Enjoy Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, a Latte or Glass of Wine

Nicole’s Café and Market owner Nicole Grandjean (center) and (from left) employees Chantal, Luis and Katherine are ready to serve customers six days a week. Photos by Sally Kilby

Nicole’s Market and Café is a charming gourmet market and French restaurant located steps from South Pasadena’s GoldLine station. Breakfast, brunch and lunch are served. Seating is available inside and on a patio in front of the painted-yellow café with blue awnings.

All customers order at a main counter. The menu includes a variety of sandwiches (including the very popular and delectable Croque Monsieur), salads and other items. An overhead chalkboard lists specials for the day and beverage choices. Café au lait, numerous other hot beverages, beers on tap, and a variety of French wines by the glass can be ordered. Nicole’s also has an extensive selection of wines by the bottle.

Racks and refrigerated cases hold French bread and foodstuffs used to prepare meals at home. The selection of cheeses runs in the hundreds, including French, Spanish and California types. Frozen croissants, lasagna and coq au vin are also available. A replica of the Eiffel Tower sits atop the racks.

Cakes and other traditionally French desserts are displayed in a nearby case. All are baked onsite, café owner Nicole Grandjean said.

Caviar, pâtés, and various imported deli meats can be purchased. Nicole’s also offers separate menus for catering, picnics and desserts.

Part of the café is dedicated to racks and refrigerators filled with imported and domestic cheeses, croissants and other items for the home cook. French tablecloths, kitchen bowls and baskets, body lotions and gift items are available for purchase.

Chris Taylor and his family of five enjoy breakfast every Saturday at Nicole’s. His wife, Jeanne Roué-Taylor, is French, and their oldest child attends school at the Lycée International de Los Angeles.

“The food is always fresh,” he said, “and we enjoy seeing Nicole, who is a ‘grande dame.’” By that, he said, he meant she tolerates “no nonsense, yet is warm and friendly.” He said he admires the French manner of being direct and honest.

Get-togethers at Nicole’s are stress-free, casual and affordable. Patrons can stop by for a quick cup of expresso or linger over lunch with friends.

Ashley Angione (left) and Katherine LaDouceur meet at Nicole’s for lunch and a glass of wine. “It’s a quiet street and you feel like you’re in France,” said Angione.

Megan and James Ponsoldt and their two children took a leisurely walk from their nearby home to the café on a recent weekend. 

“Nicole’s has the best croissants in South Pasadena,” Megan  said.

New to South Pasadena, they love the small-town feeling of the city. Nicole’s is part of that, they said.

An attractive feature of the café is its outside patio. Rows of small tables with bright red and blue tablecloths create an inviting ambience. Thick hedges shield customers from the street. Colorful overhead umbrellas provide protection from the elements. French tunes or soothing musical selections drift from outdoor speakers. One can easily feel transported to a secluded European garden.

Ashley Angione and her friend, Katherine La Douceur, dined at the sidewalk café recently. “It’s a quiet street, and you feel like you’re in France,” said Angione.

She also said Nicole’s is one of the few places that carries Sancerre. This is the ultimate French Sauvignon blanc, according to owner Grandjean.

The atmosphere of Nicole’s sidewalk café encourages quiet conversation and leisurely dining over a glass of wine. Soft music plays overhead. Photo by Megan Levy

The outdoor patio is quite popular with many customers as it is dog friendly.

Grandjean, who was born in Paris and grew up in the Loire Valley, said she never imagined she would own a café. She said she moved from France to Canada when she was 21 and then to the U.S. in 1987.

She spent years in the wholesale industry, she said, importing French food. She opened a store in Pasadena in 1996 to sell to the home chef and then sought a larger facility.

Her intent was always to sell food products to hotels, restaurants and the home chef.

“When we moved to South Pasadena in 2001,” she said, “there was no plan to open a café, but people kept asking me if I was going to make sandwiches.”

This was before the Gold Line station had been built, and when there were only three places in the neighborhood to buy something to eat, she added.

“It made sense,” she said. “We had all the products for sandwiches. We started small and grew, constructing a kitchen and then expanding the kitchen.”

Special French desserts, all baked onsite, fill a large display case at Nicole’s.

Since then, she said, the café has become her primary business. She has a staff of 12. Her son operates the wholesale business, Gourmet Imports, out of a warehouse in Alhambra.

Grandjean said that the majority of her patrons are repeat customers. She knows many by name. Her classically French food, welcoming environment and service have led Nicole’s to become an institution in the area.

Nicole’s Market & Café is located at 921 Meridian Avenue, Unit B, with the entrance off El Centro Street in South Pasadena. Hours of operation are Mon., Wed., Fri. and Sat. from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thurs. hours are 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with closing time dependent on the season and the Farmer’s Market schedule. Sun. hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The café is closed Tues. For more information, visit www.nicolesmarketcafe.com, call (626) 403-5751 or email nicole@nicolesmarketcafe.com.

Nicole’s Market and Cafe´ Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 4.13.18.