Benjamin Esteve, 84, restaurateur, maitre d'hotel


Benjamin Esteve, a retired restaurateur and maitre d'hotel who had worked at several well-known Baltimore restaurants and owned one of them, died in his sleep Saturday at Oak Crest Village. He was 84 and a longtime Parkville resident.

Born in a village near Valencia, Spain, he moved with his parents as a child to Lyons, France, where he worked in a grocery business and later went into wholesale food sales.

Family members said that during World War II, Mr. Esteve was taken prisoner by German soldiers and sent to a labor camp in eastern Germany.

Mr. Esteve immigrated to Boston with his wife and family in 1958.

"He worked any job he could find," said his son, Jean Esteve of Bowie. "He washed glassware at the bar, was a waiter and became a maitre d'hotel at French restaurants."

Mr. Esteve moved to Baltimore in 1962 when a restaurateur wanted to open an authentic French restaurant in the Marylander Apartments at St. Paul Street and University Parkway.

The restaurant had a short life, and Mr. Esteve sought other work in his field. He became a waiter and went on to become maitre d'hotel at the old Les Tuileries in the Hotel Stafford on Mount Vernon Place. He worked alongside his brother-in-law, Roland Jeannier, whom he met as a child on the French Riviera and who went on to became one of Baltimore's best-known chefs. They two later shared an ownership in Jeannier's Restaurant.

After the Stafford closed as a hotel in 1973, Mr. Esteve worked at Thompson's Sea Girt House in Govans, Eagle's Nest Country Club and the Roost in the Village of Cross Keys. Regular diners addressed him as "Mr. Ben."

In 1985, he joined Mr. Jeannier in opening the 100-seat, white-tablecloth Jeannier's Restaurant on West 39th Street, which a Sun food writer described as "known for classic fare, velvety sauces and luscious desserts."

"Our patrons just loved him and followed him from the other restaurants where he had worked," Mr. Jeannier said yesterday. "He had just the right personality for hospitality."

When Jeannier's was sold in 2005, a Sun article said, "Its closing marks the end of what was one of the bastions of French food in Baltimore for the past 20 years."

Family members said that Mr. Esteve loved to cook, but did not do so professionally. They said his favorite dish was paella.

A funeral Mass was offered Tuesday at St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church in Parkville, where he was a member.

In addition to his son, Mr. Esteve is survived by his wife of 57 years, the former Jeannine Jeannier; a daughter, Francoise Esteve of San Diego; and three grandchildren.

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