As dining reopens and local restaurants begin the road to recovery the Daily Press is highlighting one excellent eatery a week sharing its history, pandemic struggles, and signature dishes.

This week the spotlight is on Le Petit Chez Mimi — a country French restaurant run by the indomitable and loving Micheline “Mimi” Hebert, who at the age of 80, still shows up to work six days a week.

The story behind Le Petit Chez Mimi

While Le Petit Chez Mimi officially opened doors at 2842 Colorado Ave. in October, the story of the restaurant and its menu stretch back over forty years.

In 1976, Hebert helped open Chez Helene on West Washington Boulevard — a street that would be unrecognizable to anyone who only knows its current moniker of Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Long before hordes of Instagrammers descended upon the neighborhood, Chez Helene was serving up top notch country French cuisine derived from Hebert’s Quebecois roots.

To advertise the restaurant’s opening Hebert hired a young boy to run all over Venice delivering flyers, and said that within three days it was packed with customers.

While four decades have passed since then, during which Hebert ran restaurants in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and the Palisades, the current incarnation of Chez Mimi holds much in common with Hebert’s original space.

For starters, her advertising methods haven’t changed much. Hebert draws many customers by mailing handwritten postcards.

“People tell me ‘oh you just advertise on the internet’ and I said no I’m doing it the old fashioned way!” said Hebert. “You cannot believe the response that I get from these postcards. Everyday somebody calls me to make a reservation.”

In addition, many beloved menu items carry over from the original restaurant such as the truite amandine, tomato bisque, and the chômeur dessert.

“It’s traditional and I love tradition,” said Hebert. “You don’t change something that’s good that the people want.”

On surviving Covid

By contemporary standards, it makes little sense that Le Petit Chez Mimi is still in business. The restaurant has little social media, no online booking system, and no partnerships with food delivery apps.

At the age of 80, Hebert is at high risk for complications of Covid-19 and runs the restaurant from a wheelchair. While she has now received both vaccine doses, this was not the case when she opened in November. Furthermore, the restaurant had to shut down during the winter surge mere weeks after launching.

Yet months later Le Petit Chez Mimi is still here. If guests show up to the restaurant on any given night, weekday or weekend, they will find it buzzing with diners. Hebert will be seated by the door ready to greet everyone by name and take every reservation by hand over the phone.

Hebert believes her old school methods, which create a personal and welcoming experience for every visitor, are the secret to her success.

“You know it’s normal that I’m old fashioned because I’m old, but at the same time it’s the way I like it,” said Hebert. “People come back because I always put them in the reservation book with the note — if I want them to have something on the house, who they are, when they were here last. For me, it’s very important that my waiters know their name.”

Even with all these personal touches, opening a restaurant during the pandemic is exceedingly difficult. Hebert also credits her amazing team members, many of which have worked at her restaurants for decades.

Ultimately, she loves hospitality so much that the risks and troubles are worth the joys of remaining in the business.

“It was scary. It was very daring,” said Hebert. “But I’m getting to an age where I don’t have time to lose and it is what I want to do.

What to order right now

Le Petit Chez Mimi is open for dinner and takeout Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and recently launched a Sunday brunch service from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hebert said that every dish on the menu has been carefully designed, tried and tested. This being said, some crowd favorites include the French onion soup; mussels with white wine, shallots, cream and french fries; trout with sautéed almonds; and steak in a pepper Cognac sauce.

For sweet lovers she recommends the flourless chocolate cake, lemon tart, or chômeur, which is a Quebecois pudding served with caramel and maple syrup.

Clara@smdp.com