Thursday, November 15, 2018

Early French Restauranteurs of Los Angeles: Eugene Aune

Before we begin:

  • Wildfires are still raging in the Calabasas/Malibu/Thousand Oaks area. If you want to help, and aren't a trained volunteer firefighter, first responder, or similarly qualified professional, please read this.
  • Can you adopt or foster evacuated animals? Click here. (If you have the land and resources,  large animals are the hardest ones to place.)
  • Are you in a fire-adjacent area? Set out buckets of water if you can. Wild animals are also fleeing - they will be hot and thirsty, and their usual water sources may be unavailable.
  • In case this isn't clear enough, I hate wildfires.

And now to lighten the mood:

Eugene Aune was doing the "farm to table" thing when Los Angeles was less than 100 years old.

He also set up shop in Santa Monica before Santa Monica existed and built Santa Monica's first combination home and business. (Le Guide states that it was Santa Monica's first house, period.)

Born in France around 1828, Eugene Aune built a house/restaurant in 1873, not far from Santa Monica State Beach. The town of Santa Monica did not yet exist. The mere fact that Aune managed to attract customers to a restaurant 17 miles from downtown, in the middle of nowhere, long before the 10 and the Expo Line existed, suggests it was a destination worth the trip.

When Santa Monica was founded in 1875, Aune's house/restaurant got an official address: 114 Main Street. Listings from the 1880s put Eugene's Restaurant, as it was called, at the corner of Second Street and Arizona Avenue (today, that intersection boasts a Tender Greens).

Ever wonder why artichokes, of all things, are such a staple of Southern California cuisine? Aune may very well have gotten the ball rolling. He grew his own artichokes (and other vegetables), serving them in the restaurant. Aune would also serve fish and razor clams fresh from Santa Monica Bay, followed by roasted meat, salad, and an omelet or soufflé for dessert. And wine, of course. Advertisements for Eugene's Restaurant mention "French Clarets and other wines always on hand." Madame Aune* waited tables. Eugene's high-end French dinners set diners back $3 apiece (about $60 today).

Advertisements for Eugene's Restaurant also mention "Rooms, furnished or unfurnished, to rent." Like so many other French Angelenos, Aune eventually rented rooms in addition to his day job. (The restaurant industry is brutal. Chez Panisse didn't turn a profit for 20 years.)

By 1886, voter rolls listed Aune's occupation as "real estate". Towards the end of the year, he placed his restaurant on the rental market.

Eugene Aune passed away in 1892.

My mom is from Santa Monica. Did she learn about any of this in school? Nope.

I lived and worked in Santa Monica. Did anyone tell me any of this? Nope.

Does anyone remember Eugene Aune today? Nope. But if you love LA's world-class culinary scene, maybe you should.

*It's annoyingly common to find no reference to a long-dead married woman's first name, let alone her family name. Even Ancestry let me down this time.

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