It’s an Ocean Beach Family Affair for Owners of Little Lion Cafe

by on February 5, 2015 · 3 comments

in Culture, Economy, History, Ocean Beach

OB Little Lion 3sistrs

Sisters Anne-Marie, Jacqueline and Dominique Coulon, owners of Little Lion Cafe on Sunset Cliffs. (Photo credit: Rick Nocon)

By Matthew Wood

When the Coulon sisters looked to open a restaurant, there was no doubt where it would be.

“I would tell people I want to open a restaurant in OB,” said Jacqueline Coulon, general manager of Little Lion Cafe. “They would say, ‘Oh, you want to open a restaurant.’ And I would say, ‘No, I want to open a restaurant in OB.'”

The emphasis is all hers. And the result is a charming little restaurant the three sisters opened in the old Point Loma Beach Cafe location on Sunset Cliffs late last year.

It’s a lifelong dream for the three sisters. They follow in the footsteps of their grandparents, who owned The Belgian Lion Cafe in OB for years.

“That was a big thing for us. This is our neighborhood. We believe in our ‘hood,” said Anne-Marie Coulon, who is more or less the owner of the place. The third sister, Dominique, also works the kitchen and serving area.

Anne-Marie has been training for this her whole life, starting with her work at Belgian Lion as a child, an internship at the highly regarded Chez Panisse in Berkeley and honing her skills as she ran a catering company. But this has always been her dream.

She still vividly remembers her grandparents’ restaurant.

“Every day after school, that’s where I’d go. I always wanted to be in the kitchen,” Anne-Marie said. “I cried the entire last night the restaurant was open. I wrote a letter asking them to stay open four more years so I could take over.”

Instead, she gets her own chance, something that fills her grandfather with pride.

“They do it on their own,” said Don Coulon, who still lives in OB and helps the sisters with recipes whenever they need. “It’s their idea. They know what they’re doing. It makes us very happy to see it.”

The breakfast-and-lunch menu follows grandpa’s lead of “French and Belgian cooking, with some California.” Belgian waffles and croissants are mixed with beach faves like a “superfood bowl” — quinoa, black beans, avocado and other veggies, served for breakfast or lunch.

A weekend brunch regularly draws lines out the door. A dinner menu is planned for sometime this summer.

And you would be remiss not to get one of their three smoothies, including the Belgian chocolate hemp variety and others with fresh berries and greens.

After striking out at a number of different locations in OB, Anne-Marie took the initiative to go get a spot they wanted. That’s when she decided to approach the owner of Point Loma Beach Cafe last fall.

“I was sick of waiting,” she said. “I just walked in and said, ‘If you retire, let me know.’ (The owner) said, ‘I just decided to retire yesterday.'”

A few months later, the Little Lion was up and running. The quaint decor is more a product of finding what works — and what’s cheap.

They use their grandmother’s table in the main seating area. Wood used to build the front counter came directly from Anne-Marie’s farm in Palomar Mountain.

“It’s farm to table, literally,” she says with a smile.

This is just the beginning for the three sisters, who say they want to take the place to the next level.

“I think we want to do more of a beer and wine bar,” Anne-Marie said. “Have small plates for dinner. We want it to be a special occasion.”

While Jacqueline is already thinking about opening the next place — “It’s gonna be a market and oyster bar called ‘Sea Lion,'” she says with enough authority that you have no choice but to believe her — Anne-Marie seems pretty happy at their little cafe near the beach.

“I love this place. I don’t ever want to leave,” she said.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page Geoff Page February 5, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Now that’s a great story, thanks for the article Matt, I hope these three do really well.

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Sammy February 11, 2015 at 5:07 pm

They need to put some soap at the sink to wash their hands after handling cash money.

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Andrea former pescy resident May 19, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Hi, former neighbors—Saw your sunflowers in the yard when we had to move, after living upstairs 35 years. Miss strolling over to order breakfast to go and happy to see you’re thriving. Your article made me homesick. Living way down near Mexico but will have to come up by trolley and bus and will have some veggie lunch sooner rather than later.

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