Mark Twain once said, “The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated,” after a newspaper mistakenly published his obituary. That pretty much sums up the way Bertrand Hug has been feeling these past few months. Rumors that his restaurant, Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe, is going to close are not only greatly exaggerated, they’re downright false.
All kidding aside, it’s something that has Hug quite frustrated because he has absolutely no idea why or how the rumors got started.
“It’s a big and dramatic thing and it’s pretty vicious treatment. All of a sudden, this thing has exploded,” Hug said.
Mille Fleurs opened in 1985 and has been a landmark gathering place in the heart of Rancho Santa Fe for more than three decades. Hug says he started getting phone calls a little after he terminated his chef of 33 years because Hug thought the menu was getting “a bit stale” and the chef didn’t want to change it. That was last October. “I don’t believe for one moment that he (the chef) said anything,” explains Hug. “He’s a really good guy. But I don’t know what happened. Right about that time, about a month later, we started getting rumors.”
Such rumors are ironic, says Hug, because actually, just the opposite is happening at Mille Fleurs. Hug is knee deep in a renovation project for the bistro area (bar and fountain room overlooking the patio) – changing the color scheme, the furniture, the artwork, even the bar stools – to make it brighter and more modern.
“We’re also redoing the bistro menu, and for $34.50 you get a three-course meal with a bunch of different choices,” says Hug. “Does that sound like somebody who’s going out of business?”
Hug says the restaurant gets about five inquiries a day from customers asking about the nonexistent closing. And as time has gone on, the rumors have become more detailed and wildly exaggerated.
“When people found out I had (prostate) cancer, maybe people started thinking I was closing. (He’s in treatment now and doing well.) I didn’t go singing it from the rooftops, but my friends and staff knew.”
In Hug’s search for the source, he did come across one man (who shall remain anonymous) who was spreading the rumor that his landlady doubled the rent and Hug couldn’t afford it.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he says.
And Hug has wondered if somehow people assumed the changing of ownership at another popular Rancho Santa Fe restaurant, Thyme in the Ranch, was going to affect the future of Mille Fleurs. “I don’t know if people mistook it for my restaurant. I have nothing to do with that. So I’m at a loss.”
No matter what the source, the rumors are taking a financial toll on the restaurant, with business dropping by almost 20 percent in recent months.
“I know it’s hurting us badly in numbers. It has affected my business; it has affected my employee morale. Everybody’s talking about it, no matter what I dispel. This is almost like slander,” Hug said.
And the rumors have taken an emotional toll on Hug as well. “This is my home. I put everything in here. I eat here with my friends and I enjoy the restaurant so I entertain here. This is not a source of revenue for me. I’m here for my friends, I’m here for my employees.” (Hug is also owner of Mister A’s Restaurant located in Hillcrest on Fifth Avenue. That operation is his main source of revenue.)
The summer season is the busiest for the restaurant.
“The summer is really all about the race track, and we have all these friends coming from everywhere,” Hug said. “This is the best time of the year. And that’s why I wanted to coincide the renovation with that.”
Renovations at Mille Fleurs will be completed by July 17, which is Opening Day at the Del Mar Races.
“It’s all going to be fresh and new,” says Hug, who added that Mille Fleurs recently received a request from the Michelin Guide for extensive information on the restaurant and its menus.
Hopefully, the bright new color scheme, artwork and décor will outshine all those dark rumors and create a fresh start to the summer season.
Mille Fleurs is located at 6009 Paseo Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe and serves French California cuisine. It’s open for lunch on Thursday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A bar menu is offered from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Dinner is served Sunday through Friday from 6 p.m., and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. There’s an outdoor patio and live music at the piano bar every Thursday through Saturday. In addition, soft guitar music plays in the bar from 6 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays during happy hour and during racing season every evening on the patio.
Go to millefleurs.com for more information or call 858-756-3085.