for a place, we wanted something where we felt like we could be part of the community," said Charlotte. "Harrison felt very personal and comfortable and we're really excited about all the opportunities happening here."
Location was another driver. Located in the former Land & Sea spot, they're right across from the Metro-North train station. They also, they said, have a great landlord which, according to Carrie, is "half the battle."
And they have the space, something that's hard to find at an affordable price in the city.
The place was rebuilt down to the studs and now features a large display in the front featuring their chocolates as well as a customized bar on the left made out of industrial piping. Above it hang various sizes of wire-wrapped Edison lights. Tables and chairs with banquette seating are on the right.
There are a few stools between the front door and the seating area and by the front windows. The chairs and barstools, it should be noted, are from La Goulue, the first restaurant their father created and opened 51 years ago, reupholstered to match their custom banquette.
It's all done in earthy tones with a brick wall behind the bar and along the back wall and is meant to tie in traditional French style with American industrial modern. (Even the bathrooms are thoughtfully designed with reclaimed salvage doors.)
Having grown up in the business, the two are meticulous about every detail and have assembled a talented team. Alex Aparicio, who previously worked as a private chef in the Hamptons, as well as at the openings of Goosefeather in Tarrytown, Village Social in Mount Pleasant and Pub Street in Pleasantville, is the executive chef. Jessica Craig, who worked at Lilia in Brooklyn under celebrated chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Missy Robbins, as well as L'Artusi in Manhattan and the since closed Almond (also in NYC), is their executive pastry chef and chocolatier.
To ensure guests at the bar feel more engaged with the barista, they've incorporated an undercounter coffee machine from Italy that allows diners to watch the barista pull your espresso right in front of you.
They've also sourced interesting art such as a guest check that reads "Can I do the fries instead of the salad?" and another that says "We'll take a peek at the dessert menu." Much of their artwork is from female artists. They even used the tile on the cafe's floor from Casa Blanca Tile & Stone Inc. down the street, another woman-owned business. And there's a story behind the restaurant's name. With both sisters initials as "CD" and their last name starting with the "deux" sound, Café Deux made sense. So, too, did their logo, which is two fingers raised in the peace sign, adding more of an Americana element to their French cafe.
If you go
Address: 307 Halstead Ave., Harrison, 914-920-4110, cafedeuxny.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, to 10 p.m. Friday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Good to Know: In the morning there are grab-and-go items. And more brunch cocktails are to come.
Jeanne Muchnick covers food and dining. Click here for her most recent articles and follow her latest dining adventures on Instagram @lohud_food or via the lohudfood newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: French-American Café Deux opens in Harrison NY