Hidden between towering apartment buildings and beige corporate offices located just off the 55 Freeway sits newly opened Roquette Café and Bistro in Santa Ana.
The café is the brainchild of Chef Samuel Geffroy whose extensive experience working as an executive chef in a Michelin star restaurant and even having a stint at the French consulate in L.A. taught him exactly what he didn’t want this new restaurant to be — stiff, pretentious or, in Geffroy’s words, “bougie French food.”
“I didn’t open a restaurant to be ‘OK’,” said Geffroy. “I wanted to open a restaurant where every customer that arrives will be super happy. It’s a lot of passion and love and work, and I want to make sure people can feel it.”
The cafe’s salads, soups, sandwiches, and breakfast food include vegan and vegetarian options, and for those with a gluten sensitivity and a sweet tooth, the café has gluten-free macaroons and chocolate cake. A lunch will cost roughly $15 to $20.
Geffroy’s culinary journey began on a family dairy farm in the countryside of Brittany, France. He worked in numerous restaurants across Europe and 4-Star Le Mont Paisible Hotel in the Swiss Alps. But in 2004, the allure of California weather, and American democracy, brought him to San Diego where he lived for more than a decade until he got a call that Moulin Café & Pâtisseries was looking for a chef.
“When Laurent (Vrignaud) hired me, I was very clear that I want to do a café,” said Geffroy. “But I don’t want to do only French, the goal is to do European cuisine.”
After almost two years at Moulin, and helping create and open Bouillon, Moulin’s bistro restaurant serving classical French dishes, Geffroy began searching for a location that could house his vision and saw a listing for the Santa Ana property.
He wants the restaurant to be a space the community will recognize and come back to over and over, he said. Residents from the neighborhood across the street have begun to stroll over to the café for breakfast and lunch since opening, said Alison Allen, Geffroy’s business partner and fiancée.
Geffroy credits Allen with focusing him on the business aspect of running a restaurant and getting Roquette’s doors open.
“She helped me to be a little more square in terms of paperwork,” Geffroy said. “Me, I’m a cook. Behind the stove is OK, now it’s a learning experience. It’s a new life and a big challenge.”
The location was previously an MJ’s Café, but before Geffroy signed any papers, he knew he wanted the outside patio wall removed and replaced with glass and validated parking for diners. A walk in fridge was added to accommodate the restaurant’s catering business. Wine corks saved over weeks and months by friends and family all over the world were built into the windows and floors of the restaurant.
The newly renovated patio is cozy, with a mix of tables and couches under hanging lights and is dog-friendly.
“I want to make sure French food can be approachable for everybody, that they can come every day,” said Geffroy.
Visit: Roquette Café & Bistro, 201 Sandpointe Ave, Suite 150, Santa Ana, CA 92707; roquetteoc.com