Alessia Patisserie + Café has such a musical ring to it that it’s surprising the name wasn’t the first thing that popped into Alessia Guehr’s mind before opening her jewel box of a spot on East Canon Perdido. But given that her parents, Brigitte Guehr and Norbert Schulz, are Santa Barbara food scene veterans — arguably, the creators of it — who both owned restaurants named after themselves, Alessia eventually realized, “I should keep up the family tradition.”
And that she does, not just in name. Guehr’s team had to demo pretty much everything in what was briefly Miso Hungry to create this inviting urban space of hardwood floors, copper banquettes, and a pastry display that demands damning the calories, as full devouring is ahead. “People eat first with their eyes,” Guehr explained, “so everything has to be beautiful.”
That beauty is more than flaky-dough deep, for Guehr’s goal is “to create old-school French pastries that people connect with. But we develop each singular flavor,” she said. “We’re always looking for a new way to do an old-school thing.”
Key to that “we” is assistant pastry chef Jordan Pilarski, who previously worked at the Ritz Carlton Bacara. The two met via Instagram. “The kitchen itself drew me in, and then Alessia drew me in,” said Pilarski. “We see things the exact same way. We’re both neoclassicists.”
That extends to the café portion of the restaurant, which currently serves breakfast and lunch, with plans for dinner and more eventually. Think classic French fare, from croque monsieur to salmon Niçoise, with a duck confit sandwich in-between, framed by cinnamon walnut bread that gives the sandwich a hint of sweet and even more depth.
Advice came from consulting chef Leonard Gensolin, formerly of the Four Seasons Biltmore. “It started as a fun idea,” she recalled. “One day I’ll have this bakery-dessert shop. As we started looking for spaces, the idea kept growing. And now we have this beautiful, huge restaurant.”
Opening a full-fledged café seemed her fate: Guehr’s baby pictures have her covered in flour and her earliest memories are going on catering gigs with her parents. An outdoorsy child, she insists that her only time watching television was the Food Network, “writing down all the recipes as fast as I could.” The Dos Pueblos High grad boasts a résumé any baker would score for, featuring eight plus years at the Four Seasons Biltmore, where she eventually became assistant pastry chef, a stint at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, and then a post as assistant pastry chef at Le Marais Bakery in San Francisco.
Santa Barbara drew her back when her father had a health scare, so she opted to help him at The Nook. They worked side-by-side for five years until Schulz sold the Funk Zone hot spot this July. “It brought us a lot closer,” she said. “And it gave me time to build my managerial skills. I really learned the things I do and don’t want in a business.”
One thing she’s definitely learned is how much she appreciates being her own boss. “Hotel life is great as you get a big budget and can play with a lot of things,” she explained. “But at a hotel, you’re a number. I wanted my own place where people could push me to be a better chef.”
Credit: Carter Hiyama
Beyond the food, she also wants the work culture of her café to be wonderful, another family tradition. “When I grew up, staff were our family,” she remembered. “They were people I would want to be around outside of work.”
And if her employees are happy, it’s more likely her customers will be too. “I wanted a place that was upscale, but one where people from everywhere in Santa Barbara felt comfortable coming in,” she said. “We want our staff to seriously want to greet you — that gets rid of any of the bougie feel.”
Guehr is thrilled to be in the mini-foodie mecca of the Presidio Neighborhood, pointing to the view of the chapel from her large window, “It’s historic and it’s irresistible,” she said. And yes, that person next to you at the window might just be her retired father, Norbert. Said Guehr, “His only job here is to have a great croissant sandwich and enjoy the view.”
134 E. Canon Perdido St.; (805) 679-5900; alessiapatisserie.com
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