De La Coeur takes over the former Fresh Thymes location

The little café on the corner of Lovering Avenue and Lincoln Street in Wilmington recently acquired some new tenants. Called De La Coeur, this French-inspired spot, whose moniker translates to “From The Heart,” offers fresh pastries, homemade crepes, and robust coffee for lunch and dinner.

Open Wednesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., De La Coeur is the brainchild of Gretchen Brizendine and fiancé Alex Sianni. Together, the two decided to enter into a lease for the 18-seat eatery when the former owners of Fresh Thymes decided to close up shop in September.

“We had been going to Fresh Thymes for years, and Jenn and Jane (Adams) had become friends,” says Brizendine. “When they mentioned that they were closing and heading to Costa Rica, we were saddened, but Alex immediately saw an opportunity.”

According to the 24-year-old Brizendine, Sianni nearly made an agreement to start their business on the spot, and called her to share the news. “He told me to put in my two weeks [notice], because we were buying a restaurant. He knows that’s always been my dream, and I was 100 percent for it,” says Brizendine.

Brizendine, who had been working at Market Street’s La Fia bistro as a baker, needed to figure out some particulars first, paramount among them being how she would acquire the funds to buy the restaurant. But her business plan was already in place.

A graduate of the University of Delaware’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management program, Brizendine had written a restaurant business plan as part of her UD course work. Since she had the outline already written for a place she always wanted to call “De La Coeur,” things moved quickly.

Crépe with mixed berries and cinnamon cream cheese is a star of the menu. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

Crépe with mixed berries and cinnamon cream cheese is a star of the menu. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

“Within a few weeks, we were here working alongside Jenn and Jane, and starting to make things our own,” says Brizendine. “We did some painting, changed the décor a little, and they closed on Sept. 18. We opened Oct. 10 and the neighborhood has really welcomed us with open arms.”

Despite Brizendine’s young age for a restaurateur, she and Sianni, 35, have plenty of experience. Brizendine served an internship for one of Delaware’s most celebrated chefs, Dana Herbert, and Sianni has managed restaurants in London and Greece.

While their menu features a French influence, with éclairs, croissants and omelets, Brizendine also wants to provide food “people are familiar with.” She also says she’s committed to providing customers with mostly local and organic goods.

“We work with the same suppliers that Fresh Thymes used, like Powers Farm in Townsend for our eggs and Against The Grain Farm [formerly Bayberry Farms] for a lot of our produce,” says Brizendine. “We also kept one item from the Fresh Thymes menu, since we don’t offer as many vegetarian options as they did.”

That item is the Heartwarmer ($7), a warm mix of quinoa millet, apples, bananas, nuts, maple syrup and cinnamon. Another item that jumps off the menu is the Espresso in a Cookie Cup ($4), which Brizendine describes as a “four-bite treat” that has been a hit with customers.

“I got the idea from a TV show where they used the bottom of an ice cream cone as a sort of edible cup for a drink,” says Brizendine. “I take shortbread mix and bake it in a muffin tin, then coat the inside with chocolate. It melts as the espresso is poured in and makes for a sweet coffee drink.”

New owners Gretchen Brizendine and fiancé Alex Sianni have plenty of experience in the restaurant business.

New owners Gretchen Brizendine and fiancé Alex Sianni have plenty of experience in
the restaurant business.

According to Sianni, just about all the menu items and corresponding recipes belong to Brizendine. “The kitchen is her domain, but I’m the best pot-washer in the city,” he says. “I think the overwhelmingly good response we’ve gotten from customers is a testament to her talent in the kitchen. We’ve been slammed, especially on weekends.”

Woody Dries, a property development manager for Dewson Construction, helped facilitate the lease with Brizendine and Sianni. The Forty Acres resident, who walks to De La Coeur for breakfast several times a week, says the restaurant is in good hands.

“They came off as young and energetic but with a lot of restaurant experience and an impressive resumé,” says Dries. “Also, their sense of the menu they would offer—French cuisine and light fare—made sense for the area. They’re a great fit.”

The new owners may be focused on “light fare,” but they already have tried their hands at entertaining a dinner crowd. Once a month, they’re serving five-course dinners for one seating on a pre-determined Friday night. The $80 prix-fix meal kicked off in November with a menu that featured fall items like butternut squash, pork chop with sweet potato puree, and pumpkin doughnuts. It attracted 16 guests.

“We didn’t fully sell out, but we didn’t really advertise and still managed to just about fill the place,” says Brizendine. “I think that’s a positive sign for us, and we have dinners scheduled through June of next year.”

Reservations can be made by calling 660-7178 or going to delacoeurcafe.com. De La Coeur also will be selling homemade pastries and pies to customers for upcoming holiday parties.

Rob Kalesse
After spending eight years as a reporter and editor with Spark Magazine, Rob entered the freelance writing and editing market in 2013. Since then, the University of Delaware journalism graduate has enjoyed writing for Out & About, focusing primarily on the food and craft beer scene. On Friday nights, you can find him tending bar in Trolley Square at Kelly’s Logan House, where he also books local bands. Rob enjoys playing golf and softball, and lives in Union Park Gardens with his wife, Cristina, a history teacher at Alexis I. duPont High School, and their puggle, Daisy.