Downtown Santa Rosa will say bonjour to a casual French bistro early this summer, according to restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark. The couple recently leased the long-empty, former Bollywood space at 535 Fourth St. with plans to serve classic bistro dishes, like steak frites and mussels. The restaurant also will feature a fresh seafood bar, along with wine and cocktails.
Dubbed Augie’s French, the Starks’ new business venture is an homage to Auguste Escoffier, the father of modern French cuisine. The 19th-century chef brought order to the often chaotic restaurant kitchens with a military-style organization of staff. He also codified the five French mother sauces (béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise and tomato) and wrote Le Guide Culinaire, a French cuisine cookbook often referred to as the culinary bible.
“This is going to be a fun Stark version of a French bistro with Mark’s influence and twists. This isn’t stuffy French, but an eclectic spot with a lively atmosphere,” said Terri Stark. “We love the space, and since Bistro 29 left (downtown), we felt there was a void,” she continued. (Bistro 29, owned by Chef Brian Anderson, closed at the beginning of the pandemic.)
The Starks hope their new restaurant will help energize the downtown area, which has been especially hard hit in the last few years amid parking problems, homelessness and the lack of downtown workers to support the businesses, among other issues. A long list of downtown restaurants have come and gone over the last decade, including Bollywood, County Bench, Fourth Street Social Club, Gerard’s Paella, La Vera, Mary’s Pizza Shack, Parish Cafe, Portofino and Tex Wasabi’s.
“We think it’s time to elevate downtown. We identify restaurant concepts that are needed around here,” said Stark, adding that many of their guests had asked for a French restaurant from the couple.
The Starks spent more than a year considering the space and the concept, which will be their eighth Sonoma County restaurant. They also own Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar and Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg, and, in Santa Rosa, Willi’s Wine Bar, Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Bird and the Bottle, Monti’s and Grossman’s, which opened at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown.