'We can't carry on without Eli'
THE owner of a popular French restaurant has died in a head-on crash.
Eli Leconte was killed when his silver Citroen Picasso crashed into a black Audi A4 convertible on the A34 outside Congleton.
The 51-year-old's wife, Amanda Kirk, escaped from the Manchester Road crash with minor injuries at around 9.30pm on Sunday.
Now friends and relatives have paid tribute to the 'loving and generous' stepfather-of-two, who was the owner and chef at Congleton's L'Endroit restaurant.
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The Lawton Street restaurant has now closed following Mr Leconte's death.
Mrs Kirk, aged 57, of Congleton, said: "Eli was a lovely husband and a great stepfather to my two children, Alys and Thomas. His death has led to a big hole in my life and of others.
"He was passionate about food and had always wanted to open a restaurant serving traditional French cuisine, not nouvelle.
"Eli kept an 'open house' approach to the restaurant and always welcomed anyone in with a coffee and time to talk. That's why he's so well-known in the community.
"We just cannot carry on with the restaurant without Eli. We would like to thank all our customers for their support."
Belgium-born Mr Leconte arrived in the UK from France in 1999 and met his future wife on his first day in the country. He worked as a head chef at a Manchester restaurant before the couple opened L'Endroit in May 2003.
Stepson Thomas Ferrari, aged 26, who lives in Italy, said the family had been touched by the many tributes from the local community.
He said: "I feel absolutely devastated that Eli has gone.
"Eli had always been there for me and has taught me so much about food and beekeeping.
"He kept bees since he was a boy and even had hives at the back of the restaurant where he produced honey. He will be sorely missed."
Restaurant manager Monika Kudrej, aged 31, of Congleton, who had worked with Mr Leconte for nearly five years, said: "He was so hardworking and often worked for 14 hours a day in the kitchen.
"Eli made everything from scratch and would source a lot of ingredients himself and often foraged for wild mushrooms.
"He was a wonderful man and he was more like a friend than a boss. I don't think I could ever work at another restaurant because it would be too hard for me."
Best friend Bob Hancock, aged 58, of Congleton, who had known Mr Leconte for 10 years, said: "He was the most generous man I have ever met and would do anything for anyone. He was a big character and had a big heart. This restaurant was his life and there will never be another place like this again."
Mr Leconte's funeral will be held at Bradwell Crematorium at 11.20am on January 18. Donations can be made to the Philippine Community Fund and Bees for Development in lieu of flowers.
Send you tributes to Eli to email@example.com