La Kitchenette, a cozy French café on the near east side, will close on June 16, according to a post from the restaurant on Instagram. Parisian chef Virginie Ok has run La Kitchenette in a renovated house at 805 Williamson St. for six and a half years.
“It is with a heavy heart but extreme gratitude that we made the decision to close the restaurant,” the business posted on Tuesday. “We want to extend a special thank you to our hardworking staff who have become a family.”
Ok said there was no one single reason to close, but if she hadn’t had to renew her lease this summer, she would have probably stayed open a few more years.
“It was a combination of factors,” she said. “We had to renew our lease for another five years, we don’t own the building. With rising prices and the staffing challenge — we still want to be able to offer affordable prices to guests. That’s what La Kitchenette is about.”
Ok has Cambodian roots and was born in Paris. She worked in the cosmetics industry before moving with her partner to Madison.
The opportunity to run her own restaurant came up after a month of working with Anne-Marie Rieunier (“Nanou”) at Chez Nanou. Ok took over at the end of summer 2016, serving crepes, crème brulee and croque-madame sandwiches, among other satisfying French classics.
A Cap Times story in January 2021 noted that “pre-pandemic, La Kitchenette was the kind of place where you’d regularly hear diners order and converse in French.” For many months, the restaurant did only takeout, including brunch.
“Soups and stews are nice to be transported, nice to be reheated and they keep warm easily,” Ok said at the time. “They are in their broth or their liquid which is warm, keeps everything warm.”
La Kitchenette is tiny, and Ok is the sole proprietor. She said she gained “a lot of valuable experience” running the phones, the kitchen, online sales and more. But it was hard to grow with prices going up, and the pandemic highlighted how far away her family lives, most of them in France.
“You can’t regain the time when you are far from them,” she said. Closing the restaurant means she will “be able to spend more time with them. I’ve missed important events, and my parents are getting older.”
Ok would love to see someone else pick up the La Kitchenette torch, as she did with Chez Nanou.
“I don’t know anyone yet interested in it, but I hope someone may call me,” she said. “It would be super lovely. I am super grateful … it’s such creative, cozy and homey place. It’s becoming rare to find these little (places).”
For herself, she’s not sure what’s next. It might be food-related, it might not.
“I love the current team and what we bring to the community right now,” Ok said. “I hope people have good memories in this little space.”
Ok corrected the date of closure that first posted on Instagram. The restaurant’s last day will be June 16.
“Be sure to stop by for a glass of wine, a boeuf bourguignon, an onion soup or a green toast before we say our final goodbyes,” the post read.
“We will forever cherish the memories we have created together in this tiny little space of Willy St. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a corrected closing date.