weather icon Clear

Georges LaForge, owner of Las Vegas landmark Pamplemousse, dies at 82

Georges LaForge, owner of the Las Vegas landmark Pamplemousse le Restaurant, died early Sunday morning of liver cancer and other ailments. He was 82.

His widow, Diana, said Georges Louis Maisondieu LaForge was born in Algeria when his father was stationed there in the French military and grew up in Antibes on the French Riviera. He came to Las Vegas in 1962.

“He had been working at the Lido in Paris, in scenery and the showroom,” she said. “He came with some of the dancers from the Lido and decided to start anew.”

She said because LaForge spoke no English, the only job he could initially get was as a busboy. But he would work his way up, said longtime Las Vegas chef Andre Rochat, a fellow native of France.

“He opened the first MGM Grand, which is Bally’s today,” Rochat said. “Before that, he was at Caesars. And then he opened that restaurant on Sahara. It was called The Morning After; it was a more casual creperie-type place. And then he changed it to fine dining and called it Pamplemousse.”

Bobby Darin connection

The whimsical name of the restaurant — “pamplemousse” is French for “grapefruit” — is part of local culinary lore, linked to legendary performer Bobby Darin.

“He was friends with Bobby Darin,” Diana LaForge said. “Bobby Darin was fluent in French; he liked to talk to Georges after the show. They’d get a drink and hang out. Bobby always wanted to own a restaurant and wanted Georges to open it. Bobby always loved the word ‘pamplemousse.’ ”

She said Darin had wanted the restaurant in Beverly Hills, but LaForge didn’t want to leave Las Vegas. And then Darin died at age 37 following heart surgery in Los Angeles.

“George decided to go ahead, and he opened it (in 1976) in his memory,” Diana LaForge said.

His widow said she met LaForge around 2000 while hiking near his ranch in Kanab, Utah, and that they shared a love for the West. She said she’s been helping behind the scenes at the restaurant for the past 12 to 15 years and will continue to operate it in his honor, to carry on his legacy. While the restaurant had been on the market, she said, it no longer is.

Though they had recently been in France and living at their beach house on Whidbey Island in Washington, she said he remained connected with the restaurant at 400 E. Sahara Ave.

“He still oversaw the memories, still was in touch with everybody every day,” she said. “We were there recently and ran into Steve Lawrence. We still get a lot of conventions coming in. We get a lot of new customers coming.”

She said they returned to Las Vegas full time a couple of months ago, when he became more seriously ill.

A ‘pioneer’ in Las Vegas

LaForge left his mark on the city he loved, Rochat said.

“Georges was like a pioneer in town,” he said. “He was the first independent French restaurant in town.” Rochat had the second, opening Andre’s French Restaurant downtown in 1980.

“Georges was an artist also,” Rochat said. “He used to do painting and sculptures. Very talented guy.”

“He was a man of many talents,” Diana LaForge said. “He loved the front of the house; Georges loved people, he was gregarious, loved to please. But he did develop all of the menus and train his chefs.”

Noted local show producer Norbert Aleman said he met LaForge when the two worked together at the Lido in Paris. After Aleman moved to California his house burned down in 1978, and he called LaForge for help.

“I said, ‘I have nowhere to go; I don’t know what to do,’ ” he remembers telling LaForge, who replied, “Come to Vegas. I’ll give you a job.” Aleman went to work making crepes at The Morning After.

“Nothing asked, just like friend, like family,” he said. “He was a guy with a big heart, a gentleman, would do anything to help. He was a great friend, great restaurateur.”

Diana LaForge said her husband is being cremated, and she plans a celebration of his life as a “bon vivant and raconteur.” Anyone interested in attending is asked to call the restaurant at 702-733-2066.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Top 10 things to do in Las Vegas this week

The Golden Knights’ home opener, the Pride parade, and shows by My Chemical Romance and Eddie Vedder head this week’s list of things to do in Las Vegas.