Novelle cuisine at Café Nouveau

by Lee Adams

Like most successful restaurant entrepreneurs, Café Nouveau owner Richard Fritz started out young. At 16 he worked as a dishwasher and busboy at Jeremiah’s in Jamestown and later tended bar at Rockola while putting himself through UNCG.

As a sociology major, Fritz had an interest in human resources, and his advisor warned him about working in the restaurants for too long. You might get stuck in that field, he told Fritz.

Now surrounded by sparkling stemware and white linen tablecloths, Fritz says he’s glad he ended up with this career.

After obtaining his bachelors at UNCG Fritz was married and moved with his new wife to Asheville. There he attended AB Technical College where he earned his culinary degree. Upon finishing an internship and graduating he became the executive chef of Etowah Valley Country Club just outside of Hendersonville. It was a fun and demanding job, but soon there was a new addition to the Fritz household, baby Madeline, and Richard realized he hardly had time to see her. So he left the country club and took a job as a pastry chef.

Though Asheville was a beautiful place to live it had its downfall for the aspiring chef. In the winter seasons business tended to slow down and it was common practice for them to lay off workers to make ends meet. During these months it was often too difficult for a chef or restaurant worker to survive financially, so the Fritz’s decided to move back to Greensboro where he and his wife both have family.

While working at Liberty Oak for six years, Fritz gained the knowledge, experience and contacts he’d need to open a business of his own, though he didn’t know it at the time. He helped Liberty Oak in the transition of moving downtown, which taught him how to make sure he met the proper requirements and how to deal with contractors. And he also met his future business partner, Janice Oliver, who worked at Liberty Oak for 20 years.

It wouldn’t be until later, however, when Fritz was working as executive chef of Laddy and Dukes when his dream would become reality. Fritz had been looking at possible locations when Oliver came into Laddy and Dukes one day. The two struck up a conversation about starting a restaurant and Fritz learned Oliver had the same interest. So they became business partners, and then the old Bert’s Seafood location became available on Spring Garden Street.

Drew and Mary Lacklen, owners of Bert’s, helped Fritz and Oliver in obtaining the location. They told the new owners which updates would have to be made to get the property up to code and they helped them find the right people to do it. The Lacklens helped see the start of the new business through, offering helpful advice and making sure they had all their affairs in order before opening.

Fritz and Oliver wanted something more than just a diner, and a year after opening Café Nouveau has become something unique. The floors and walls were redone for aesthetic purposes, linens and fine dishes added to the dining room and original artwork hung on the walls ‘— a new artist is featured every couple of months. Fine wines are displayed near the small bar area and the whole atmosphere is one of elegance and intimacy. Monthly wine tastings give diners something new and fun to try with different wine representatives bringing the goods for each tasting.

The menu is gourmet, as well, with original recipes that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Specials accompany the daily lunches of fresh salads and sandwiches, and the evening menu is filled with entrees like pan-seared duck with a sun-dried cherry and rosemary demi glace. Seared crabcakes with a toasted coriander and a 10-ounce porterhouse pork chop with a caramelized apricot chutney round out the menu.

Fritz and Oliver love what they do, and they have the experience to back them up. A lot of people get the idea that they want to start a restaurant, Fritz says, citing the case of an owner he once met who didn’t realize how much work would be involved. Fritz says the owner was upset he had to pour water for his customers.

‘“I’m glad I have customers to pour water for,’” Fritz says with a smile.

To comment on this story, e-mail Lee Adams at lee@yesweekly,com.