Salt n Pepper Bistro – a French restaurant, espresso bar and creperie – is one of several new businesses along Clearwater-Largo Road.
Photo by JULIANA A. TORRES
Jean Claude Lepretre adds a sprinkle of powdered sugar to a chocolate strawberry banana crepe Feb. 22, while his wife, Beth, prepares an apple crepe in the kitchen of their family business, Salt n Pepper Bistro, at 1757 Clearwater-Largo Road.
Photo by JULIANA A. TORRES
Jean Claude displays a finished apple crepe.
Photo by JULIANA A. TORRES
Jean Claude and Beth Lepretre own new Largo business Salt n Pepper Bistro.
LARGO – Some things, like the transformation of a Largo antique shop into a French bistro, are just meant to be.
Jean Claude Lepretre said he made an impulsive decision about the future location of his new restaurant as he drove past the lot at 1757 Clearwater-Largo Road. But the small building with a good-sized parking lot in the corridor that was becoming a prime location for higher-end restaurants has worked out perfectly.
“We get such a good clientele, and people are so nice over here,” Lepretre said. “The community just really accepted us really nicely.”
Salt n Pepper Bistro is open for lunch and dinner, serving crepes, salads, sandwiches and French entrees like duck à l’Orange.
“I have a lot of type specialties. I make all my sauces from scratch,” Lepretre said. “All the food that I serve over here, it’s baked to order. Nothing is pre-prepared.”
The French chef and owner of the restaurant said he invests as many fresh ingredients and expertise into his entrees as his desserts, which include a homemade chocolate mousse and crème brulee along with a large selection of crepes. His specialty is his crepes suzette – sautéed in butter, sugar, orange juice and orange liquor flambé.
“I’ve been in the crepe business forever,” Lepretre said, explaining that his parents’ crepe restaurants in France were his first exposure. “I was 3 years old when they opened the first one. So, I’m almost born in one.”
Lepretre started in the restaurant business early, first washing dishes in his parents’ restaurant before they let him wait tables, work on the floor and finally, learn how to cook.
“They wanted me to learn everything first,” he said. “I didn’t mind doing the washing, didn’t mind working the tables, because I love to talk. I love people. I did it all.”
The hands-on experience with cooks at the different restaurants – including an Italian cook who was like a mother to him – was invaluable and made him the chef he is today.
“People go to school. You can never learn what I learned. Because I really learned on the spot,” he said. “My parents pushed me to do more studies and stuff and I’m (said), ‘No, I want to work in a restaurant.’”
Before moving to Florida – where he had first met his wife, Beth, while helping a friend open a restaurant 27 years ago – Lepretre was managing five restaurants. Life was hectic, he said.
“We spent 10 years in France and then I decided to take a break,” he said. “Then we came here, and that was 17 years ago. We never left. We just loved it.”
About two years ago, the Lepretres began looking for a location to start a new restaurant. They started closer to where they lived in Palm Harbor, but couldn’t find anything. At the recommendation of a friend, they expanded their search and eventually ended up driving to Largo. The location they discovered on Clearwater-Largo Road was exactly what Lepretre had been looking for.
He and his son did a lot of renovation work themselves and his teenage daughter painted the scroll design on outside walls. The younger Lepretres, ages 16 and 20, still help run the restaurant.
“This is really a family business. It’s my wife, my son and my daughter; there are only four of us,” Lepretre explained. “We want to teach them the value of work. This is how I started.”
The “very practical and very functional” kitchen of the restaurant is almost as big as the dining area, which is ideal for him. If the smaller-sized dining room is full, Lepretre can still handle the orders, even if he’s by himself.
“For me, it’s almost easier to work when I have more people because I organize myself,” he said. “That’s the key to a restaurant: it has to be clean and organized.”
The dining area is designed like a casual French bistro, styled to make customers comfortable.
“It’s a warm welcome. The food is like comfort food, a nice portion. You never get up from here hungry. That I guarantee you,” he said.
Even after decades in the restaurant business, Lepretre said he enjoys his work. He likes coming to work to talk to his guests as much as he enjoys the food preparation.
“Lately, it’s really like a dream,” he said. “When we come to work, we don’t really feel like we’re working. We’re really having fun.
“I love talking and I love cooking so this is perfect for me, right? What better can you get?”
Though his experience with the city of Largo was easy, Lepretre said he found out later that he might have qualified for some of the business incentives available through the Clearwater-Largo Road redevelopment district.
“I was already in love with the place before I knew all that,” he said. “All I knew is that they were making the street nice. They said ‘No fast food and no stuff like that in that street,’ which really encouraged me.”
Some projects are forced, but Lepretre said making Salt n Pepper Bistro a homey and comfortable environment has been painless.
“Everything worked out perfectly,” he said. “It was meant to be.”
Salt n Pepper Bistro, at 1757 Clearwater-Largo Road, is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. To see a menu, visit www.facebook.com/saltnpepperbistro. To make reservations, call 585-3500.
This is the first part of a series featuring businesses that have opened up in the Clearwater-Largo Road Community Redevelopment District. Look for more “Largo business renaissance” profiles in upcoming editions of the Largo Leader.