Roy Benich didn’t want to get pulled back into the restaurant business. Yet when a broker called, thrilled over the prospect of a certain property, Benich agreed to give the touted building a look. “As we pulled into the parking lot, I said I would take it. It was so impressive, and IBM was just down the road,” he recalls.
The year was 1984, and the 19th-century Georgian mansion in Hopewell Junction that Benich was besotted with soon became Le Chambord Restaurant and Inn, an elegant, French-inspired establishment that is now a local landmark. More than 30 years later, loyal customers keep returning, maybe for the Colorado lamb — a rarity in New York — or the braised short ribs with pappardelle, all savored in a verdant setting. But most definitely Benich’s gracious hospitality gives diners a strong incentive to come back.
Although the property has welcomed its fair share of celebrities, from Richard Gere and Katie Couric to James Earl Jones, it’s his neighbors that Benich caters to first and foremost. “They have been coming in since we opened,” he says. “For a restaurant to be here this long, we must be doing something right.”
Indeed. But Le Chambord has certainly faced challenges. In the decadent 1980s, a tony French restaurant made for an ideal night out. After their steaks, diners could crash in one of the inn’s nine stately guest rooms. (The Tara Hall building now meets the increased demand with 16 additional rooms.)
But in the wake of 9/11, the dining landscape changed. Restaurants were hit especially hard, and Le Chambord was forced to adapt to survive. The menu was transformed into a Continental one, melding distinctly French flavors with American, Italian, and Portuguese alike. It kept patrons coming. Today, they know it’s a place where they can relish honey glazed osso buco, a classic Beef Wellington (if they order in advance), or simpler, comfort-food dishes like fish and chips or gnocchi. “We buy local products, so sometimes we’ll get a phone call about a special fish and we quickly decide to come up with a new dish,” says Benich.
The façade and porch of Le Chambord (left) is welcoming, and the menu tempts with both classic dishes and new variations — such as Osso Buco (right) made with pork instead of the traditional veal
The menu evolves, but Benich’s devotion to the customer remains steadfast and robust, a result of developing a knack for the industry at a young age. Reared in Croatia, he arrived in New York in 1947 and started working in his family’s supper club when he was 16. This hands-on exposure led to a stint at Manhattan’s famed Tavern on the Green and running the old Treasure Chest and Amrita Club in Poughkeepsie. “I tell my chef never to feed a customer something you would not eat yourself,” he says. “There has to be quality, but you also have to be a people person — otherwise, there is no point in being here. I’ve been in the business my whole life, and there’s nothing else I would want to do.”
Especially in such a bucolic, European-inspired setting, the ambiance at Le Chambord appeals to countless brides and grooms, especially those who yearn to say their “I do’s” on the outdoor pavilion. Benich is equally passionate about the interior. Since he used to work in arts and antiques, each room teems with “gorgeous paintings” and treasures snagged at auctions and private estate sales. “There’s a magnificent sideboard, which came from the Astor estate on Long Island, made with four different woods and six bronze statues. It’s one in a million,” he says. Reverent diners might just say the same of him and the restaurant he’s lovingly nurtured.