Well-known local restauranteur Jean-Claude Petit passed away Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.
“We became pen pals when I was in the eighth grade,” wife Judy Petit recalled of the long-distance romance that began when she was a school girl from Fairview – a romance that eventually brought Jean-Claude to America. “I wanted a boy from Paris, France.”
Her pen pal query was answered by Jean-Claude who wrote back in French. Judy had to get the letter translated and soon learned he was interested in meeting her.
“We set up Sept. 10, 1968 as a date to meet,” Judy said, noting Jean-Claude arrived in time to attend the Warren County Fair during his month-long stay.
Jean-Claude returned to France after the visit and joined the French Navy where he served as chef for a year. He then contacted Judy and proposed.
“He told me to set a wedding date,” Judy recalled, noting the couple got married June 12, 1970 and then moved to Paris for three years before returning to Warren County.
Jean-Claude worked at a local restaurant for a few years before deciding to venture out on his own. He took over J’s Restaurant around Mother’s Day in 1982.
“We came back to America with $1,000 and the clothes on our backs,” Judy said, noting they struggled for a while before making J’s Restaurant one of the foremost eateries in town. “Jean-Claude always said there is no excuse for not making it here. He always felt America was the land of opportunity.”
Jean-Claude became a U.S. citizen in 1996. “He voted in every election,” Judy noted.
Jean-Claude worked hard during his 33 years at J’s, serving in the kitchen six days a week even as he battled cancer over the past four years.
“He would do chemo and then be right back to work,” said Jean Claude Petit Jr., who intends to continue in his father’s footsteps after working by his side for many years.
Jean-Claude’s passing came about six weeks after doctors discovered his cancer had returned, this time in an aggressive fashion. He had been in remission for several months prior to doctors breaking the bad news.
Along with operating his business, Jean-Claude had several passions, the foremost of which was gardening.
“He loved traveling and gardening,” said son Jordan Petit, noting his father was known for having a green thumb. “He would find a plant that was almost dead and bring it back.”
Jordan followed in his father’s footsteps when it came to long-distance romance. He met his future wife online and eventually met and married her. They now live in Sydney, Australia and are expecting Jean-Claude’s first grandchild.
“Only dad knows the gender of our baby,” Jordan said, noting he wanted his father to know that before his passing.
The Petit household also had a wedding in the days before Jean-Claude’s passing as Junior Petit honored his father’s request to see him married before he died.
As for other pursuits, Jean-Claude was known for his love of professional wrestling, a passion that went all the way back to his years in France where he was an active follower. Locally, Jean-Claude would often attend matches and wrestling parties with his fellow wrestling enthusiasts.