Part of a downtown building that once housed a 100-year-old dry cleaner is about to become what its owners hope will be a five-star restaurant.
Wahid Hafsaoui and Carl Peterson have teamed up to create Couture's Bistro, next door to Hafsaoui's Paris Crepe Euro Caf?at 218 N. Tejon St. The two restaurants will share a kitchen.
Couture Bistro will serve Mediterranean-styled cuisine, specializing in French and Italian dishes, Hafsaoui said. The upscale restaurant will make its own breads, pastas and some cheeses, and serve regional wines.
Hafsaoui said he's had great success with his crepes eatery, and wanted to expand into another food arena.
"I am ready to do more than just crepes," said Hafsaoui, 39, who hopes to open the restaurant by Nov. 1.
The restaurant is in a prime downtown location, across from Acacia Park, and will open just as another Tejon Street mainstay, La Creperie, closes.
The idea for the restaurant started in 2010 with a conversation Hafsaoui was having with Peterson, who owns the building. Hafsaoui mentioned that he wanted to expand his crepe business or open a full-scale restaurant. Peterson was having trouble finding a tenant for the part of his building next to Paris Crepe. Couture Bistro satisfied both of their needs.
While Hafsaoui and his wife have been taking care of the restaurant details, Peterson came up with the restaurant's European theme and design.
"I have been working on the space for two years," he said.
It's a far different look from the days when the space was Couture's Fabric Care, a dry-cleaning business started by Frank Couture in 1904. Peterson's father went to work for Couture in 1912 and became a partner in the business in 1918, Peterson said. In the early 1940s, Peterson's father became the sole owner, and Peterson took over 1965. His son Keith, 54, now owns the business at 801 N. Tejon St.
But remnants of the dry-cleaning days remain. Behind an unmarked door stands a 29-foot tall, steel bank vault once used to store women's furs during the summer. Not from the dry-cleaning days: faux windows above the door that give a feel of being in a European courtyard. The copper flower boxes that line the windows were made by Peterson's father, who died in 1987.
A rear area where Couture's once hung rugs for dyeing is now designed as an indoor piazza with a 1800s-styled lamp post in the center. The wall is decorated with a mural representing the Arles, France, countryside and Vincent van Gogh's Yellow house on the Place Lamartine.
A successful restaurant has to go beyond appearances, however and while Hafsaoui is working to make sure his food will attract people, he's also tried to address issues that might drive people away.
"Parking?" he said. "It won't be a problem here. I am having valet parking to the garage in the back."
Hafsaoui could have rested on the success of Paris Crepe and played it safe, especially when the economy is still iffy. But that's not his style.
"I have always been a risk taker," Hafsaoui said. "I opened (Paris Crepe) in 2009 in the middle of the recession. Tell me I can't, and I will."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.