RSF’s Bertrand Hug sells Mister A’s but remains devoted to Mille Fleurs

The outdoor patio at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe.
The outdoor patio at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe.

While he may be downsizing his business interests and sticking around closer to home, Bertrand Hug plans to remain connected to the North County restaurant scene.

“My plan is to stay around here and not drive downtown,” said Hug, 74, a Rancho Santa Fe resident and well-known San Diego County restaurateur.

Mille Fleurs owner Bertrand Hug
Mille Fleurs owner Bertrand Hug
(Bob Stefanko)

Hug, the long-time owner of two San Diego County dining icons, the downtown Mister A’s and Mille Fleurs in the Rancho Santa Fe village, is in the process of selling Mister A’s to one of his veteran employees, operations director Ryan Thorsen.

Mister A’s, from its spot on the 12th floor of the Manchester Financial Centre on 5th Avenue, offers breath-taking views of the downtown skyline and Balboa Park. Since it opened in 1965, the fine dining spot has served as a backdrop for the celebrations of generations of San Diegans, from first communions to weddings and anniversaries, Hug said.

Hug took over Mister A’s in 1999, reopening the well-known dining spot after a remodel. His goal, he said, was to “just to bring it back to its former splendor.”

A number of factors convinced Hug that now was the time to sell.

As operations manager, Thorsen ran the restaurant when Hug was dealing with recent health issues, and Hug is convinced his former employee will maintain Mister A’s fine-dining traditions. “There will be great continuity,” he said.

As a young man, Hug said, he received a helping hand to start his first restaurant and now he is repaying the favor. “It’s like good karma,” he said.

Finally, after a decades-long career in the restaurant business, he felt it was time to cut back.

“I think it’s time for me to smell the roses. I’m on the slippery slope,” he said.

Thorsen is planning a renovation of Mister A’s that will take place over the summer, traditionally the restaurant’s slowest period. Hug said he had been contemplating a similar project when the pandemic struck and temporarily shut down the hospitality industry.

Among the changes will be expanding the bar, raising the level of one section of the dining room, and creating both indoor and outdoor seating areas for drinks and appetizers, giving visitors more options to stop by for drinks, appetizers, desserts and full meals.

The Alessio family, which founded Mister A’s, will retain a 20 percent interest after the sale.

The sale of the restaurant, which is currently in escrow, is expected to close March 1. Hug said it feels “bittersweet” to step away from Mister A’s and the staff he considers family, but he’ll still be involved with Mille Fleurs, which he opened in 1985, on a daily basis.

“It’s my baby,” he said.

By the time he opened Mille Fleurs, the native of France had been working in the restaurant business for years, having managed, owned or co-owned several eateries, including Le Cote d’Azur in La Jolla, Mon Ami in Solana Beach, La Mediterranean, Bertrand’s in Leucadia, and La Maison du Lac in Carlsbad.

Hug said he was drawn to the restaurant business by his love of people, and his secret to success is loyalty to employees and customers and close attention to detail.

The Mille Fleurs dining room.

Mille Fleurs, he said, is more than just an eatery because of the customers, some of whom visit once or twice each week, creating a community gathering place. The eatery got an update earlier in the pandemic, when Hug freshened the décor and adopted a more casual menu, modeled after a French brasserie.

He said he’ll be available to support Thorsen, as well as spending time at Mille Fleurs in this new chapter of his life.

“I have to have something to do so I’ll go to the restaurant and see my friends,” Hug said.

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