Story and Photos by Bill Koelzer
When she was a little girl, Veronique Price, owner of the new Café Mimosa on Avenida Del Mar, worked in her mom’s restaurant in France’s Loire Valley.
Back then, Veronique never dreamed that she’d own her own restaurants one day, or meet her future husband, Antoine Price, on a 1978 trip to the U.S. during which she discovered the charm of San Clemente. She married Antoine in December, 1979.
In 1991, when Antoine worked for a transportation company and Veronique worked for other restaurants, they bought the former Halfway House at 218 S. El Camino Real. It soon became Antoine’s Café.
“With Antonie’s Cafe, I had wanted something small, not large,” she says. “In the U.S, restaurants have grown huge in size, say, TGI Fridays, whereas in Europe they remain small, simple and elegant, the kind I was used to. So I agonized over finding just the right-sized restaurant before we bought one here.
“Then I found a for sale ad that simply said. ‘Small Coffee Shop. San Clemente.’ I already loved San Clemente and I hoped that if the coffee shop was small enough, maybe I’d have a chance. When I finally saw it, I thought---well, it’s older, but it’s on the main drag, it’s something small, and there’s parking around...I like it!”
Veronique got busy fast after taking the place over. “I immediately started working seven days a week! In the beginning for months, it was me, a cook, a dishwasher, and on the weekend, a server. You see, this was still a slow time for food places, with the California recession causing people to lose their houses and the economy so bad...we had to do it all.”
The business naturally improved with the economy. “As we got a little money, we fixed it up and I like it the way Antonie’s Café is now ... comfortable, and there are a lot of regulars. Some customers come there every morning and others are groups of friends who meet there daily. So, it’s grown---we now have twenty-five people working at Antoine’s.”
She says, “Café Mimosa is very different from Antoine’s and that difference is good, otherwise it would be Antoine’s II and why do that?”
When asked why Café Mimosa has done great business right from its opening in May, the fetching redhead, 46, but looking 36, being typically, even endearingly, modest, says,” I’m not sure I have the answer ... one thing is that compared to most places, our food is pretty upscale for breakfast---and for all meals, for that matter.
“Not many places can do what Tim Nolan, our executive chef does ... he’s truly a gifted chef. He has been to culinary school and worked at some very fine California restaurants. Sometimes I see him very late at night in the kitchen and I ask him what he’s doing. He says, ‘Oh, I’m just making a special sauce for tomorrow.’ He’s passionate about what he does and I love people like that. He incorporates many organic and natural ingredients into his dishes and you can taste the difference. ”
The outdoor patio at Café Mimosa is the cushy place to be. “I think it looks very European, Veronique says. “And because it’s across from the library grounds, you see much relaxing greenery, plus, the second block of Del Mar is always nice and quiet and I like that. It’s soft and relaxing here. I even come here myself to have lunch with the girls.”
When asked what one thing she believes has made her two restaurants successful business wise, she says without hesitation, “You’ve got to make people happy. If I can make one person happy that day, I’ve made my day.”
Café Mimosa features organic coffee drinks, fresh squeezed orange juice and sparkling wine cocktails. It is open Tuesday through Sunday for breakfast and lunch from 8 am to 3 pm. They also serve dinner on Friday and Saturday night from 6 to 9 pm.