A Bitter Aperitif for Le Madeleine: Beloved Bistro Faces Possible Ouster

Yet, undaunted by three consecutive, costly court defeats, Mr. Edwards announced last month two additional lawsuits: one designed to further forestall eviction proceedings; and another seeking compensatory damages for nearly a dozen future years of lost revenues, if and when his forced exit finally happens. “You’ve got to fight—or get out,” he said.

Lest you mistake him for some litigious jerk, the tall bald man with the toothy grin would point out that, given his track record so far with the legal system, he’d probably fare far better by merely competing amid Manhattan’s cutthroat food-service scene.

“I’m doing $3 million a year,” Mr. Edwards has told The Observer. “That’s 11 years times $3 million—do you think I’ll have a chance in hell of getting that amount of money? Besides, that won’t help the 51 employees that I’ve got. By the time that I get whatever I get, they’re going to be dispersed and I’ll be broke, so I won’t be able to give them a piece of the action. It’d be better if I stayed in business.”

As part of his multi-pronged effort to keep the eatery afloat, Mr. Edwards previously launched an ambitious PR offensive intended to steer public opinion to his side.

Despite the support of thousands of petition signers, the publicity also had a downside.

“Because of the buzz over our lease controversy, some people have the mistaken impression that we have closed,” wrote Mr. Edwards in an editorial published this past April in the monthly neighborhood newspaper Clinton Chronicle. “This is, in itself, a threat to our survival. In reality, not only are we open, but we are working harder than ever to earn the repeat business we need to make the money to pay our legal bills and other expenses related to the fight.”

To rebuild his long-standing business in empty white space less than one block down the street would, in a way, bring the 28-year story of Le Madeleine back to the beginning. “When I started, this was a dirt floor,” he has said of the eatery’s humble roots. “I poured the cement slab.” Over the years, Mr. Edwards expanded into neighboring storefronts and installed a glass ceiling over the venue’s garden patio to provide for year-round dining under the stars.

Then again, starting over from scratch in modern Manhattan presents far different economic challenges. “The cost of building a new restaurant nowadays is far more expensive than it was in 1979,” he noted. Not to mention the rent. The alternative space is twice as big, with room for nearly 300 diners. It will cost, he said, far more than his current $10,000 monthly rent.