Popular Alexandria Restaurateur Jean-Francois Chaufour Dies at 68

"Loving husband, caring father, amazing grandfather and a beloved friend to so many people.”

Jean Francois and Francoise Chaufour in 1983 when they opened the doors of Le Refuge at 127 N. Washington Street in Alexandria, Virginia. (File photo)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Jean-François Chaufour, founder of the esteemed French restaurant, Le Refuge in Alexandria, Virginia, passed away Friday, May 1, 2020 with his loving family by his side.

Jean-Francois Chaufour was born in born in Tavers, France June 7, 1952. He and his wife, Francoise, both hailed from the Loive Valley area and came to the United States together in 1976 and started working as servers in the metropolitan area. After many years of hard work and saving, they pursued the American dream of opening their own establishment.

Jean-Francois in the late 1970s. (Family photo)

In 1983, the couple found a little spot in Old Town, Alexandria right across from Christ Church at 127 N. Washington Street, christening it “Le Refuge”, which means shelter in French. They set standards in food, service and atmosphere that stand the test of time almost 40 years later.

The Chaufour family — Jean-Francois, Francoise, and Anne-Claire. (Family photo)

One food writer described the restaurant this way: “The enchanting entrance, topped with a burgundy awning and flanked by a handwritten chalkboard listing today’s specials, is the quintessential country French bistro, a place you would stumble into from your Paris flat. Cascading seasonal trimmings welcome you inside to an intimate, casual café with iconic French culinary images stacking the walls – wine posters, wooden cheese wheels, vintage plates – creating an atmosphere of casual elegance and unpretentious, relaxed simplicity.”

Wedding day for daughter Anne-Claire, shown here with her parents Francoise and Jean-Francois. (Family photo)

Jean-Francois lost his business partner and wife Francoise in 2011, after her tenacious battle with cancer. She had been the effervescent light at the front of the house, and it was soon after that he gave his daughter Anne-Claire a full partnership in the family business.

The Fregnan Family — Hugh, Anne-Claire and Savanna. (Family photo)

She and her husband, Hugh Fregnan, have been orchestrating the operations for some time now and will carry on her Dad’s commitment to providing fine dining within a casual atmosphere for Alexandrians to enjoy for years to come. As Anne-Claire said recently, “Le Refuge is a place for everybody from the suits of the secret service to the flip-flop crowd of summer evenings and weekends. We plan to keep it that way and keep my Mom and Dad’s legacy alive.”

Jean-Francois with his daughter and business partner, Anne-Claire, at Le Refuge Restaurant. (File photo)

“Jean-Francois will be remembered for being a hard-working, authentic Frenchman in Alexandria’s cuisine world,” said fellow French restaurateur Laurent Janowsky, owner of Del Ray Café (and Le Bergerie). Michelle Poteaux from Bastille echoed his sentiments, adding, “Many of our patrons are also patrons of Le Refuge. Jean-Francois was a dedicated professional and brought French to Alexandria long before we began Bastille. Le Refuge is like a time capsule of classic French cuisine. He will be sorely missed.”

One of Jean-Francois’ greatest loves was his granddaughter Savanna. (Family photos)

Describing her dad, Anne-Claire says, “He loved what he did for a living, but Dad also loved to fish. One of his favorite things was to fish at our house in the Loire Valley in France. He was a loving husband, caring father, amazing grandfather and a beloved friend to so many people.”

In addition to his daughter and son-in-law Hugh Fregnan, Jean-Francois is survived by his three sisters, as well as by nieces and nephews in France, a granddaughter Savanna Fregnan and four other grandchildren. The family will notify friends and family of the upcoming date for a celebration of life as soon as it becomes available.

MORE: What Has Made Le Refuge Great All These Years