Benjamin Franklin once commented that if you build a better mousetrap people will beat a path to your door.
More than two decades later, those words apply to Le Parisien Restaurant owner Max Mercier, although he doesn't deal in mousetraps.Mercier was pestered by so many customers wanting to buy his vinaigrette salad dressing - made from an old family recipe - that he started a company to bottle it.
From a humble beginning of making and bottling the dressing in a small portion of the restaurant, Mercier now has his own manufacturing and distribution facility. In addition to the dressing, Mercier's company, Mercier's Food Products, 615 W. 100 South, also produces homemade pasta and pasta salads.
Last year Mercier sold 150,000 bottles of his dressing through his restaurant or in grocery stores. In addition to single bottles, the dressing is available in gift packs.
The 55-year-old native of Bordeaux, France, started his culinary training when he was 14 years old. When he was 17 years old, he worked in a fine seafood restaurant and earned the designation of certified cook.
He worked in several other European restaurants but realized the only way he could get enough money to open his own restaurant in France was to come to the United States. In 1960, he started at the Rive Gauche Restaurant in Georgetown near Washington, D.C., considered the best French restaurant in the area.
It was while he was working in a restaurant in St. Louis, Mo., in 1966 that Mercier heard about a job in a new restaurant in Salt Lake City called The Pierre. He worked there for a new months and then opened The Bistro at 330 S. State, leased the Makoff Tea Room and then found an empty building in 1970 at 400 South and 300 East, where he opened Le Parisien.
Le Parisien had only 16 tables in the beginning, but over the years he has acquired more space and most recently completed an upstairs banquet room for 120 people. His Bistro private club now adjoins the Le Perisien.
Mercier said that several years ago many Salt Lakers thought French cuisine was for the elitist crowd, to be eaten only on special occasions. But he added Italian food to help get customers in the front door and soon they were trying French dishes, many with unpronounceable names.
His success can be attributed, in large measure, to his dressings, which brings the customers back time after time.
Mercier's dressing is sold in grocery stores in Utah, Arizona, California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, and he is working on a deal with a national distributor that will get the original creamy, garlic and parsley, and fine herbs dressings into stores in other states.
Mercier has been named the 1991 professional of the year by the Beehive Chapter of the American Culinary Federation and, in addition to being a certified executive chef, is a member of the American Academy of Chefs.