The story of La Mirabelle restaurant on West 86th Street is the story of a family. It began in France, where Nathalie le Douaron Cadou’s mother Annick was from. Her mother moved to New York in her 20’s and, like many of her compatriots, opened a restaurant. Though they moved locations in 1988, La Mirabelle is largely the same place it was 35 years ago. It has a homey feel, with pastoral paintings by one of the staff adorning the walls. Nathalie runs the place now, with her husband Loic, working alongside many of the same people and seeing the same customers she has seen since she started in the coat room as a teenager. “We’re just trying to keep her legacy going,” Nathalie says.
The menu boasts the same French dishes — escargots, pâté, sweetbreads — that, while classic, are hard to find these days. One of the waitresses, who sings Edith Piaf to diners on request, was there when Nathalie was born. Nathalie’s cousins work there; her aunt used to work there; Loic’s mother used to work there; each of their brothers was the chef at one point; their daughter just started working there. “We’re either related or we’ve known each other so long that we consider each other family,” Nathalie says. Loic estimates that 85 percent of the customers are regulars.
What has changed since 1984, Nathalie says, is the rent: “For small businesses like us it’s very hard to survive.” She recalls looking for the current location with her mother, who passed away in 2015, and wanting to stay on the Upper West Side so they could stay in the community they’d built. They got lucky with the current spot, where they’ve been since 1988, and its supportive landlord.
Nathalie and Loic still consider themselves lucky to have lasted this long. They got an influx of customers last summer when one of their peers, who had been around almost as long, closed down. “If you don’t own the building,” Loic says. La Mirabelle owns its space — not its building — and has eight years left on its lease. Nathalie isn’t sure if they’ll be able to stick around when it’s up, though she has no plans to close.
Nathalie didn’t plan to take over her mother’s business. She went to college and was expecting to go back for her master’s, but after taking a year off to help out at the restaurant she never left. “It took me going to college, maybe, to find out that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “I was lucky enough that Loic came to work for my mom and that’s where we met.” Loic joined was in high-end restaurant service when the place he worked closed, and in 2005 joined La Mirabelle while looking for another high-end restaurant job. He, too, never left.
Nathalie and Loic make a strong, efficient team, tackling everything from accounting to plumbing. Between the two they’ve held most of the jobs there, both front- and back-of-house, and have found their experiences only benefit their ability to manage. Together they have two daughters and a son. One of their daughters buses tables and the other helps out in the coat room. “They both think that they want to take over the restaurant,” Nathalie says, laughing. Their son is only 10 but Loic joked they’ll soon put him to work washing dishes. The family spends time together on Sundays and Monday evenings, when Nathalie’s cousin manages the restaurant.
To those considering opening a restaurant on the Upper West Side, the pair advises them to own their own space. “And have a good chef,” Loic adds.