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15 Minutes with Patrick & Fanny Panella

July 2015
15 Minutes with Patrick & Fanny Panella
PHOTOGRAPHER: 
This couple de cuisine has poured themselves into their wine and cheese bar, Bin 152, and popular restaurant, Chez Nous. We sat down to learn what fills them up (hint: it’s not alcohol)

CM: What’s it like working together?
PP:
We’ve always worked well together. We have really complementary skill sets. In a lot of situations where people argue over who does what, we argue to do more. Fanny’s the best business partner I could ever hope for.

CM: Ever too much togetherness?
PP:
After we opened Chez Nous, one of us would be at the restaurant, one of us at the wine bar, then we would get off and do nothing but talk about work. It was terrible. So we had to make rules. Now, we only talk about work during meetings, and when we’re off, we’re off. At home, we’re married, not business partners.

CM: How did you meet?
FP:
I’m from Nice in the South of France. When I came to the U.S. in ’99, I thought I was going to stay only three months. I went to San Francisco, met this guy, and never left.
PP: Fanny worked around the corner from my wine bar and used to come in. I was persistent. She finally went out with me. And that was it.

CM: Why Charleston?
PP:
After living in Brooklyn for two years, we were kind of burned out on the New York thing. Then we got the opportunity to open a bakery here on East Bay. Driving to work the first weekend, I remember saying, “They’re going to have to drag me kicking and screaming out of here.”
FP: I love Charleston’s balance. In New York, it’s work, work, work. Here, people work hard, but they play hard, too. And I never want to take for granted that people say, “Hi,” on the street.

CM: When Bin 152 and Chez Nous first opened, some complained the menus were too limited, but both are thriving.
FP:
We believe in simplicity. It’s better to do one thing really well than many things average.

CM: Chez Nous is off the beaten path, not an obvious location for a restaurant. How did you choose that building?
PP
:  Sometimes I look at property just to see what’s there. I found this place three years ago. First, we thought we’d live there, then I suggested opening a restaurant. She said it was ridiculous!
FP: He just plants a seed in my brain and lets it grow. Two or three months later, I woke up and said, “How about we try a restaurant?”

CM: Chez Nous turned one this spring. Any lessons learned?
PP:
Many lessons, but in the end, we stayed true to our concept—a small menu that changes daily, which is not uncommon in Europe. It’s been well received and creates a really fun and engaging environment for guests and staff.

CM: You own a wine bar, yet you don’t drink. Tell us about that.
PP:
Yeah, it’s kind of ironic. We quit drinking almost 13 years ago. A few months into dating, Fanny said, “I think I need to take a break from drinking.” And I was like, “OK.” We never had a drink again. I taste all the wine, but I don’t consume any of it. And I love wine!

CM: How do you unwind?
PP:
I could walk South of Broad every day and never get sick of it. I’m obsessed with the architecture and plants around town.
FP: Our life is pretty social, so when we want to unwind, we hang out together at home with our pug, Armando. Our next project is renovating our 1880s house in Harleston Village.

CM: Have any summer plans?
PP:
We’re shutting the restaurant down for two weeks in July, giving our chefs a break, and flying to Nice, where Fanny grew up. I’ve been wanting to go there forever.

CM: Any new ventures on the horizon?
FP:
I compare businesses to babies. Chez Nous is a one-year-old that needs lots of care. Bin is older—we don’t worry about it as much. Maybe a few years down the line.
PP: And not unless we feel that it really contributes to the overall restaurant scene in Charleston. We want our businesses to be institutions—we never want them to go away. —Allston McCrady

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