WESTFORD -- Opening a restaurant was never on Nancy Blanchard's radar.

Blanchard and her boyfriend, John Mastrangelo, had always joked that she would one day quit her job in the pharmaceutical industry to work in a coffee shop. "I thought the most stressful part of my day would be asking if a customer would like whipped cream on their frappuccino," Blanchard said.

When Mastrangelo, a coffee roasting hobbyist, saw the "For Sale by Owner" sign in front of Ye Olde Beef & Ale in Westford, he called Blanchard and said he found her coffee shop; a small yellow house with white trim and black shutters on the corner of Powers Road and Route 110.

The couple decided to create a business plan around opening of their eatery -- Belle's Bistro -- a spot that would focus on serving wine, coffee and martinis, and a handful of appetizers and desserts. The restaurant was named after the pair's Bernese Mountain Dog, Belle, who passed away last year.

Three weeks before the 65-seat eatery opened in July 2005, a chef walked through their doors looking for a job. He was invited to join the Belle's team on a part-time basis and, in addition to the planned appetizers and desserts, he created five entrees for the bistro's menu. On its second night of business, Belle's became a "full-blown" restaurant, Blanchard said.

"We wanted new American upscale cuisine with the basics," Blanchard said. "We didn't want people to come in and not know what they're eating." Alan Lantz has been running the charge in the kitchen for the last six years.

"We know how hard people work and how stressful life is," Blanchard said. "We want people to relax and have a great food experience and great drink experience."

Belle's Bistro

2 Powers Road, Westford, 978-692-4444, bellesbistro.com

  • Hours: Tues.-Wed., 5-9 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 5-9:30 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
  • Reservations: Accepted for parties of all sizes. Reservations are recommended because there isn't a lot of room for waiting in the restaurant.
  • Parking: Only 25 spaces; large parties should carpool. Parking is not allowed in the Olde Boston Square lot.
  • Menu: American bistro comfort food.
  • Atmosphere: Warm and inviting. Even though the menu is upscale, the restaurant has a slightly more casual vibe.
  • Try this: Firecracker Shrimp (crispy shrimp, spicy orange ginger sauce), Fried Oyster Sliders (with Cajun remoulade), New Orleans Etouffee (shrimp, crawfish and andouille sausage stew, white rice), Grilled Pork Porterhouse (sweet potato, corn and apple hash, chipotle sauce), Grilled Jumbo Sea Scallops (applewood smoked bacon, sweet corn and scallion risotto, roasted red pepper aioli), and Smoked BBQ "Shortribs" (boneless house smoked beef, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, crispy onions, barbecue sauce).