Scott Crawford’s Jolie to open this summer after rooftop plan almost sank the project

Jolie, a French bistro from acclaimed chef Scott Crawford, became one of the Triangle’s most anticipated restaurants from the moment it was announced last summer.

But earlier this year, Crawford said he thought the project was dead.

Crawford had to work out an issue with Raleigh’s Board of Adjustment — getting approval for rooftop dining. With the situation resolved, and rooftop dining intact, Jolie is moving ahead, though it’s behind schedule by six months, Crawford told The News & Observer in a phone interview.

He provided an update on the restaurant’s progress as he announced his biggest hire: the chef de cuisine. Raleigh native Madison Tessener, who has worked in some of the best restaurants in Charleston, S.C., will run Jolie’s French-inspired kitchen.

“Her training is second to none,” Crawford said.

Jolie will open on the corner of North Person and Pace streets next to Crawford’s first restaurant, Crawford and Son. (Crawford & Son was The News & Observer’s Restaurant of the Year in 2018.) The restaurant, the French word for pretty, is named for Crawford’s daughter.

When the restaurant was announced last summer, the plan was to open by Thanksgiving, and certainly by the end of the year. Crawford said that construction is on pace to finish by the end of July, leaving the possibility Jolie could open in late summer.

Rooftop dining at risk

Jolie was designed with rooftop dining and seating looking out on Person Street. But a few months into the review process, Raleigh’s planning department notified him that a rooftop would need special approval from the city’s Board of Adjustment.

“Surprised is not the word; shocked would be a better word,” Crawford told The N&O. “We had gone through an express review process, and then all of a sudden zoning walked in and shut us down. At that point, I knew we were up against a six-month delay and a lot of money.”

Without the rooftop, there would be no Jolie, Crawford said. Not for the sake of the restaurant’s creative vision, he said, but because the rooftop contains half the restaurant’s dining room. Without those 30 seats, Jolie would be unsustainable, he said.

“A rooftop is not just to have a cool place to dine, it’s seats in the restaurant and revenue in a business plan,” Crawford said.

At a Raleigh Board of Adjustment meeting in March, Crawford agreed to the conditions for the rooftop, according to minutes from the meeting. Jolie will have an 8-foot wall separating the restaurant from the adjacent Oakwood neighborhood. It will be open on the three other sides facing Person Street and downtown Raleigh. The stairwell leading up to the rooftop will be enclosed by clear plastic walls. Music can’t be played, and hours must be between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m.

“I don’t think it will change the rooftop,” Crawford said. “You want to look out on the city and Person Street and you’ll have full ability to do that.”

Raleigh City Council member Stef Mendell spoke out against the Jolie rooftop because she had concerned about noise levels from the restaurant, according to minutes from the March 11 meeting. Mendell owns a condo within the Governor’s Square development on Person Street a block block over from Jolie. Indy Week reported that Mendell rents out the condo and lives in District E, which she represents.

Mendell said with certain conditions, she had no issue with rooftop dining, according to the minutes.

Two Oakwood residents spoke in support of Crawford and Jolie’s plans at the meeting, according to minutes.

“My neighborhood has been so supportive; we’ve worked together in resolving the kinds of issues that come up when businesses are near residences,” Crawford said in an interview. “I’m so grateful for that, I believe it helped sway the board.”

Scott Crawford’s second Raleigh restaurant will be a cozy French bistro named Jolie with a rooftop patio overlooking Person and Pace streets, next door to Crawford and Son. Juli Leonard

Jolie’s chef de cuisine

Tessener, 29, brings to Raleigh years of experience in some of Charleston’s best kitchens, including Fig, Husk, Chez Nous and McCrady’s, where she spent three years, rising to the level of sous chef.

Madison Tessener.jpg
Chef Madison Tessener is the chef de cuisine for Scott Crawford’s French bistro Jolie in Raleigh. Jessica Crawford

While her culinary pedigree is built in one of the South’s most popular food cities, Tessener told The News & Observer she always envisioned returning to Raleigh to open a restaurant of her own.

“This is my hometown,” said Tessener, who graduated from Millbrook High before going to the College of Charleston.

“It’s always been the plan to come back here and open a restaurant,” she said. “That’s been the plan since I was 8 years old.”

Tessener moved back to Raleigh earlier this year and scouted locations for her own place, but said she never found the right space. Along the way, she met with Scott Crawford and started cooking at Crawford & Son. After Crawford saw her work and learned of her experience, he asked if she would consider taking on the Jolie kitchen.

“Within five to 10 minutes of watching someone in a kitchen, I have a good understanding of what their training was like,” he said. “There is an incredible foundation there of Madison as a technician, but that technique has to be in balance with the ability to be agile and creative and sensitive. I was looking for someone to collaborate with.”

In announcing the restaurant last year, Crawford said the menu will feature classic French dishes like steak frites, Croque Madame, rabbit cassoulet, plus modern takes on turnip vichyssoise with smoked trout and caviar, and foie gras-stuffed chicken. The wine and beer list will be French, with cocktails focused on aperitifs.

He said he was inspired to open a bistro after a family trip to Paris.

“A true Parisian bistro is inviting, vibrant, happy, serving simple delicious food,” Crawford said last year.

Tessener said she is excited by the restaurant culture in Raleigh, specifically in the kitchens of Crawford and James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen, who owns several restaurants in downtown Raleigh.

She called leading Jolie an “amazing opportunity” and has put her own restaurant plans on hold.

“I’m 29, there’s plenty of time for all of my dreams to come true,” Tessener said. “I really like the bistro concept, because everyone has a different idea of what a bistro is. What we’re going to do will be different from anything Raleigh has experienced.”

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.