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The not so secret garden

How a mother and daughter have shaped one of Ojai’s favorite restaurants

By Wendy Gillett

Garden patio dining at Suzanne’s Cuisine.

 

hen Suzanne Roll first opened the doors of Suzanne’s Cuisine in Ojai, 14 years ago, she didn’t know what to expect, nor did she think her venture would still be around so many years later. Although she began her business with no formal background in restaurant ownership, the empty-nester who had always wanted to run a restaurant, now says, “I am a cautionary tale of what not to do, because I succeeded when I should have failed.”

Thanks to overwhelming local support, which she believes has made all the difference, Suzanne’s is still going strong. Over the years, Suzanne’s Cuisine has become the worst kept secret in Ojai — locals fill her dining room each night and tourists come from miles around to get a taste of her incredible food and a glimpse of the breathtaking garden that awaits them on the patio.

Suzanne has a simple philosophy when it comes to her cuisine: She believes in fresh ingredients and good food that you can eat every day. Suzanne shops for most of her produce at the farmers market, because seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs are a mainstay at her restaurant. (Her regulars have come to expect the summer ritual of ordering the stuffed squash blossoms as soon as they are available.) Even her 5-year-old granddaughter, Madeleine, recognizes Suzanne’s penchant for putting fresh herbs on everything. When she plays “restaurant” and pretends to be a waitress taking a food order, she asks her customers if they would like it “with the leaves or without.”

Suzanne attributes much of the restaurant’s success to her daughter, Sandra, who handles the business end of the operations, which allows Suzanne to spend more time in the kitchen creating new recipes and making sure everything that goes out to the dining room has her seal of approval.

All the pieces of this mother-daughter-run business work together to create a welcoming atmosphere: from the heartfelt greetings you hear as you ascend the front porch, to the gracious service you receive while dining on the fresh salads and the decadent desserts.

But the most important piece to the puzzle might be the bond the mother-daughter team shares with the staff. “This is a family,” says Suzanne, “and it is not just about good food, it is about the experience.”

Photo By Guy W. Kitchen

Owner, Suzanne Roll

“We stay because of Suzanne and Sandra” says Kari, a longtime server who insists that she would never want to work anywhere else. “It is the way they treat people, and it trickles down to the guest.”

Many of those guests have grown up with Suzanne’s Cuisine over the years and have come to expect the charming atmosphere. “The people who come here are like my family; we have watched them grow up,” says Suzanne. “Some have been engaged here, and now the teenagers that have been coming here since they were babies are entering high school.”

Like the seeds she planted to create her lovely garden so many years ago, the babies have grown into young adults right before her eyes. “I enjoy the tourists,” says Suzanne, “but I love the regulars. It is important to me to be part of a community and I love being connected to the town of Ojai.”

At Suzanne’s, the food is original, like the in-house smoked scallop salad, and the portions are large, like the chimichurri-marinated grilled rib eye, and when the heat of the day turns into the twilight of the evening, when the glowing candles and twinkling lights begin to shine, you’ll realize that Suzanne’s Cuisine is a secret worth sharing.

07-01-2006

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