Most restaurateurs have an embattled story of how they were able to secure their dream restaurant. This story is usually composed of long struggles from financial pinching and scraping to procuring the ideal location — all in an effort to capture their restaurant goal.
But after Voila French Bistro owners and France natives Ségolène Gros and her husband-chef Jean-Christophe spent eight years thinking about their dream opportunity, their dream actually found them.
In 2007, the couple touched down in the Valley en route to the Grand Canyon, their vacation destination. But it was their initial and single night in Scottsdale that proved to make the lasting impression.
“We fell in love with Scottsdale. When we arrived, it was a shock. You feel right at home, you feel so comfortable,” Ségolène said in English laced with her rhythmic French accent. “It’s like a paradise for us.”
In France, they started fantasizing about returning to Arizona, but this time not as tourists. They were veterans of the hospitality industry — she in hotels and he running restaurant kitchens — and visualized having their own bistro in Scottsdale.
“We figured it was the moment to try,” Ségolène said.
In 2015, the couple moved to the United States and briefly set up camp in Los Angeles, where they sought assistance at the French consulate. They needed someone fluent in French who could guide them in the best way to achieve their goal. By chance, they connected with someone who knew a French native who owned an Arizona French restaurant in, of all places, Scottsdale.
The Groses planned on getting advice from the restaurateur, maybe a few pointers and making connections in the Valley. Instead, the man, at 70, was ready and willing to sell his five-year-old restaurant to them right then and there.
The couple walked into the man’s restaurant. It was perfect. It also sparked their new venture’s name.
“When we arrived, we said, ‘Wow! This is the place we were looking for,’” Ségolène recalled. “And, voila, we are here.”
Within months of landing in the U.S. permanently, the Groses were living their dream. On the drive from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, they stopped at every purported French restaurant along the way to discover what French food meant to Americans.
What they found repeatedly: French onion soup, escargots, croques and other “basics.” Their mission was clear.
“French cuisine is so much more than that. French cuisine is not just escargot. It’s a way to prepare it,” Ségolène explained. “My husband said, ‘I’m going to do what I know … the real French cuisine.’”
The result is a 100 percent authentic south of France lineup of dishes that duplicates what one would be served in France. Even the décor exudes cozy, French ambiance as does a menu that boasts dishes like steamed mussels with garlic and white wine, duck confit with orange sauce and traditional crème brulee.
Fish and foie gras is Jean-Christophe’s favorite dishes to create. He’s spent the past two years searching for the right foie gras that can be prepared to a perfectly crisp exterior and tender interior. He did the same with the scallops — finding the ideal size, not too big or small, that would cook up perfectly, lightly caramelized on the outside but juicy and sweet inside.
The specials on the board change every eight weeks. Sometimes, he changes the bouillabaisse that pairs with the seafood depending on what he feels like creating. Ingredients, like the spices and herbs, are imported from France, Ségolène said.
The strategy has generated in their small restaurant serving about 150 guests each week, Ségolène said.
Christian Bissing has been among them since the Groses took over. Bissing, who grew up in Luxembourg, and his wife, a French-Canadian from Quebec, were drawn to Voila after learning it had new owners and wanted to give it a try. They’ve been loyal patrons, driving regularly from their Gilbert home to north Scottsdale for the scallops in puff pastry, his favorite on the menu, and her favorite, the branzino.
“I like to travel for a good restaurant,” said Bissing, who also likes the romantic atmosphere and graciousness of Ségolène and Jean-Christophe. Bissing said they serve “by far” the most authentic French food in the Valley. “It’s more on the traditional side, but it’s really, really good French food.”
The Groses were living in Neufchateau, France, about 200 miles east of Paris, before moving to the U.S. Jean-Christophe had spent 34 years as a chef.
The couple were prepared for their latest professional venture and have embraced a new life in the Valley. Ségolène talked about seeing the blue sky and palm trees from their apartment window.
“It’s amazing. My husband and I love Arizona,” she said.
Positive feedback on restaurant-review websites reassures them that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated.
“Some say, ‘We have the feeling like we’re in France,” Ségolène said. She believes the love behind the cuisine is an intangible asset. “In France, when you want to work in cuisine it is because you choose it. It is a passion. My husband has this passion. And we love to let American people know what is the real French cuisine.”
What: Voila French Bistro
Where: 10135 E. Via Linda Road, Scottsdale
Interesting stat: Single-location restaurants account for seven of 10 restaurants in the U.S., according to the National Restaurant Association.
Details: 480-614-5600, voilafrenchbistro.com.
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