Taste of France
Bistro Le Relais Offers An Elevated Yet Relaxed Dining Experience
Writer / Noelle Tennis Gulden
Anthony Dike was just 21 years old when he moved from Switzerland to the United States to learn commodity trading at American stock brokerage firm E.F. Hutton.
However, Dike quickly found out that the stock market wasn’t what he expected.
“I did a few trades, but it didn’t make me feel good,” Dike says. “People are losing money and I’m still making money? It’s not right. So that was it.”
During his brief time as a trader, Dike had picked up night shifts at several restaurants in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. When he decided he’d had enough of trading, Dike started working full time in some of New York City’s finest restaurants.
“I just got very lucky starting to work in very good places in New York,” says Dike, whose resume includes such culinary giants as Mortimer’s and La Goulue.
After nine years in New York, Dike was ready to move on and explore other parts of the country. He and renowned French-American restaurateur Jean Denoyer decided to open Bistro Le Relais in Louisville.
“I was still young and I wanted to try,” Dike says. “So we came here and I said, ‘Okay, we’ll open it and then I’ll move on.’ But that happened 32 years ago.”
When you first step into the restaurant, it’s easy to imagine that nothing has changed since Dike and Denoyer first opened it 32 years ago. Perhaps that’s due to the timelessness of its location at Louisville’s historic Bowman Field airport.
The eatery is located in an administration building that was constructed in 1929. The space the restaurant occupies once served as the airport’s terminal, and the main lobby is available for private parties. It can accommodate up to 48 people for a sit-down dinner, and more for a cocktail party.
Denoyer’s former wife, a Louisville native, originally proposed the unique location. Its art deco architecture was a perfect fit for Denoyer’s well-known style. Dike refers to it as New York chic with French appeal.
While many aspects of the restaurant have remained the same – such as the walls, which were painted 32 years ago by a young German artist to look like wood paneling – others have not.
“We originally had a New York-style layout with the tables closer together,” Dike says. “That did not work well in Louisville. We opened up the space and people received it very well.”
Most of what has changed, however, has had little to do with the space itself.
“The location has been fantastic,” Dike says. “It has always had more positives than negatives – a huge parking lot, easy access from the interstate, the building itself. There’s fantastic outdoor seating facing the airport. That has done very well over the years.”
Since becoming sole proprietor and owner of Bistro Le Relais, Dike has focused on making changes to help the restaurant adapt to a changing clientele.
“The restaurant previously had such a high reputation,” Dike says. “We enjoyed it, but at the same time it sort of backfired on us a little bit. We’re trying to be as friendly as possible, not that kind of French reputation of very strict. Of course you can have red wine with fish. Of course you can chill your red wine if you want to. The friendly French restaurant is what we’ve been trying to become.”
Dike recalls what the restaurant was like before the shift.
“We used to have a very high-end chef,” he says. “I was the maître d’, and I had an assistant and a cashier.“
Eventually, his chef left to pursue another opportunity.
“That’s when I sort of switched a little bit,” Dike says. “I stopped wearing a tie. That’s when we tweaked the menu to include items that are a little bit more bistro and a little less restaurant.”
The establishment was renamed Bistro Le Relais, with the term bistro denoting a more casual dining experience.
“We have to open our arms and open our doors as much as we can, and just say, ‘Welcome,’” Dike says.
While Dike is eager to welcome people who may have previously been intimidated by French cuisine, he doesn’t want to make changes that would upset his longtime clientele. Consequently, although he’s made the menu more approachable and has added a few healthy options, he’s been sure not to mess with what’s worked over the years.
“People come here for escargot because no one does them drenched in butter and garlic like we do,” Dike says. “People come because we still make our own pâté. People come because there are cream and wine shallots in a huge bowl of mussels.”
Dike explains that Bistro Le Relais would be called an upscale bistro in France.
“We still have tablecloths,” he says. “We still have some higher items on the menu. We have the steak and French fries, the escargot, the mussels, the salads. All the desserts are very French traditional – chocolate mousse, profiteroles, crème brûlée, the soufflés, and all that.”
Dike feels that his future success depends on building upon what’s brought him this far – high-quality food and high-quality service. Having recently traveled in France with his girlfriend Amy, Dike is as confident about his continued success as ever before.
“We just got back from the south of France, and the food was very good,” he says. “We went a little more Mediterranean style so we had more fish and all that, but I was sometimes comparing it with here, and I was very proud of the restaurant.”
Dike is currently considering additional ways he can welcome people to Bistro Le Relais, and one of his ideas is to bring back wine tastings, with wine and food pairings.
“We’re very proud of our wine list here,” he says. “We have a very knowledgeable team that knows about their wines. Mostly French of course, but some American as well.”
Dike is also considering adding a food truck component to his establishment.
“It would be a food truck for catering maybe, or for doing lunch business,” he says. “I have to do a lot more research still. It’s a fast-growing industry, but you need to cover all your bases. It could be another way to bring the restaurant out.”
Bistro Le Relais is located at Bowman Field, 2817 Taylorsville Road in Louisville. For more info, call 502-451-9020 and visit lerelaisrestaurant.com.