Julienne keeps its atmosphere vivid and alive
By Frier McCollister
No place better exemplifies the unassuming, casual elegance and charm of San Marino than Mission Street’s Julienne and its owner Julie Campoy.
For more than 35 years, the restaurant and market have set a high standard of unstinting excellence, naturally garnering a local cadre of loyal, daily regulars who patiently line up around the block — even during the long uncertainty of the pandemic lockdown.
Julienne didn’t close, as Campoy deftly pivoted to expanding the marketplace offerings by transforming the dining room space into a tightly curated warren of luxury retail goods. An espresso bar opened with a limited card of prepared food items, as well as 10 café tables that spotted the shady, brick-walked arcade in front. The space’s transformation was so masterfully rendered, it’s a challenge to recall its previous layout.
Many of Campoy’s core staff have worked there for more than 30 years. It’s a family business that considers its staff as extended family.
“We’re so lucky that people are coming back. We care about everyone that comes in. That’s the Julienne way,” Maeve Brophy says from behind the espresso bar.
Brophy is Campoy’s niece, the daughter of her sister Cynthia. Brophy, 27, is articulately effusive in describing Julienne’s many charms.
“I’ve been working here since I was 10 years old. I grew up here with all the clientele,” Brophy says.
“People have been coming here for years. They have such a connection here. It’s a pretty special place.”
Before fetching her aunt, Brophy pulls up a photograph on her phone. It shows a 10-year-old Brophy posed in formal waiter’s apron and black tie with Herbert Dominguez, the former head waiter who manages the espresso bar.
Dominguez started working at Julienne six months after the restaurant opened in October 1985 — and never left. “I’m ‘Mister Julienne,’” he says proudly.
Campoy’s mother, Susan, opened the space as a restaurant and catering kitchen in the wake of a divorce in 1985. Her four daughters pitched in to launch the business. It was Campoy who formally joined the operation in 1989 and evolved the alternate revenue streams that established the marketplace.
“I’m beyond exhausted and exhilarated,” Campoy says. “The restaurant is retired. Our focus is on staffing, because now we’re growing in a different direction. Foundationally, the business is changing. It’s still prepared foods, takeout, catering and merchandise — we’re just doing it in a bigger way.”
Julienne’s website has been rebuilt, and the operation has been “totally rebranded,” according to Campoy.
“It’s been really hard,” she says. “It’s been really challenging to figure this out without a game plan, with so many moving parts and all the uncertainty. We’re doing it with good cheer. We’re still trying to figure it out.”
When Susan opened Julienne in 1985, it began with three tables and slowly expanded with fully staffed catering providing the backbone of the enterprise.
“At that time, she was doing lavish beautiful catering. Herbert (Dominguez) came at that time, too, and we slowly started adding more tables. I came in 1989, and we opened up the next (adjacent) storefront,” Campoy recalls.
Campoy saw an opportunity to expand the restaurant to include a small gourmet marketplace area for merchandise, as well as prepared food and frozen entrees to take out.
“The gourmet market has always been my baby. It’s always been my pride and joy. I was the original counter girl,” she says.
Soon enough, the market became a key component of the business.
“It’s always been at least 60% of the business for over 30 years. In 2000, that’s when my mom decided to get out of catering and that’s when the market had to make a bigger push to compensate for that lost revenue,” Campoy says.
The thriving marketplace with its prepared foods and takeout model allowed Julienne’s pandemic pivot to be a bit more seamless and intuitive than most restaurants of its caliber.
“If we had not had the market, we would not have been able to pivot as well as we did,” Campoy says.
“I personally manned the door for three months, morning and night. We were all learning together, and people trusted us. You have to earn trust,” Campoy says.
That trust seems quite well earned over 30-plus years. Campoy smiles while speaking of her most faithful guests.
“We have Bob, who comes three times a day. We have Judy, who gets her chicken every day. We have regulars, and they are every, every day.”
What exactly is the appeal? It’s clearly the creatively designed atmosphere that transports guests to a rarified dimension combined with flawlessly executed, consistently delicious food.
The food served from the espresso bar is prepared fresh daily and is always available from the takeout case. The menu features seven breakfast selections, including spinach gruyere pie ($8.95) and the house breakfast burrito with chicken sausage ($9.50). There is always a soup de jour ($6.95) and a selection of eight salads — with the Julienne classic Caesar ($9.95), chicken cobb with strawberries ($18) and truffle egg salad ($12.95) being customer favorites.
Other highlights include the crab and mango quesadilla ($18.95, weekends only) and the signature chicken tarragon sandwich ($9.95), along with six other sandwich varieties.
If the intention is to enjoy a coffee and snack at one of the 10 café tables outside, nab the table first and then go in to order at the counter. The order will then be brought to your table.
There are six to seven daily specials prepared fresh for takeout or for dining at the café tables. A customer choice at the end of each day’s list indicates popular favorites. These include moussaka on Sundays, “get well soup” on Tuesdays, roasted vegetable lasagna on Thursday, and spinach and feta strata on Saturday and Sunday. Next to the main deli counter, there is also a freezer case stacked with everything from scone dough and chocolate chip waffles to chicken pot pie and ravioli.
Julienne also offers preorder picnic boxes for the summertime California Pops concerts at the LA Arboretum in Arcadia. It’s been a popular part of the operation for over 10 years.
There’s also not much waste here.
“For 10 years, we have always donated our extra food to All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Pasadena for their food drive, every Monday,” Campoy says.
The expanded marketplace is stacked with sundry household and kitchen items artfully displayed on shelves and tables throughout the mini-complex of rooms. Campoy hired a theatrical scenic designer to help devise the changing seasonal displays of merchandise.
Candles, soaps, hand towels, glassware and precious comestibles, even a small, hardbound manual entitled “How to Eat a Lobster” and all manner of curios and objets d’art, are available for sale here. The effect is like walking through a deconstructed luxury gift basket without the raffia twine and excelsior.
Campoy emphasizes a focus on holiday celebrations with merchandise displays and menus.
“Every holiday is a big deal here. There’s a menu and a celebration. We have food for that, and the merchandise. It’s the holidays where we really shine,” she notes.
Campoy launched a Christmas merchandise “pop-up” at the store’s nearby warehouse last year and also a summer “trunk show” of new seasonal merchandise last month.
Julienne is open seven days a week, and Campoy is reviving her 65-member staff.
“We’re always in movement. The displays are always changing. The whole point is to be nimble. We’ve pivoted, and we now have to be nimble in our next iteration. I’m happy with how we’ve settled in,” Campoy says.
“It’s an honor and it’s a privilege that people choose us for their really cherished family meals. It’s a big responsibility. It’s something we take seriously and with great pride.”
As a keepsake from the old days, Campoy gives Arroyo readers a classic Julienne recipe from her mother’s trove: orzo salad with feta, mint and green onions.