Take a step inside C’est Si Bon restaurant at 23 Cedar Park Drive, Port Angeles, and it’s possible to forget the dreary weather, dismal economy and all things dispiriting that lie outside.
Perhaps that is why it has been such a success on the North Olympic Peninsula for the past 30 years.
In 1981, owners Michéle and Norbert Juhasz turned what was an undistinguished plot atop the Morse Creek canyon into a French retreat perfect for any occasion.
The original dining room had 12 tables but over the past three decades the owners have added a banquet room for 30 and a covered atrium for more than 100. Michéle said the restaurant does everything from dinners for two to weddings and corporate events.
With deep reds, glimmering golds, large classical paintings, twinkling lights and walls of mirrors from ceiling to floor, the decor is like nothing else in Clallam County.
“Thirty years ago they thought we were crazy,” Michéle said, in a fluid French accent. “They didn’t think the local clientele would come to a French restaurant.”
Michéle and Norbert met in France, where both were born and raised. They dated for seven years before getting married in 1964 and moving to Malibu, Calif.
“It was all love, the cooking was just a bonus,” Norbert said with a smile, of their romance.
In Malibu, he played violin for movie studios and his wife catered and cooked for film stars. Autographed pictures of movie stars line the deep red wall of C’est Si Bon’s barroom in tribute to the 17 years the couple spent in California.
They came upon the Olympic Peninsula while on vacation visiting friends, Michéle said. Originally they planned to check out Vancouver Island, British Columbia, but they didn’t get that far. “We thought, ‘What a beautiful area,’” she recalled.
The location of the restaurant, bordered by U.S. Highway 101, Cedar Park Drive and the Morse Creek canyon, was like an island to them, she said.
With Michéle guiding the kitchen with her authentic French cooking expertise and Norbert as maitre d’, the couple found their niche as business partners.
It took about five years before they felt successful, Michéle said.
Over the decades the restaurant has found a dedicated local following, including Connie Thorson, who has been coming to the restaurant since the first year it was open.
Thorson, of Port Angeles, said her family took their Christmas picture on the elegantly decorated staircase inside C’est Si Bon this year.
Thorson attended countless birthday parties at the restaurant over the past 30 years, she said, and for many years helped serve a special annual dinner for senior citizens.
Michéle said she learned how to adapt the menu to the clientele. People tend to like ordering the same thing each time they come, she said.
“We stick to the menu but can still get creative with it,” she said.
The quality of the food is the very best, she said, and many ingredients are purchased locally. She adamantly believes the saying, “If there is good food, people will come.”
With menu items such as roast duck, quail with mushroom, veal, pork and chicken stuffing, and of course escargots, it doesn’t get more French than this west of Seattle.
“Not to put anyone down, but if you are a trained French chef, you can do everything,” Michéle said.
Michéle said the couple has no plans to train anyone to take over the restaurant yet.
“This is our lives, you know,” she said.
Norbert agreed. “People say, ‘Why don’t you retire?’” he said. “I say, ‘Because I love my job.’”
Their legacy is a restau-rant that instantly transports customers from the daily grind to French elegance. “One of us wouldn’t have this restaurant without the other,” Michéle said. “It’s about teamwork. We do everything together.”
Reach Amanda Winters at email@example.com.