Since Le Marais Bakery opened its doors in the Marina, their Parisian style of baking has grown in popularity, featuring flaky croissants, bread and pastries made using artisanal recipes from France. After an expansion into the small space next door in September 2014, the vision of married owners Patrick and Joanna Ascaso became fully realized with the opening of Le Marais Bistro offering a full menu with beer and wine. Now, the duo has plans to expand once more— this time into a full-fledged, 5,000 square-foot restaurant on the hallowed grounds of Ghirardelli Square.
With the hope of reviving the Square as a destination for locals and tourists alike, the property was purchased by real estate investment company Jamestown in 2013. The company has guided the restoration of other complexes like the Chelsea market in New York, and was very involved in choosing new tenants for the project. "We weren't really thinking about expanding until we saw that space," said Joanna Ascaso. "There's really nowhere in San Francisco like this, where you can sit by the fountain and watch the world go by. And we want to bring all of that back to the locals— everybody has a memory of Ghirardelli Square being magical in their childhood."
To do that, the Ascasos have teamed up with architect Charlie Hemmiger and designer Wylie Price (The Progress SF, Kronnerburger) to create an open space that reflects the long history of the Square. The restaurant, which will hold around 116 seats is located in The Apartment House, a freestanding brick building overlooking the square, with views of Alcatraz and the Bay. It's a stunning space for the newest iteration of Le Marais, which is to recreate the welcoming, open space of a French boulangerie, in tribute to the childhood of Parisian-bred Patrick Ascaso. "The idea is to create an open feel, the sense of being in a workshop within a space," said Joanna, "It's that European feeling of being in the middle of everything, where things are created."
Built in 1916, the building was originally used as apartments for the day manager and night watchman of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. In its new life, the space will feature a skylight-studded two-story dining room, with an open kitchen, a centrally located bar on the main floor and an upstairs dining space. An outdoor terrace with banquette seating will offer expansive views of the water. A small kiosk window will look out onto the square at ground level, offering Stumptown coffee and pastries to go.
The menu itself will be inspired by the dishes of Normandy and Provence, including rustic favorites like mussels, croque madame sandwiches and bouillabaisse. While the chef has yet to be announced, the concept will continue to follow the creative direction of Patrick Ascaso. And unlike their Chestnut Street location, which is limited to beer and wine, the larger Le Marais will have a full bar with a list of seasonal cocktails, made with fresh fruit and less fuss than many cocktail lists around town.
Bakery operations will still remain based out of the Chestnut store, where croissants and pastries are made from scratch every day. Joanna says that despite the expansion, "we want to stay true to ourselves," using organic ingredients whenever possible, and using classic French techniques.
The new location will offer an all day menu, opening for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, in addition to the kiosk. The opening is currently projected for March 2016, following the fall opening of chef Jonathan Waxman's Italian-influenced restaurant in the neighboring Mustard Building.