aymond and Betty had been operating the Mon-Arc Restaurant Francais restaurant in Beverly Hills for twelve years when, in August 1971, they took their family on vacation to the Monterey Peninsula. Touring through Pacific Grove they came across the Hart Mansion. The building made an immediate impression on them, and when they saw that it was for sale, they quickly made arrangements to buy it. Upon returning to Beverly Hills, they sold their business and home with in a week and promptly made arrangements to adapt the Hart Mansion for the operation of a French restaurant. In their application to the city for the appropriate use permit, the Bergerac’s claimed they “have arrived at the conclusion that the climate, among other things, has become unbearable in Los Angeles and that it is time to move to Pacific Grove.” The sale of the building was handled buy Ed Coffin of Bratty Real Estate, who also assisted them in the permit process. Their plans were publicized on October 20, 1971 in the Pacific Grove Tribune and Pebble Beach Green Sheet under the headline, “Grove’s Antique Castle To Become French Restaurant,” and with the following lead sentence: “One of the best-known and oldest buildings in Pacific Grove once again has changed hands—this time to become a French restaurant.” Raymond Bergerac grew up in Strasbourg, France, the son of a successful butcher. While still a young boy, he studied at a pastry school and entered his restaurant apprenticeship at the age of 14 in Paris. He later honed his culinary skills with the famous French chef, Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France. He continued his career in New York, working as a chef for the Beachhurst Hotel in Long Beach and at the Grillon restaurant on Park Avenue. He later moved to Los Angeles where he met and married Betty Shaffer.
Bergerac Family in March 1972
The Bergeracs had four children. By the time they arrived in Pacific Grove, Suzanne (Suzie), was 16; Janine, 14; Lucie, 11; and Daniel, nine. The family moved into the Hart Mansion on October 31, 1971—it was Halloween night and the Bergerac’s were aghast at how the local boys used the occasion to throw eggs at each other and passers by. Fortunately, their initial fears about the neighborhood were unfounded and the family soon settled in to one of the most successful small businesses ever to grace downtown Pacific Grove. The Bergeracs had engaged the Dohrmann Company, designers and suppliers to the hotel and food service industries, to redesign the kitchen and to develop the dining areas. The modifications went smoothly and Maison Bergerac was soon open to the public. A profile of the new restaurant, written by Faith Conklin, appeared in the March 10, 1972 issue of Game & Gossip, which began: THE LOVELY WHITE SHINGLED VICTORIAN HOUSE in Pacific Grove, known as the Hart mansion—his name is in colored glass over the entrance—has a new sign in front. The words “Maison Bergerac,” in hand carved letters, are painted in bright gold leaf.What is Maison Bergerac? The newest French restaurant on the Peninsula and it's a dandy. Owned and operated by Raymond Bergerac and his family, it operates the first floor of the mansion. “My family and I live upstairs, so this is our home to,” Mr. Bergerac explained. “We like to think that the diners are our guests.” As a guest, you will up between the carved Newell posts to a decorated front door. You will be greeted by dark-eyed, curly-haired Lucie Bergerac, just turned twelve, who shows you to your table. The three downstairs parlors are converted into dining rooms, each containing only a few tables so you have a feeling of intimacy. Cut glass chandeliers hang from the high ceiling, the dark, polished oak floors are partially covered with oriental rugs, the walls are decorated with red flock to paper which harmonizes with the long red draperies at the windows. The fireplace boasts its original tiles. "We have tried to keep everything as it was,” Mrs. Bergerac said.
On Sunday, March 31, 1974, the building was featured in the annual Victorian Heritage Tour, which described the building’s interior as follows: Maison Bergerac, as the old Victorian house is now known, boasts a French dinner restaurant on the main floor. The highlight of the first dining room is the signed and dated (June 28, 1838) print of the young Queen Victoria. The second room has an 18th century English grandfather’s clock next to the hand-carved wood and tile fireplace. The mirror above the fireplace has an oil-on-canvas painting of peasants in the old French Province of La Marche. The two-hundred-year old Honduras mahogany table in the third dining room seats sixteen when fully extended and weighs 800 pounds. Rare clocks and a collection of unusual Quimper pieces adorn walls and shelves throughout the house. On your way up the winding stairway, please note the batik piece of the Maison Bergerac done by Marianna Hamilton of Pacific Grove and on loan from the Fireside Gallery of Carmel. Upstairs, the second kitchen has a ceramic tile floor and hand-painted and leaded glass cupboards. The formal paneled dining room has a large Tiffany fixture over the old table and carved needlepoint chairs. The cast-iron stove is typical of those used for heat at the turn of the century. The master bedroom with its canopied round bed, includes a French armoire. There is a view of the bay from the front sitting room which includes a beveled-glass Jeffersonian secretary with leather writing surface. The large oak and tin “hump-back” chest is the type used by many American pioneers as they came West. The third floor of the home which includes three bedrooms and a small parlor will not be open on the tour. Notice the extraordinary stenciled windows