The two had their first date and got married at the restaurant, and always wanted to go into business together, they said.
“If we ever opened a restaurant, it would be this one,” chef Justin Wells said.
The restaurant at 101 Division St. NW has had three owners before the Wells took over in 2011. The first two successive owners operated it as La Petite Maison, then the third owner switched from French to Italian cuisine and called it Portofino Ristorante. That business eventually closed and then the Wells bought it.
The restaurant occupies a home built in 1903, so it needed some work, the couple said. They spent four months on a restoration project, including a new kitchen, then opened for business in May 2011.
The couple do a little bit of everything at the restaurant.
Justin, 35, cooks, takes reservations and shops for Northwest ingredients to combine with his French creations. After working part-time at an architectural/engineering firm in Tacoma during the day, Zoe, 30, then heads to the restaurant where she works as a server, explaining the menu and the French and Washington wines that can be paired with the food. The menu changes with the seasons.
Entrees on its current winter menu include pan-roasted quail; lobster meat with market vegetable, saffron cream and puff pastry; pan-roasted beef tenderloin, roman greens and veal demi-glace sauce. Food prices range from $5 to $78 for a two-person seafood stew.
Some people are intimidated by the French food dining experience, so Justin said he has tried to remove the pretension, offering a friendly, down-to-earth experience. He also is not the kind of chef who values presentation over substance. The food should still taste great, and the customer should leave feeling as though they “nurtured their body with food they ate,” he said. The couple also prefers a low-volume, attention-to-detail dining experience. On New Year’s Eve, for example, they cut off reservations at 33.
Longtime customer Julianne Ferguson of Olympia, who considers herself a “foodie” and a gourmet cook, called it the best restaurant in town and “better than it ever was,” she said.
Ferguson, who dines there about once a month, likes the pork bellies and desserts, such as the chocolate souffle and brown butter ice cream.
“I always have to save room for that,” she said.
She also praised the salmon and the starter soups and the scallops, which are “seared on the outside and just perfect inside,” Ferguson said. She added that she’s all about supporting a local business.
“They deserve it,” she said.Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403
La Petite Maison (The little house)
Owner: Justin and Zoe Wells
Location: 101 Division St. NW, Olympia
Years in business: About 18 months.
Service: French restaurant
Employees: Justin, Zoe and two part-time employees.
Hours: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant is closed the first two weeks in January – it reopens Jan. 15 – and is also closed the first two weeks in July.
Did you know? Owner and chef Justin Wells learned a little about the restaurant business when he worked at Proffits Cafe, a business his family used to run in downtown Olympia. During his time there, he worked as a cook and general manager.