The restaurant business is a high turnover industry. Celebrating a 10-year anniversary is rare. Against all odds, L’Auberge Chez François in Great Falls, Virginia, is toasting 40 delicious years of serving memorable Alsatian accented gastronomy, which has thrilled everyone from American presidents and foreign dignitaries to couples commemorating a special anniversary and families marking major milestones.
Their stunning success story begins in Washington, D.C. For more than two decades, Chez François thrived just a short distance from the White House. For many diners, it was their first taste of French cuisine. “People didn’t even drink wine when he started,” says his son, Jacques Haeringer, who started working in the restaurant when he was 11 and took over as chef and co-owner when his father passed away in 2010. “Girls would drink Coke and the boys would have coffee.”
When the building the restaurant was housed in was sold in 1975, chef-owner Franҫois Haeringer decided to uproot the concept and move it 45 minutes outside the city to the bucolic hamlet of Great Falls. His attorney and accountant thought the idea was bordering on lunacy. “They said it was too high risk,” remembers Haeringer. “They said Great Falls was too far away. ‘If you drive another mile, you’ll fall off the edge.’ My father went over, kicked the wall, and said, ‘I’m doing it anyway.’”
The senior Haeringer poured the family’s savings into completely making over an old property and adding a full kitchen, wine cellar, and parking lot. Ultimately, it was transformed into a picturesque French country inn, which inspired the new name, L’Auberge Chez François (It debuted on April 20, 1976, with François leading the kitchen and Jacques as the chef de cuisine). “With Dad and I, it was old bull, young bull,” says Haeringer. “It was a strength of the business because we bounced things off each other.”