- File: Caleb Kenna
- Line Barral at Gourmet Provence | Robert Barral in 2020
After 17 years, Robert and Line Barral have decided to sell Café Provence and Gourmet Provence. The businesses, which hold a prominent place along Route 7 in downtown Brandon, will remain open while the Barrals wait for the right buyer.
"It's funny: Now that we think the restaurant is exactly where it should be, we are thinking about leaving it to somebody else," Robert Barral said.
The French-born and -trained chef, who recently turned 68, bought himself a brand-new camper last summer. "We want to retire and roam around the roads of America," he said. "That's one of the reasons why I left France in the first place — to travel."
He also plans to write a cookbook, gathering recipes and notes he's jotted down over the years.
Barral moved to Vermont in the late 1980s for a position at the now-closed New England Culinary Institute, where he became executive chef. He and Line, his business partner and former wife, opened Café Provence in July 2004. They used Barral's 401k from working at NECI to start the restaurant and the bakery, which opened eight months later.
The businesses have built a loyal following over the years, drawing customers from Burlington, Middlebury, Rutland and beyond — even during the roughly three years when Brandon was under construction.
Café Provence currently has 50 employees, 30 of them full time. Despite the pandemic, Barral said, business is more than double what it was in 2019. He credits the upturn to expanded outdoor seating — which includes 40 umbrella-covered seats on the green space owned by the town next to the restaurant's patio — as well as takeout sales and the reopening of the town's roads post-construction.
In the summer of 2020, Barral told Seven Days he was attempting to cut back on his cooking schedule. The restaurant is now closed on Monday and Tuesday, and he takes one full day off a week.
"We're so busy that I can barely keep up with things, but at least I have a taste of it," Barral said. "So, now it's time to see how long it's going to take to attract the right person for these beautiful restaurants that we are so proud of. It might be quick, or it might take years."
Thanks to financial support from the state and federal governments during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Barrals were able to replace the restaurant's roof, expand its outdoor dining and make other necessary renovations.
The businesses and buildings are listed by Pomerleau Real Estate for $1.5 million. The sale includes the main Café Provence space at 11 Center Street, the lower-level Center Street Bar at 15 Center Street, the bakery and event space at 17 Center Street, and the rights to the Gourmet Provence bakery and wine shop, which has a three-year lease in place at 37 Center Street.
Barral is open to all potential scenarios, including selling the restaurant separately from the bakery, but he hopes the restaurant will attract a chef or couple from a big city looking to run a business and raise a family in Vermont.
"Someone who would be like Line and I 40 years ago, dreaming of living the Vermont dream," he said.
Café Provence remains open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday; Gourmet Provence is open Tuesday through Sunday. Barral continues to host cooking classes several Wednesdays a month.