as you walk down to the first floor. The exceptional Victorian piece at the entry reflects Dr. Hart’s leaded glass sign over the front door. The restaurant offered what soon became recognized as the finest French cuisine on the Central Coast. The Bergerac’s served only a prix fixe menu comprised of seven courses, including two wines, for $25. The day’s entrée was typically a choice between filet mignon, roast duck, or the fresh fish of the day. Raymond’s side dishes, especially his famed creamed spinach, was said to be outstanding. Faith Conklin asked the chef what his favorite dish was and reported the results: He is partial to the Coquille St. Jacques, which are scallops baked in their own shells. The sauce Mornay makes the dish, with its peppercorns, onions and clove, plus a pinch of anisette for that extra touch. Another favorite is the Caneton a l’Orange, young duckling in orange sauce. First the duckling is roasted with aromatic vegetables and herbs. After the duckling is cooked, the juices of oranges and a little Contreau are added. Occasionally, Raymond would offer one of his specialty dishes, which could be his beef bourgonon or his award-winning cassoulet, which was prepared in a crock pot and cooked for twenty-four hours. Guests raved about the cassoulet, but it wasn’t served often. Many devotees of the restaurant entered Maison Bergerac praying that it was cassoulet night. One year, Raymond took the entire family to Castelnaudary, France, known as “the world’s cassoulet capital of the world.” At the time of the one hundred year war, Castel-Naudary was besieged by the English army. The famished inhabitants pooled their last provisions to nourish their local army: some brought beans, others bacon an sausage, and others still pieces of duck confit. The ingredients were placed in a large crock pot, made locally, and cooked in the furnace of the baker. Thus was born the cassoulet, which helped drive the English out of France. Raymond was called to Castelnaudary to receive an award for his beloved cassoulet. The award was comprised of four clay tiles that together bore the coat of arms of the town that invented the dish. The Bergerac’s mounted the award at the entrance of the Hart Mansion to the left of the front door. Later, Ray Bergerac was inducted into the [intl Rotisserie association]. The Bergeracs traveled to Mexico for the event. Ray was one of to people to be induced into the Association that day. The other was Carlos Salinas de Gorati, the president of Mexico at that time. This award was also mounted at the entrance to the building, where it remains to this day. Lucie Bergerac worked in the restaurant every evening from the time it opened—when she was 12 years old—to the time she got pregnant with her daughter Monique. Initially, she poured the water and served the bread to the tables. Later, she took on full waitress responsibilities, at which time her brother Daniel assumed the water pouring and bread serving responsibilities. According to Betty, "One night, Lucie, always the entrepreneur, tried to sell her hand beaded necklaces to customers as they left the restaurant. Her mother was mortified when when found out and put a stop to it." When Daniel moved up to the position of water pourer, a guest asked him “What is that herb in that creamed spinach that’s so wonderful?” Daniel, instead of replying that it was anis, said, “My father said it’s from his anus.” Lucie’s older sisters worked in the restaurant only for a brief time—usually helping their mom with administrative duties, such as taking reservations. But the older girls each left for college soon after they turned 16. Lucie later recalled, “It was great for us kids. I was making $50 per night when I was twelve.” The family lived in the building during the twelve years they operated the restaurant. Lucie occupied the small gabled bedroom on the west side of the building. Evidence of her occupation of the room remains to this day, as her closet still contains her growth chart, showing her height at various stages of her early career in the restaurant business. Subsequent owners of the building were careful not to disturb this and other other wall doodles in Lucie’s closet. One day, while poking around under the building, Lucie found a box containing “Portola” sardine labels—true archelogical evidence that the Hovden family once resided in the building. At first, the Maison Bergerac was open four days per week—Wednesday through Saturday. After their first year in business, the Bergeracs cut back the hours significantly, opening the doors only on Friday and Saturday evenings. Moreover, the restaurantnever took more than 25 to 30 guests per night. The business was closed each year during the months of May and June and November and December—during which time Raymond took the entire family back to Strasbourg, France to visit his mother. Partly because of the reduced hours, and partly because of the outstanding food and service, reservations were hard to come by. Because reservations were required nearly a year in advance, Betty had the extraordinary idea to begin taking reservations only once a year, on October 1, scheduling the entire year’s reservations in advance. Becoming increasingly annoyed by guests who didn’t show up or who cancelled their reservations on short notice, Betty also required a cash deposit of $10 per person payable at the time the reservations were made. As your receipt, she would hand or send you a picture postcard, bearing a sketch of the Hart Mansion on the obverse, and a confirmation of your prized reservations as follows:
Thank you for your $________ deposit. We look forward to seeing the ________________________ on ________________________ at 7:30 p.m.
