For one NYC restaurateur, the coronavirus lockdown’s gloom and doom has been brightened with at least one thing: an experiment where he lets his customers decide what he’s cooking each week.
When the shutdown on dining in went into effect on March 16, the owner of casual Greenpoint French bistro Le Fond decided to close shop and layoff a team of ten. Just a few days later, Jacob Eberle decided to reopen with just himself in the kitchen — and a few weeks later, he launched an interactive menu where customers pick dishes each week. The items that get the most likes on Instagram make the cut.
“I was cooking for myself anyway,” Eberle says. “So I thought I should turn it into something fun for the neighborhood.”
Since April 6, customers have been chiming in with ideas for a main course, a vegetable side, and a dessert for one day of the week, and the suggestions are often not the regular French food offered at the restaurant. Lots of Italian dishes have landed, and every so often, there are detours to other cuisines of the world.
Recent menu items have included zucchini and goat cheese kebabs, a Japanese vegetable stew, and pork Wellington that are interspersed with classics like coq au vin, beef bourguignon, and lasagna bolognese. The restaurant’s cheeseburger with caramelized onions has also been one of the most popular items so far, Eberle says.
“People just really want comfort food right now,” Eberle says.
Each day, Eberle offers a main course, vegetable side, and a dessert, and each item is priced at $21, $8, and $10 respectively. Customers can also buy a side of French fries for $7 and a sourdough loaf with butter for $6.
Eberle posts a draft of the menu on the restaurant’s Instagram page on Mondays, and announces the winner and the final menu the following day. He’s in the kitchen Wednesday through Sunday, and pick-up is available from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on those days.
The chef says he schedules out 15-minute windows for each customer so there aren’t multiple people picking up orders at the same time. Sometimes his wife will help him take down orders as well, Eberle tells Eater.
Eberle’s cozy restaurant debuted in Greenpoint in 2014, and quickly distinguished itself as a standout spot in a neighborhood dotted with other top restaurants like Vietnamese spot Di An Di, Polish destination Krolewskie Jadlo, and French-Canadian restaurant Chez Ma Tante. Eberle leans to more classic French fare like poulet roti, gnocchi Parisienne, and chicken stuffed with mushrooms, while still keeping the presentation modern. Eberle described it to Grub Street back in 2014 as “honest, mom-and-pop French restaurant cooking.” Prior to opening his own restaurant, Eberle was the chef de cuisine at the sceney Midtown restaurant Lambs Club.
For Eberle, the future is uncertain, but he’s hoping he can rehire at least some of his staff if and when his loan application for the Paycheck Protection Program comes through. For now though, he’s just focused on cooking up new things for his customers each week.
For orders, Eberle asks that customers take a look at the weekly menu on Instagram that’s posted every Tuesday and place an order at firstname.lastname@example.org at least 24 hours before pickup. For same-day orders, Eberle says to call the restaurant at 718-389-6859 to check for availability first.