Meet Aaron Thomas, owner and executive chef of downtown McKinney’s French inspired restaurant, Eclair Bistro. As a former professional musician, and third generation chef, Thomas knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a rock star. With the recent relocation of his wildly popular restaurant from Cedar Hill to McKinney, foodies and fans from all over North Texas can now agree: Chef Aaron hits all the right notes.
Romantically tucked into the well-appointed space located at 216 E. Virginia in historic downtown McKinney, Éclair Bistro is located directly behind the east face of the square. With Thomas’ delectable fare, paired with the ambiance provided by the soft contemporary, clean European lines of the space, (not to mention the much coveted parking directly across the street) it is easy to see how Éclair Bistro is fast becoming one of this areas favorite fine dining experiences.
“We remodeled the building,” he says, “my family and I did most of the labor. It was fun. It’s a little unique, a little different. It might look fancy, but it’s not just for special occasions, so come on in!”
Originally from New Orleans, Aaron Thomas was born into a restaurant family and brings that generational knowledge flavored with the famous port city’s mix of culinary influences, into his 100% scratch kitchen.
“My Mom grew up in the 9th ward,” says Thomas, “Her mom had a restaurant. And, if you know anything about New Orleans, food is our lifestyle. When my sister-in-law from Texas joined the family, she thought it was funny that when sitting to eat lunch, we would discuss what were going to have for dinner. But, that is what our lives are about. Life kind of revolves around food and family.”
When Thomas began studying the culinary arts, he realized his mother and grandparents were chefs in their own right. Although not classically trained, all demonstrated the advanced skills associated with French culinary tradition. When Thomas asked his mother how she came to know such, she replied, “I don’t know. It was how my mother taught me.”
At the age of sixteen, Thomas moved with his family to Texas, bringing with him the love of all things delicious, a hunger for knowledge and the beginnings of a cookbook collection he would study with an intensity to match his mother’s disciplined instructional style.
“I have so many cookbooks, maybe they would fill half of this building,” Thomas says pointing with a laugh toward the back of the large expanse of the cafe where we sit, “Julia Child was a big inspiration. One of my first cookbooks was her Art of French Cooking. When the [WFAA] Channel 8 food spot celebrated Julia Child’s birthday, they invited me out to do a spot. We staged this over the top, goofy, funny picture where I am literally buried under all my books.”
Before becoming an executive chef and restaurateur, Thomas and his mother, Lynn, spent a number of years building a successful catering business.
“My mother and I had quite an extensive background in catering,” he says, “we did private events, everything from personal chef style catering for eight to ten to 400 or so. We’ve worn many hats over the years and have prepared many, many different styles of food.”
Then one day, with eyes on a horizon that might possibly include retirement, Lynn said, “Maybe we ought to look into finding a brick and mortar place.”
What they found turned out to be conveniently located right across the street from Thomas’ Cedar Hill home.
“We bought it and refurbished it a lot like you see in New Orleans where they convert old houses into restaurants,” says Thomas, “What we did over there was a much smaller situation than here. It only sat around 40 people and we were only open about four days a week. The other days we continued doing private events there.”
Before long, word of Thomas’ delicious dishes spread, and Éclair Bistro was launched, becoming a popular destination location, developing a loyal following, spreading throughout Cedar Hill, into Dallas’ popular Bishop Arts district, then into North Dallas, Plano and Frisco.
“The restaurant was located in a historic area. But then the area changed over the years,” says Thomas, “After finding bullet holes in my property, that was the final straw. My wife and I have two little girls. It was time to go.”
With a brother located in Sherman, Thomas began searching the North Texas area for a new home for both his family and his restaurant.
“We fell in love with McKinney,” he says, “We’ve been here for six months now. It has been pretty cool. My folks come up and stay with us about four nights a week.”
When in McKinney, his parents can be found at Éclair Bistro, with father David welcoming guests at the door, and mother Lynn applying her focus to pastries, as well as sharing her wisdom where needed.
“We all have our nicknames in the restaurant,” says Thomas laughing, “My mom is nicknamed Grandma Ramsey because she is a firecracker! She doesn’t let anything sneak past her. With that in mind, almost since we started, we’ve been lucky enough to be one of the few restaurants that can take on culinary students. Le Cordon Bleu, and El Centro and some of the other culinary schools send their students to get credit with us. It is fun. It is fun seeing people grow.”
Culinary students, like patrons are attracted to Thomas’ 100% scratch kitchen where pre-made products do not exist.
“There’s a joke in the kitchen that we’ve even kind of taken on as a slogan – we do things the hard way!” says Thomas, “We joke about it, but we do believe in going that extra mile. We get the primal cuts of meat and break them down ourselves. We make everything from scratch. Its more work and more labor intensive, but we believe overall, even if you are not a foodie per se, you will still be able to notice the difference.”
Even as McKinney taste buds awaken to Éclair Bistro’s fare and the groundswell of positive raves and reviews populate foodie circles and social media, Thomas isn’t ready to rest on his laurels just yet. Instead, he looks forward to the day that not only is his restaurant filled with happy customers, but also, he looks forward to seeing his chic upstairs lounge and private dining spaces filled as well.
“I want folks to have a nice place to enjoy a drink and maybe start with appetizers before coming down to dinner,” he says.
“You never know who might sneak in to play a set,” says Thomas referring to his many friends in the world of music, “Sometimes, they even let me sit in for a song or two.”
Éclair Bistro is located at 216 E. Virginia St. in historic downtown McKinney. They are opened for lunch Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They open for dinner at 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
For more information, or to make reservations call 214-701-4409 or visit their website a eclairbistro.com