Out of consideration for this one hundred year old historic structure, the irreplaceable furnishings, and our other guests, smoking is not allowed in the dining room. Merci,
If you changed or cancelled your reservation before noon of the date scheduled, half of the deposit was refunded. Any changes after the deadline resulted in a complete forfeit of the deposit. You could get a table in less than a year by asking your name be placed on a special list: if a table became available by virtue of a last minute cancellation, you would be called. If you weren't available or you couldn't accept, your name would go to the bottom of the list. No list crashers were allowed. As a result of these shrewd and unusual policies, Maison Bergerac suffered few cancellations and rarely had an empty table. Thomas Hargraves, a restaurant reviewer, writing for Monterey Life magazine (December 1982), observed this about the restaurant's unusual mystique: "I was most amazed by the obsequious, almost fawning, behavior toward the Maison Bergerac by people who otherwise impressed me as rational individuals." Lucie Bergerac tells a true story that brings home just how fanatical some of the restaurant’s most admirers had become: One night, two couples came into the restaurant for dinner and one of the men had heart attack at the table. We called an ambulance, which came, and my mother said to the man’s wife, “Let me wrap up your food. We’ll get you out of here right away so you can go with your husband.” “No,” the woman responded. “I waited a year for this reservation and I’m having my soufflé. Her husband left in the ambulance and the couple and the wife sat there and ate their soufflé. And that is the honest-to-God’s truth. After that, I used to joke with my parents, “If I ever drop dead, you guys better not be serving the soufflé.” The success of the restaurant was aided by word of mouth, recommendations by the local bed & breakfasts, a regular feature in walking tours sponsored by the local historical society, and an occasional mention in printed guides and other books about the Monterey Peninsula. The following paragraph is excerpted from a tour book, Exploring Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel" by Maxine Knox and Mary Rodriguez (Ward Ritchie Press, 1973): Annually in April, there is a two-day Victorian House tour. If you don't happen to be there in April, have dinner at Maison Bergerac (the Hart Mansion), 19th and Lighthouse Avenue, which was built in 1890 [sic]. Not only is it a fine family-owned and operated French restaurant, but it is a beautifully restored Victorian home. The menu is posted out front. Only thirty persons can be accommodated in an evening, so reservations are necessary. Maison Bergerac made a lasting impression on many visitors to Pacific Grove. On July 16, 2003, Carol Holt of Las Vegas, Nevada, posted the following note on the popular travel website Tripadvisor.com, regarding her visit to the piney paradise in 1974: My husband and I spent a memorable honeymoon at the Bide A Wee twenty-nine years ago. One morning we woke up to a dear grazing outside our window. We rode bikes in Monterey, ate clam chowder at Cannery Row, and had a special dinner at a French restaurant, Maison Bergerac. Our in-laws told us about it. In fact they came and stayed in the same upstairs room we did right after we left. We are thinking about staying at Bide A Wee on our 30th Anniversary! Lucie got married in the early 1980's and when she got pregnant, her father asked her whether she would come back to work after she had the baby. Lucie answered, “No, it’s done.” For Ray and Betty Bergerac, hiring a substitute for Lucie was out of the question. After twelve years, and at the height of their restaurant's success, Raymond and Betty Bergerac decided to retire. They also decided to sell the building, after calculating that the proceeds of the sale would support a comfortable retirement. On Lucie’s last day, after twelve successful years in business, Maison Bergerac closed its doors forever. In late 1981,the Bergeracs were approached by Mr. Yuen San Lim, a local artist. Lim convinced the Bergeracs that, with Raymond’s help, his wife and his brother could continue the restaurant in the style and tradition established by the Bergerac family. In February 1982, the Lims purchased the building, making a large down payment, with the Bergerac’s taking a loan for the balance secured by the property. The deed was issued in the name of Mr. Lim’s wife, [Caroline Fisher], who put up the down payment for the property. Raymond trained Mr. Lim’s brother, Yuen Tong Lim, in the kitchen to acquaint him with the menu. Under Lim’s management, the business continued to operate under the name Maison Bergerac, offering a similar pre fixe menu. Concerns that the quality of the fare would suffer without Raymond Bergerac in the kitchen were put to rest when reviewer Thomas Hargraves, writing in the December 1982 issue of Monterey Life magazine, wrote, “It would be very hard to convince me that the food could have been better prepared or of higher quality when the Bergerac family operated the Maison.” Some things, however, had definitely changed. When a customer entered the restaurant, Yuen San Lim, dressed in a native Chinese costume and wearing doeskin slippers, would sound a musical chime before greeting his guests at the door. Hargraves described Lim as “a whimsical man who has learned the humor of being fanciful” and “a charmer as warm as the fire set on the marble hearth.” The “proud hauteur,” established by the Bergerac family, had been replaced by Lim’s “amiable winsomeness.” Many guests may have welcomed the new ambiance, but something else had changed which may have discouraged others from giving the new owners a chance. The restaurant, instead of being open 50 days a year, was now open 300 days a year—with no waiting list. Now that reservations were easy to come by, people inevitably wondered why: Did the quality of the food go downhill? Whatever the reason, the Lims had trouble maintaining the Bergerac success. In time, the business closed its doors and the Lims moved to San Francisco. In July, the Lim’s transferred the property to Mr. and Mrs. Christian Frederiksen, who assumed the responsibility for making payments to the Bergerac’s. As the Frederiksen’s expressed to the city of Pacific Grove in their application for a use permit, “We have for several years operated a restaurant in Palo Alto and have recently arrived at the conclusion that the climate, environment, and many other factors here in Pacific Grove would be ideal for us and our young daughter.” By the summer of 1986, however, the Frederiksen’s closed the restaurant and ownership of the building again reverted back to the Bergeracs. As before, they promptly put the building up for sale.