Chez Henri is closing Sunday, according to a Wednesday night post on its Facebook page.
“After 19 amazing years, it is with a heavy heart and bright eyes to the future that we announce Chez Henri will be closing its doors,” said the post, attributed to owner Paul O’Connell and general manager Beth Sprouse. “We invite all of our guests, family, friends, past and present employees in over the next days to celebrate the fond memories and say your goodbyes to this legendary neighborhood favorite.”
O’Connell opened Chez Henri in 1994, renaming and reinventing another enduring restaurant at 1 Shepard St. called Chez Jean into his own bistro-ish blend of Cuban and French cuisine. Sprouse joined in 2007.
The restaurant remained a culinary gem a decade in, revered for its coziness and the breadth of a menu that ranged from a Cubano sandwich to foie gras with truffled potatoes without forgetting the needs of vegetarian diners. “Few restaurants evolve so dramatically and yet so gracefully as Chez Henri has over the years,” The Boston Globe’s Alison Arnett wrote in 2003. “Chez Henri has both stood the test of time and moved into new territory, a heartening – and delicious – veteran in Boston dining.”
Even in its final year, Chez Henri was still winning acclaim for its food, named by Eater.com as one of a dozen hottest brunches; the host of one of the area’s 18 iconic sandwiches (that pressed Cuban again); and one of 38 essential Boston restaurants. (There have also been stubborn complaints about service over the years.)
In late April came the news O’Connell was working on a deal to sell Chez Henri to Dylan Black, a onetime employee who reopened the Central Square restaurant Green Street in 2006. But the reports were walked back, and O’Connell assured Boston magazine’s Grub Street that he would “turn it over only when the time is right” and with a guarantee it would stay much as it was. He told Grub Street’s Kara Baskin:
I’m turning 50. I’m pushing 20 years there. The restaurant has been around in various incarnations since 1958, and I feel a responsibility to the neighborhood that it stays independently run … I want it to stay true to fine dining, accessible fine dining. Not over the top, but also trying to do our best for the neighborhood.
The Wednesday announcement didn’t explain the closing, saying simply, “so it’s time, folks!”
“All the shift drinks, all the rounds bought and late-night snacks – it’s time to pay it forward! Come celebrate with us this weekend and throw some loot to the last standing of Chez to the Henri,” the Facebook post said.
It was followed by dozens of people reminiscing about the restaurant, wishing O’Connell well and expressing wishes they could be there for a final meal – or promises they would be.
It’s the second departure of a classic Cambridge restaurant in as many months. Upstairs on the Square is closing after a final New Year’s Eve, owners Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes said Oct. 18. It has been in Harvard Square for 31 years.