New Paper Canoe owner carries on family legacy

By on June 13, 2022

Jean-Marc Berruet (left) and his younger brother, Sebastian are carrying on a family legacy. (Photo by Kip Tabb)

At 24 years of age, Jean-Marc Berruet, the new owner of the Paper Canoe in Duck, is perhaps the youngest restaurant owner on the Outer Banks.

Little has changed at the soundside restaurant at the north end of Duck that had been owned for 12 years by local restaurateur Tommy Karole. Opening for the season in April, new owner Berruet isn’t planning on introducing a radically new menu or new ways of preparing food. In fact, the menu and the preparation of the food is very much what his father, Marc-Jean Berruet, created for the Paper Canoe when he reigned as the restaurant’s chef from 2013-2017.

For Jean-Marc, being in the kitchen is very much part of a family legacy and tradition. But it is a complicated legacy that Berruet is still struggling to reconcile a year after this father’s death.

“He had a drug problem,” he said of his father. “That kind of inflames issues.”

Going back another generation, Jean-Marc’s grandfather, Jean-Charles Berruet, was an internationally acclaimed chef at the Chaunticleer on Nantucket, a restaurant that Berruet describes as “a really serious, super-hardcore French restaurant that was there for [more than] 30 years. The waitstaff wore tuxedos, they had 1,500 wines in the wine list, 40,000 bottles of wine in the wine cellar…”

For Berruet’s father growing up on Nantucket, family life was complicated. “He had a difficult relationship with his father,” Jean-Marc said. Over time, though, Berruet’s father became a true French chef, someone who understood to a remarkable degree how to prepare food.

Regardless of the complications in his life, Jean-Marc said his father “was a legit, professional, trained chef. He knew an incredible amount of information about food and the preparation of food.” And his father was already well-known in Outer Banks restaurant circles before he became the Paper Canoe chef. After the Chaunticleer closed in 2004, he moved to the Outer Banks, opening the Pearl in the Sea Ranch Hotel.

Although the food and service were excellent, ultimately it was not a good match for a hotel that needed breakfast service for its guests and a more basic fare. “It was in a hotel, and the hotel wanted it to be different,” Jean-Marc explained.

The family moved to Florida to open a restaurant, but after two years, following the failure of that venture, they moved back to the Outer Banks.

The Paper Canoe had opened in 2010 and was holding its own. But there were issues with the chefs. One of them walked out over a holiday weekend in 2013. Karole needed someone immediately and an employee who was a longtime friend of Berruet’s father suggested he give him a call.

“My dad and Tommy hit it off,” Berruet recalled.

Karole agrees. He remembers that first meeting with Marc-Jean, and how he subsequently transformed the kitchen over time.

“I gave him the whole menu, and I thought he was going to be, ‘I want to do my own menu,’” he said. “And there are a couple of dishes on there that was his. But not really. He would just make it great…”

The second year Marc-Jean was the chef at the Paper Canoe, in September after the exchange students have gone home, the restaurant was still busy. He asked his son if he would like to bus tables and run food. The following year, his father asked if he wanted to come back.

“I’m 15 and I don’t have anything going on,” he recalled. “I grew up in restaurants so it’s comfortable.”

Jean-March spent the summer doing much the same work he had done before, bussing and running food. The following summer, 2016, he began doing prep work on the food line, “helping out on maybe the salad or the appetizer station, stuff like that…” By 2017, Jean-Marc said he was taking on more responsibility as his father’s personal struggles continued.

Over the next four years, he continued to work in the Paper Canoe kitchen, working with different chefs and honing his skills.  By the summer of 2021, “I’ve kind of done everything in here,” he said.

At the end of that summer, Karole, who had opened the Pony and the Boat in Kitty Hawk in the spring of 2021, told the Berruet he was going to sell the Paper Canoe. The twenty-something who had grown up in the restaurant knew he had to buy it.

“So he (Karole) said, ‘We should sit down and talk,’” Berruet said. “It took a while. But …it all worked out in the end.”

The new owner plans no significant changes. The core staff, many of whom have been at the Paper Canoe for more than five years, are still there and nothing has changed in the dining area.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the menu will go back to what Berruet’s father, Chef Marc-Jean, created.

His father kept notebooks on what he would prepare every day. The son has found two of them and is using them to guide him.

“He could be really intense, and he was very creative,” Jean-Marc Berruet said, adding. “I’m not saying I’ll ever get to that point right now.”





  • Allison

    Best of luck to you!

    Monday, Jun 13 @ 6:54 pm
  • Mark

    I reckon by the looks of these boy’s faces they aren’t one bit happy about it.

    Monday, Jun 13 @ 7:41 pm
  • Del

    I think that they look serious, or maybe determined. A kid growing up with a parent who has addiction problems often appears serious but just being in that atmosphere will mature a young person very quickly. What is their measurement for innocent joy then? Happiness is sometimes manifest in fulfilment, rather than a smiling face. Those guys remind me of other young people I know, and I think they look healthy, and determined. People say, follow your dreams. Good dreams are composed of the people you interact with and your approach to your everyday life. Best to you, boys.

    Tuesday, Jun 14 @ 7:17 am
  • lippy

    Been there a few times this year and I’m happy to say the food is still fantastic!

    Tuesday, Jun 14 @ 7:51 am
  • Jim

    Last I heard, their father was living with his wife and young son in Wilmington before his death. There was no mention of either above son in the obituary. Sad, but even sadder to see them using this opportunity to tack onto their father’s reputation while also branding him a drug addict.

    Tuesday, Jun 14 @ 8:52 am
  • Ray

    That was a Very well written article , interesting , informative , non pandering , and maybe even a bit inspiring !
    Hats off to those young men in there endeavor , and congratulations .

    Tuesday, Jun 14 @ 10:34 am
  • Ghost Crab

    I have never visited the restaurant before but I think if you are going to have return customers you may want to smile a little bit and live for the moment. Best of luck to you guys.

    Tuesday, Jun 14 @ 11:37 am
  • Beckette

    I love everything about the Paper Canoe and the area. Restaurants are very hard work but the experience brings so much joy to other people. All the best to you in future success. Good luck and may you find happiness in your pursuit. Let the beauty of nature sustain you.

    Tuesday, Jun 14 @ 2:31 pm
  • A.V.

    Jim, they are not “Branding” from their fathers drug addiction. They are simply stating that was a part of the equation and struggle that they have had to deal with. It sounds like you have never had to deal with this disease in your family, Consider yourself fortunate as it affects many and it creates tremendous difficulty for all family members. Guys, I wish you all the best personally and with your restaurant. God bless.

    Wednesday, Jun 15 @ 9:24 am
  • Steve

    Jean Marc is an exceptional human being and Paper Canoe would not exist today in its wildly successful form without him. He has been the glue holding that group of professionals together for years now.
    No reason to even waste a minute looking at any negative comments here.
    What is wrong with people anyway??? Bunch of numbnuts.

    Wednesday, Jun 15 @ 11:53 am
  • Look@See

    Good going young man! Parents aren’t perfect (no one is), but it seems that despite the father’s issues this young man decided to learn and grow using the good things his father taught him and that shows a great level of maturity! I hope this is a raging success!! Very telling that he chose to run his father’s original menu.. must’ve not been as bad a guy as some people think…

    Saturday, Jun 18 @ 3:15 pm
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