This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Charlotte Calmels is the charming and chatty GM and co-owner of Bibou, one of Philly's best restaurants. Calmels runs the countryside French bistro with her very talented husband/executive chef Pierre Calmels. Charlotte has been in the food game for quite some time, and is often named as the very best front of the house personality in the entire city. She knows everyone in the city (including all the supposedly anonymous critics), and more importantly, everything about them, too. Eater chatted up Calmels for the inside info on how to score an almost impossible reservation, juggling an insanely successful business while raising three very young daughters, and the world's most famous wine critic.
How long have you been working with Pierre? I've been in the food industry for 15 years now, and first met Pierre at a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland called Chateau D'Ouchy. But, then we came to the U.S., and Pierre went to work for Georges Perrier at Le Bec-Fin, and I started working at Brasserie Perrier. It wasn't until we opened Bibou, that we started working together again.
It's Saturday night at 8:00 P.M. What's the wait for a table?Without a reservation? You're not getting a table. We are reserved pretty far out in advance, so unless we have a last minute cancellation, it's not happening. Same during the week, too. Unless you're coming at 5 p.m. or 10 p.m., weekdays are pretty full all the time, too.
Any tips for people trying to score a reservation on short notice? Twitter! We always announce last minute cancellations via Twitter, so if you're looking to get in, follow us. Also, we have 2 seats are our little bar up front we hold for people that use CityEats. So, those are your best bets.
Do you have regulars at Bibou? Absolutely. We have a good number of people that have standing reservations weekly. Probably about 40 of them. And those people that come once a month, probably another 40.
Who are VIPs at Bibou? Everybody. Can I say that?
What's the weirdest request you've ever gotten from a guest? Umm. Weirdest or stupidest? How about someone who asked us to make up a vegetarian bone marrow dish. It happens a lot more often than you think. Also, people request Pierre to make dishes they saw other French chefs make on TV, or dishes he made at Le Bec-Fin like 8 years ago.
What celebrities come to Bibou? Robert Parker, the wine critic has been here twice. Other than that, because of our reservation issues, not too many TV or movie people. Famous out of town chefs come here often, that's who we mostly get.
What are the most challenging aspects of running a restaurant with your husband? Finding something else to talk about besides the restaurant when we are at home. Since it takes up so much of our lives, it's hard to have other conversations.
How often do you have to deal with veggies and vegans at Bibou, considering how meat-centered French cuisine is? Oh, all the time. French food has evolved and isn't only about meat, cream, and butter.
What challenges do you face running the restaurant on your own after just recently welcoming your third young daughter into the family? I used to be in the dining room every night, but that just can't happen anymore. I used to be able to converse with and get to know the customers well, and now Pierre has to handle a lot of that, which wasn't a big part of his job before. Also, being out of the loop and not knowing what's going on at all times in the restaurant is killing me. And, it's really challenging.
Do you still have customers coming by that visit because of Pierre's time at Le Bec-Fin, and some that are there because of Bibou's previous life as David Ansill's Pif? Most are coming by because of Pierre's time at Le Bec-Fin, probably at least once a week. As for the people who were Pif fans, that was mainly the first year, and it's seldom at this point. Everyone remembers how great Pif was, but they're not expecting Pif food, so we're way past that.
The menu changes very often, but are there any dishes that are always available? The escargot definitely, and the foie gras dishes. Those will always be on the menu.
Did the recent 4-Bell upgrade from critic Craig LaBan change the business at all? Well, we've always been busy. But, we are now getting more out-of-towners than we did before. But, we've always tried to keep the level of quality at the top, so I don't think our efforts have changed. We do have more to live up to, though, in people's eyes, and that's good.
You're often named as the best GM and best FOH person in the city. What do you think you do differently, or tips you can give to other people to up their game? Wow, thank you. Well, I think in my nature, making sure you know what's going on in every aspect of the business is important. There's not one part of the operation that you can't know everything about. You can't expect that any part of the restaurant is just going to progress without you, so pay attention to everything and get involved. We have great servers who know what they're doing, and that makes me look good, too. Knowing your customers, even with small details, is important. I like having people in my restaurant, and diners can feel that. So, you need to like what you're doing every day.
So, are there any plans for expansion, or has the expanding family stopped that? If we find a perfect location, and someone who wants to finance a place for us, we would always listen. But nothing is ever off the table.
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