Cafe de France, one of the oldest restaurants on Winter Park’s vaunted Park Avenue, has closed after 37 years. Owners Dominique and German Gutierrez made the announcement on the restaurant’s Facebook page:
“After 37 years, we are announcing the closing of our beloved Cafe de France. Since 1985 we have gained lifelong friends from our employees, our patrons, and our partners. Our hearts are full of wonderful memories, and we consider our story a very successful one indeed!
Closing this chapter was not an easy decision to make. Like for many of you, this restaurant has been our second home and our second ‘child.’ A place of first dates, engagements, and all kind of celebrations!
“We appreciate you all more than you know for the continued support and love which kept us operating for 37 years - despite a few recessions and a pandemic to boot.”
The restaurant, also known as CdF, opened in July 1982 and had two owners before the Gutierrezes purchased it in 1986. At that time, the owner of a restaurant next door called Le Royal Continental had thought he was going to purchase the CdF space so that he could expand and have enough seats for a liquor license. But the Winter Park city commission did not approve the expansion plans, which, according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, was a surprise to the cafe’s owner, Marie-Madeleine Nebout, who told the reporter she had not agreed to sell to Le Royal’s owner. “In fact, she said,” according to the article, “she is negotiating selling to someone else.”
The Gutierrezes were the someone else.
In an email Tuesday, Dominique Gutierrez said, “We have mixed feelings about closing this long chapter, but we are also happy to finally have some time for traveling and spending time with family.” She also said, “We are bowing out at the right time, and are proud of what we accomplished during our 37 years at the helm of Cafe de France.”
Gutierrez said that another restaurant will be taking over the space in August but she was not at liberty to give any details.
Over the years, CdF has helped launch the careers of several chefs, including Kenneth Stingone, Da Vinci, Flick, Sanford; Vincent Gagliano, Vincent’s, Hannibal Square; and Nathaniel Russell, Tennessee Truffle, Sanford.
In the mid ‘90s, I dubbed the developing strip of Sand Lake Road between International Drive and the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips Restaurant Row. But an argument could be made that Park Avenue was the original owner of that title. In its heyday, the Avenue was home to several “special occasion” restaurants, including Park Plaza Gardens, now home to BoVine Steakhouse; La Belle Verriere, a restaurant decorated with elaborate Tiffany windows in the space now occupied by Willams-Sonoma; and Maison des Crepes, in the Hidden Gardens off the avenue, where Garp & Fuss now resides.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the fortunes of Park Avenue restaurants began to change. Many changed hands, some often, and others closed. But after the turn of the century, the avenue and its surrounding area, including Hannibal Square, once again became a dining destination.
Few restaurants were there all along.
Briarpatch, the breakfast and lunch cafe, opened two years before CdF, and the Power House Cafe claims 1970 as its founding date as a smoothie and health food eatery but also states on its website that changed its concept with a new owner in 1998.