There have been times since they moved here from France that the owners of Merci in Scottsdale needed a little mercy.
In January 2008, Noelle & Duc Liao opened Scratch Pastries in Scottsdale and then started a second location in Phoenix, but an investor scammed them so the Liaos filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and closed both locations.
“The good news is the City of Scottsdale and our landlord and others said, ‘this was a hiccup for you. Please reopen,’” said Noelle. “And they helped us get reopened within about eight months.
Merci opened in 2014 in a strip shopping center at Indian School and Miller roads and Noelle now finds she and Duc “have been so blessed.”
“We’re small but steady and found our stability again,” she said.
After six years, Liao said the secret to their success is “we’re authentic. We are French.”
“We lived there for so long and he grew up there,” said Noelle, who lived in Paris 15 years. Duc lived there twice as long.
“We’re here more out of love for people and making them happy with quality food and making sure it’s not about doing things quickly," she said. “We prefer to have less people. I don’t advertise. We prefer to have quality.”
The restaurant is serving breakfast and lunch daily from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Noelle said they hope to resume dinner service soon Wednesday-Saturday.
“We’re just grateful for every customer who comes in,” she added, noting nearly three-quarters of their business are returning customers.
Duc does all of the cooking and baking.
They import many of their ingredients from France – all non-GMO food products including butter and flour. Noelle is the buyer and manages the business.
“After so many years, I have to resource where I can find things and if I can get them,” she explained. “We keep some items on the special board because it’s not always easy to get. The mussels, for example. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not good. We don’t have it on our full-time menu but if I can find great mussels, then fantastic. It really depends on what’s in season.”
In addition to mussels, she said, “we have our snails – escargot, little fine French ones – and he (Duc) does his magic with the butter and garlic. With the frog legs he does his own recipes.”
The most popular dish is beef bourguignon slow-cooked in red wine.
“And Duc started doing his stroganoff in white wine and that one has been a really big hit, too,” said Noelle.
Baguette sandwiches are on the menu along with quiche; savory crepes made with organic buckwheat so it’s non-GMO; classic Parisian with ham, cheese and egg and one with smoked salmon.
Merci also serves French onion soup, lobster bisque and salads.
When starting their own business, the couple listened to customers on what they liked “so we progressed and changed according to what they were asking us for,” Noelle said.
Prior to moving to Scottsdale, she added, “I traveled intensely for about 10 years all over the world from India to China to all over Europe to Saudi Arabia to Sweden — just everywhere. I was modeling. My husband was a fashion photographer.”
In fact, many of his pictures are hanging on the walls at Merci.
“He’s done covers of Vogue, campaigns for Erin Mayes,” Noelle said. “We met doing the Louis Vuitton catalogs. I was the foot-and-hand model and he did three of their catalogs continually.”
The restaurant business is new for Noelle but not for Duc, who grew up in the industry. His parents owned a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris.
“He did the Cordone Bleu for two years,” Liao said. “And doing pictures of the chefs, he was able to get some really good internships at some of the best restaurants.”
The couple hopes to find stability with Merci and is confident patrons will see what sets them apart.
“You can drive up to a strip plaza and still get hotel-quality food and things you wouldn’t find at a regular restaurant,” Noelle said.