After 18 years, Raphael Lunetta has decided to close JiRaffe, the French bistro in Santa Monica he founded with then-partner Josiah Citrin.
In a letter sent to the restaurant's faithful patrons, Lunetta wrote that "JiRaffe has grown and now it is time to let him go."
"When Josiah [Citrin] and I opened that restaurant in 1996, we didn't really know where it would go," Lunetta said in a phone interview Wednesday. (Citrin went on to open his high-end French restaurant Mélisse in 1999.)
Eighteen years is a long run by any standard, even more so in Los Angeles, where few restaurants make it past the 10-year mark. So why is Lunetta letting JiRaffe go?
The Santa Monica native has two boys, 12 and 14 years old. With the oldest already a teenager, he said, "I'm realizing I have to allow him to grow and at the same time allow myself to grow. That's a scary emotion for me, especially when JiRaffe is so comforting for me."
JiRaffe will close the day after Valentine's Day, but the location won't be empty for long: Lunetta plans to open a new restaurant in the space in March.
He said he's been working on some ideas for months but wasn't yet prepared to say what the new project will be.