Downtown Oak Park is getting a new taste of French café-style cuisine with one of the village’s newest restaurants, Lea French Street Food, 106 N. Marion St.
The restaurant showcases menu items similar to the kind you would find at a street café in Paris – sandwiches, salads and tartines.
“We are excited about it because we are really trying to use local foods, so one of the key things that we’re trying to do is work with local farmers in order to supply our ingredients,” said Colleen Wagner-Caulliez, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Nicolas Caulliez. “We really feel that each ingredient should shine, so we’re really working with key farmers in the Midwest in order to achieve our concept.”
Metropolitan Farms, a hydroponic farming operation in West Humboldt Park, and Gunthorp Farms in Springfield Township, Indiana, are among the restaurant’s suppliers.
“We try to get as much locally, so it’s as fresh as possible,” she said.
Lea also features fresh-baked breads, desserts, and pastries which are made by the restaurant’s in-house bakers and pastry chef, and the rest of the menu items are “inspired by French street café … such as the goat cheese salad, the farmer’s salad and sautéed potatoes,” Wagner-Caulliez said during a recent tour of the restaurant.
It’s the first venture into the world of restaurant ownership for Colleen and Nicolas who both are professional architects.
“My husband’s always been an amazing cook,” Wagner-Caulliez said. “He’s always loved cooking, and over the recent years he’s gotten more into baking and has actually taken a lot of baking classes.
“I’m more the customer experience business person, so we’ve been wanting to open our own business for some time, and we were really excited about how the customer walks through (and experiences) the restaurant.”
The layout of the 2,730-square-foot storefront has the food preparation area out in the open for customers to see and high ceilings open the dining area to natural sunlight. Decorative flourishes, such as the hundreds of rolling pins that line the back wall of the space, give the independently owned restaurant a special feel.
“The rolling-pin wall is really to let people know that we bake all of our items in house and from scratch,” Wagner-Caulliez said. “So it is made out of 308 (bamboo) rolling pins … The kids have a lot of fun with it.”
The restaurant features French wine from the Chinon and Cheverny regions, but Lea French Street aims to change it up in the coming months to give patrons a virtual tour of other regions of the country.
Lea also has changed up the ordering process with touchpad ordering kiosks that allow patrons to order and be seated.
“We’re interested in self-ordering to allow customization,” Wagner-Caulliez said.
Lea French Street Food is among several new restaurants that have opened in the area over the last year. Two Brothers Restaurant just opened up shop at 100 S. Marion St. and Q-BBQ set up shop at 124 N. Marion St. last year.