Local Talent: Little Lion Cafe & Bar

By Jackie Bryant / Photography By Chris Rov Costa | Last Updated January 23, 2018
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If you see a large crowd growing outside of a small restaurant on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, that’s likely the Little Lion Cafe & Bar, which opened in December 2014 and has been chugging full steam ahead ever since.

Known for satisfying dishes with a creative twist, the restaurant is run by the three Coulon sisters—Anne Marie, Jacqueline, and Dominique—whose grandparents used to own the well-loved and now-shuttered Ocean Beach restaurant the Belgian Lion. From that pedigree, they’ve created another neighborhood staple that’s low on pretension and high on quality, one that has become a beacon of good food in the community.

So, it’s not surprising that the Little Lion has regulars. One of them, Nancy, heard that Anne Marie and her husband were selling their Pine Valley farm. It had become too difficult to manage the restaurant, the farm, and the couple’s small children, especially with the distance between Ocean Beach and the farm. Knowing the decision was difficult, Nancy told the Coulons that she had a city lot just around the corner that she’d be delighted to let them use, rather than “turning it into another McMansion,” Anne Marie recalled.

The “about 7,500-square feet small” garden was planted six months ago and now produces all of the arugula and herbs for the restaurant. It had also been supplying melons and squash for a time.Now that the weather has cooled, they’re giving salad greens another go. Other than that, they source from Specialty Produce, which was a learning experience for Anne Marie who used to think that buying direct from the farm was the only way to go.

Anne Marie says, “the dream was to have the restaurant with the farm. I interned at Chez Panisse as did my husband, at their farm, and Alice Waters had the same thought. But, like her, we realized it wasn’t realistic. We have such a small restaurant that we can’t efficiently work with farms—our ordering needs and volume don’t match up. This way, we can do what we want.”

Having their garden has allowed for greater creativity and freedom, they can use as much or as little of a product, like chives or herb flowers, without having to buy in bulk. “If you know what you’re doing and you know how to farm, you can grow so much food,” Anne Marie says of farming on their small plot. “We recently had so much arugula we were giving it away!”

It has also improved their bottom line, bit by bit. “But we’ll never be gazillionaires, which is fine. That’s not why you get into this business,” she cautions.

So, why does she do it? “As cliche as it sounds, I love my community. I love when people come in and have birthdays here, I love that my grandparents’ clients come and give us gifts and eat. I love cooking food. Sometimes, when you have nothing going on in your day, and you have a good meal, you just had something happen in your day.” It’s as simple as that.

Little Lion Swiss Chard Gratin

Anne Marie Coulon of Little Lion learned this recipe from her grandpa and now serves it as a starter with bread.  

Little Lion Parsley Pesto with Crudités

This pesto recipe was developed by Anne Marie Coulon of Little Lion Cafe and Garden. It goes great with vegetables, meat, or pasta.
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