Bedford Loses a Jewel

Frans van Berkhout and the staff at Dalya's, including Danielle Berkhout, head chef Udiel Restrepo, Luis Ferando Medina, Andanto Maciel, Kerry Lavalle, Chuck Baker, Kelly Delia, Tracy Lewis, and Jonathan Velez - Image (c) JMcCT, 2014
Frans van Berkhout and the staff at Dalya’s, including Danielle Berkhout, head chef Udiel Restrepo, Luis Fernando Medina, Andanto Maciel, Kerry Lavalle, Chuck Baker, Kelly Delia, Tracy Lewis, and Jonathan Velez – Image (c) JMcCT, 2014

By David W. Packer

Dalya’s, Bedford’s premiere fine food restaurant that has served area residents for almost twenty years, will serve its last meal Saturday, December 20th.  This is sad news indeed for many who have hosted significant events there and enjoyed the food, ambiance, and staff on many occasions.  After all, Dalya’s has served well over half a million meals during its lifetime.  But owners Frans and Mita van Berkhout announced the closing to guests last week both at the restaurant and by email to their extensive customer list, noting that Frans has turned 70 and wants to retire.

In fact, the location will be taken over by Amarjit Singh, with family and partners, to start an Indian restaurant named “Holi,” meaning “festival of colors and love” slated to open by February 1st, 2015.  Frans and Mita assure us that the new owners have “extensive restaurant backgrounds” and believe “their concept will be a great fit to Bedford and surrounding towns”.

I interviewed Frans a few days ago, and his passion and dedication in creating Dalya’s was very clear.  Frans is a tall, well-spoken Dutchman.  His path to Dalya’s started in The Netherlands where he grew up and earned a degree in hotel management at a top Dutch school in The Hague. He came to the United States in 1973 and worked for the San Francisco Hyatt (on the Embarcadero).   There he met Mita who lived in Berkeley, also with Dutch roots, and they married.  They celebrated their 40th anniversary this October.  His journey with Hyatt continued in Winston-Salem North Carolina and then, luckily for us, to the Cambridge Hyatt in 1976.

From 1978 on, Frans and Mita embarked on restaurants of their own, starting with Le Bellecour in Lexington center, with classic French cuisine, familiar to many Bedford residents, and then a second fine dining eatery in Andover, called “Rembrandts”, a Dutch inspired name, and located in a former funeral parlor that had gone out of business–a fact that led to many not-too-nice comments.  So they changed the name, not the location to “18 Elm Street” and this solved the problem somehow.  They ultimately sold out in Andover and moved after they had already stared Dalya’s to Bedford in 1994—twenty years ago.

The van Berkhout’s have raised three daughters, Danielle, Lydia, and Alexandra.  In fact the name “Dalya’s” is the direct result of combining letters from each of the daughters’ names.  Danielle is the oldest and has participated in the family restaurants from her teen years to this day, from coat checking to waitress and assistant manager.  She lives in a nearby town.  Lydia, whose husband is in the mining business, teaches in South Africa.  Alexandra is an army major’s spouse currently living in South Korea, mother of the two van Berkhout grandchildren. The geographic dispersion of their children plays into Frans’s retirement goal, as he and Mita would like more freedom to travel.

Dalya’s head Chef Udiel Restrepo, a Colombian native, was trained by Lydia Shire, first at the Bostonian Hotel and  later at Biba and Locke-Ober.  Cold kitchen Chef Adauto Maciel started at Rembrandt.  Both Chefs have been long-timers with Frans, with 25 and 30-year tenures respectively.  Similarly other kitchen staff has 18 to 20 year tenures and the wait staff averages about the same.  Loyalty and commitment have been a most positive aspect of Dalya’s.  As Frans commented,  “the staff will often prepare the favorite drinks for long term customers as soon they come through the door.”  There is a warm feeling in Dalya’s as a place where so many know your name.  Dalya’s has been a good place to work as well as a terrific place to eat.

The Dalya’s menu has evolved over time to have an American and Mediterranean focus.  Good examples are the hummus and focaccia, the short ribs (American) that are marinated in Guinness and fresh herbs and accompanied by garlic-mashed potatoes with feta cheese and truffle oil (Mediterranean), and a unique Middle Eastern salad with a Moroccan Argan oil dressing, dates from Morocco and French Boursin cheese.  Other popular and special items are the well-known and ever-popular Shrimp Toast with goat cheese, a Chef Udiel creation, the roasted Dduck, the wildly popular beef carpaccio, and a lunchtime favorite of smoked salmon and egg salad.   It is this kind of uniqueness that gives a special appeal to fine dining at Dalya’s.

But other important changes have occurred at Dalya’s over the years.  Frans points to the fact that the clientele has aged and that younger people seem to want a different concept, which he has no interest in developing. Upscale restaurants in Burlington like Capital Grille and modest eateries in Bedford, which have multiplied, all change the nature of the business.  Gone, for example, are the “physicians’ lunches and dinners” where drug companies often gathered doctors for good cuisine and sales pitches, once a staple in Dalya’s business.  Many companies have now cut back on expense account lunches and dinners as well.

Frans looks back on the good times and will miss most seeing regular customers in the restaurant who have become real friends.  The bad times were when he had to usher troublesome diners out the door, but these were few and far between.

He has also seen Bedford change, becoming a much more professionally managed town with “nicer people” in town offices, with whom he deals on a regular basis.  He also pointed to the favorable changes in alcohol rules, from the early years of a service bar only when drinks had to be brought to tables to a bar where one could sit but only order drinks after food was ordered to today’s pleasant bar for clients and more lenient rules, which now allow drinks before ordering.  He applauds the town for strict alcohol controls, as they prevent problems and result in lower insurance rates.  He sees the redo of the Marshall’s shopping center as a plus, but worries that it will attract even more traffic to our already overloaded thoroughfares.

Even with this change, Frans and Mita will actually maintain a Bedford connection, as they own the building that houses both Dalya’s and a Bedford Farms ice cream.  Frans sees these real estate investments as an important component in his retirement.  And it will keep him in touch.

Two decades is a long time, and Bedford has been lucky to have Dalya’s in its center for so long.  For that we thank Frans, Mita and the loyal staff of what I think of as having the menu, the ambiance, and the friendliness of an outstanding restaurant.  All of that will be missed.

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