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Fernand G.M. Tersiguel, Ellicott City restaurateur, dies

Fernand Tersiguel persevered through two floods and a fire.
Fernand Tersiguel persevered through two floods and a fire. (Patuxent Publishing)

Fernand G.M. Tersiguel, a retired Ellicott City restaurateur whose business emerged successfully from both fire and flood, died of heart failure Friday at Sinai Hospital. He was 78.

Born in a village, Leuhan, in Brittany in northwest France, he was the son of Michel Tersiguel and his wife, Marie Hemery.

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His daughter-in-law, Angela Tersiguel, said he came to the United States in 1963 with the intention of working for a while and returning to France. He initially lived in Queens, New York, with his sister, Louise, and worked at the du Midi restaurant in New York City and then owned his own place, La Poularde.

“My father was a hard worker and he learned quickly how to run the front of the house,” said his son, Michel Tersiguel, who now runs the restaurant. “I think he ate steak every day for a month. He grew up in a poor household and he loved the tastes of U.S. steak. Steak frites with shallots was always one of his favorites.”

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He gave up plans of returning to France permanently.

“He soon realized this was where he belonged, and he became a U.S. citizen,” said his daughter-in-law.

He accepted an offer to work in Columbia at the Cross Keys Inn. He soon joined the Papillon Restaurant and in 1975 opened his own place, Chez Fernand, on Main Street in Ellicott City.

A 2016 Sun article described Mr. Tersiguel as a “man of tremendous energy and contagious laughter, [who] quickly developed a good customer base on Ellicott City’s Main Street.”

Mr. Tersiguel as maître d’hôtel greeted his customers. His wife, Odette Didou, brought her family recipes and cooked.

As he mixed with his dinner guests, Mr. Tersiguel prepared certain dishes at tableside — steak Diane and Caesar salad. He also butchered his own meats.

One of his customers, Dr. Michael P. Zimring, a physician who lives in Howard County, said: “He was a pleasure to sit and talk with. Fernand was a gentleman. He was personable, and his restaurant was excellent. And he did a lot of charity work.”

Shortly after he opened Chez Fernand, the Patapsco River and its tributaries flooded during Hurricane Eloise in September 1975. Mr. Tersiguel found he had 7 feet of water in the basement.

“The water emptied from the restaurant in about three days,” he said in the 2016 Sun article. “In another four or five days we able to open again.” His troubles did not end. On Nov. 14, 1984, he lost his restaurant to a fire.

“We had 40 people in the restaurant. It was [a Wednesday] evening, and we smelled smoke. It was seven, eight minutes before we realized the smoke was coming from the bakery next door. … We got everybody out of the restaurant, and then we checked the apartment over the bakery to make sure everyone got out,” he said.

The fire-alarm fire claimed the roof, and the floors above Chez Fernand collapsed.

He and his wife temporarily opened a restaurant in Baltimore on Fayette Street near the Shot Tower. When they found another Ellicott City property, they opened Tersiguel’s.

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“I wanted to be on higher ground,” Mr. Tersiguel said in the 2016 Sun article.

The restaurant was now located in an old white house on the west edge of the historic district. Diners were accommodated in five small dining rooms — each with a theme on two floors linked by a massive, finely detailed oak staircase.

A 1991 Sun review said, “There were no slips, no falters, not even a blip. In more than two years of reviewing restaurants in and around Baltimore — more than 100 of them ― Tersiguel’s is the best we’ve found.

Mr. Tersiguel, as maitre d', greeted us,” the review said. “We were immediately put at ease by his informal, cheerful manner. He tends to the diners; his wife to the kitchen. It’s a match made in heaven. Or, at least, a happy division of labor.”

The move to higher ground helped for a while, until Ellicott City flooding returned in the summer of 2016.

He remained optimistic and promised that his family would keep their tradition alive.

“That’s what I know how to do, the restaurant,” Mr. Tersiguel said. “That’s what I love. … You’ve got to jump right back into [business].”

Mr. Tersiguel kept a garden in the back of his home in Granite and used his own vegetables. He was known for his homemade ratatouille. His own taste in food included classic French dishes.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, who ran the kitchen operation at the restaurants; his son, Michel Tersiguel, the chef; and two grandsons.

A life celebration is being planned.

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