A “Happy Birthday” is in order for Le Gamin (108 Franklin St). The French bistro turned the big 3-0.
July 14, 1992, on Bastille Day, Le Gamin opened in Soho. Owner Robert Arbor told Greenpointers that in those days, there weren’t any cafes in NYC like there were in France, where he is from. He wanted to bring the big bowl-like cups of coffee that he still serves today on his menu to New Yorkers.
For their 30th anniversary, Le Gamin had a special prix-fixe menu that included lobster bisque, Rockefeller oysters, chicken Cordon Bleu, filet mignon with potato gratin and asparagus, grilled salmon with risotto, and chocolate mousse.
Greenpoint was not even the first Brooklyn location. There was originally a location in Prospect Heights. But they’ve been in Greenpoint for about 11 or 12 years. Some of the clientele from the original Soho location do make visits to the Greenpoint location.
I think [Le Gamin] has a lot of authenticity. I mean, it could be anywhere, just happen to be in New York but it could be in France. It could be….we have customers, 30 year customers. We have customers that are almost grandparents now,” said Arbor.
Le Gamin’s clientele have ranged from artists, actors, artists, gallery owners, photographers, especially in the early days. Keith McNally, Kate Moss and Uma Thurman, just to name a few, would be seen there. Arbor stated that the patrons who worked in the entertainment business ate at Le Gamin’s West Village location because: “They were very happy to find a sophisticated place open where they can go and have a steak at 9 am and then come back at six before they we were going to work in the studio.”
Arbor opened another location in Sharon, Connecticut on February 25, 2021. Arbor and his wife, Tammy, used to live in the area about twenty years ago, but they still go back and visit. During the lockdown, a house opened up on the market, and they used it to farm fresh produce. Then a restaurant space was up for rent, so Arbor took the chance.
Over the years, Le Gamin has opened many “operations” as Arbors calls them — Le Gamin in Sharon is the 67th opening operation. He has done operations as short as two days and as long as two years, such as the USA Open and a crêpe stand on Broadway. He also licensed the Hudson location to a friend and chef he has worked with for many years when Le Gamin was in the West Village.
Le Gamin means “the kid” in French, and it was a name Arbor was lucky to come by when he first looked for a spot for the cafe. I found one in the Village and called the business card on the window. I have met a gentlemen named Bruno, who was also French. After seeing the spot where Le Gamin would be born, he went to Bruno’s apartment from him. Arbor noticed a floppy disk in Bruno’s apartment with a drawing of a French guy coming to New York and opening up a salad bar called “Le Gamin de Paris.” Weeks later, he tries calling Bruno back to no answer and finds out from the landlord that Bruno has died. Arbor did lease the place and Le Gamin is in a way a tribute to Bruno who led him to that name.
He came to New York after meeting his now wife in Hong Kong. She was a designer from New York and he followed her back to the city, where he went to cooking school at the French Culinary Institute and eventually opened Le Gamin. They have two kids together. His son Lucien, although more interested in race car driving, helps with the store in Sharon. He also went to school for cooking.
Arbor may not be too sure about the future of Le Gamin, but one thing is for certain — he loves his job. He tries to think about time too much.
“Time goes, time doesn’t stop, right?….I’m just leaving my life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 25 or 85, as long as you live, that’s what’s important,” said Arbor, philosophically.
While he may not be docking time like many of us do, thirty years of a restaurant is not something many can boast about. So what’s the secret to keeping a restaurant open for thirty years?
“I guess stability, consistency, craziness,” Arbor says with a smile, “I don’t have the recipe.”
Arbor may not have the recipe (but Le Gamin does have duck confit, ratatouille, and fresh croissants) but it seems Le Gamin is here to stay. Here’s to another thirty, Le Gamin! Bon appetite!