Bibou, one of Philadelphia’s most acclaimed restaurants, has fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic after 11 years, and owners Pierre and Charlotte Calmels are converting the 22-seat BYOB into a French charcuterie called Bibou Boutique expected to open next month.
Bibou, where Philadelphians brought their best bottles and some of their grandest expectations, served its last $125 prix-fixe meal on March 14, two days before the romantic trappings of white-glove service gave way to latex.
Bibou Boutique, at Eighth and Kimball Streets, will sell Pierre Calmels’ terrines, sausages, pâtés, breads, quiches, as well as specialty items and dry goods, but not cheeses. “We are going to leave cheese to the cheesemongers,” said Charlotte Calmels. “To me, cheese is a live product and needs to be handled very specifically. We’re a block from the Italian Market. Let them do it on Ninth Street.”
The change, though tinged with emotion, has them “super excited,” she said. “We’re going to be home every night [for their three daughters, ages 15, 13, and 8]. It’s time for a switch. It’s also going to be good for our customers, who will get products they can’t get anywhere else.” She said customers who have Bibou gift cards can apply the balance to purchases from the shop.
The city’s decision to allow restaurants to reopen their dining rooms at 25% of capacity, announced Thursday, sealed the deal, she said: “We had been talking about it for quite a long time, but when you see 25%, yes, that was it.”
At the start of the pandemic, the Calmelses began offering $45 three-course dinners to go Thursday to Saturday and in June put tables out on the sidewalk to create a casual setup called L’Apero on Thursday and Friday evenings.
The last night of L’Apero will be Aug. 29. Bibou Boutique will open after Labor Day and will still offer its pickup dinners. The shop will be open Thursday to Sunday initially.
Charlotte Calmels said Bibou’s furniture was in storage and held out the possibility of offering private dinners in the space, but only after health concerns have abated.
Bibou was the quintessential mom-and-pop BYOB. Eleven years ago, Calmels, the longtime chef at Le Bec-Fin, , was closing in on 40 and eager to become a chef-owner. His wife, Charlotte, whom he met on the job at Le Château d’Ouchy in Lausanne, Switzerland, was working in the front of the house for Le Bec-Fin owner Georges Perrier at Brasserie Perrier.
Bibou hit the food radar immediately with an affordable menu in snug environs. A renovation five years ago eliminated nearly 10 seats and opened the dining room. The move to a tasting menu that changed every week helped the bottom line.
The couple opened a bar-restaurant called Le Cheri, which had a 4½-year run at the Art Alliance just off Rittenhouse Square through May 2018.
The Inquirer’s Craig LaBan, who first awarded Bibou his top rating of four bells nearly nine years ago, wrote in his 2019 dining guide that Calmels delivers “spontaneous artistry” and “channels French gastronomy with a rare ease that always feels current.”