By Joe Tash
As word of the death of Julien Hug spread through Rancho Santa Fe and the San Diego community last week, residents reacted with sadness and disbelief at the loss of the popular and charismatic restaurateur.
Hug, 35, the son of Bertrand and Denise Hug, owners of the well-known eateries Mille Fleurs in the Rancho Santa Fe Village and Bertrand at Mr. A’s in downtown San Diego, was found dead last week in a remote area off Highway 74 in Riverside County. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department later reported that the apparent cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A public memorial service is planned for Friday, Nov. 12, 3 p.m., at the Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe, 6225 Paseo Delicias.
Bertrand and Denise Hug released a statement to this newspaper expressing deep appreciation to the community.
“We are overwhelmed by the incredible outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors here in Rancho Santa Fe. This is an honored tribute to our family and what an amazing person Julien was and we thank everyone for their love, prayers and continued support.”
Rev. Jack Baca, senior pastor at the Village Church, said he was told by Bertrand Hug that “everyone is welcome” at the service, where a large crowd of 700 or more people is expected.
Along with seating and standing room in the main church sanctuary, the church will be setting up overflow spaces with closed circuit television to accommodate the mourners.
“We’re planning to seat as many people as we possibly can,” said Baca, adding that the Hug family “very much appreciates the outpouring of love and support from friends and the larger community.”
Julien Hug was a familiar fixture to many in the community both due to his work as host and manager at Mille Fleurs, a local dining institution in the Village, and from the philanthropic activities of himself and his parents.
As news of his death filtered through the community, those who knew him recalled his warm, welcoming manner, movie-star good looks and zest for life. When he wasn’t working in one of his family’s restaurants, he enjoyed skydiving, riding motorcycles and driving sports cars. Last year, he gained fame as a contestant on the ABC TV reality show, “The Bachelorette.”
“We’re just devastated as everybody is in town,” said Bill McNally, co-owner with his wife Connie of the McNally Company Antiques in the Rancho Santa Fe Village, and a friend of the Hug family. “We feel like part of the town has been ripped away from us. He was a wonderful guy, just a joy to be around. He was charming and loved life and it’s just a tragedy and an incredible loss for Bertrand and Denise and for Rancho Santa Fe.”
“I believe all the women in town felt like Julien was our son, too,” said Connie McNally. “We saw him grow and become handsome and charming and witty and fun. We’re all devastated. This has affected every woman in town. We felt we kind of raised him, he was everybody’s son. We’re just hurting. It’s put a pall on the town and we’re in mourning.”
Whether he was greeting customers at Mille Fleurs or his family’s newest restaurant, Augusta Modern in Palm Desert, or taking his mother, Denise, on a tandem sky-diving leap for her 60th birthday, Julien Hug always lived life to the fullest, said those who knew him.
“I adored him. He was an absolutely wonderful, wonderful man. A sparkling personality,” said Rancho Santa Fe resident Deana Ingalls.
County supervisor Ron Roberts, who is a close friend of the Hug family, said, "To be successful in the restaurant business, you have to be friends with numerous people. Beyond the business, Julien naturally had many friends, and was universally liked. The outpouring of grief from the community is evidence of the fondness in which he is held."
RSF resident Andrea Naversen said, “All of us in the community have really taken this very hard. He was truly Prince Charming. He was so handsome and gracious. We were deeply shaken and saddened by news of his death. It’s been absolutely heart-breaking.”
While she didn’t know Julien Hug well, Naverson said, “He seemed to have everything going for him and that’s why this has come as such a shock.”
Naversen was one of the organizers of a fashion show scheduled for last Thursday at Mille Fleurs to benefit Kids Korps, one of the Hug family’s favorite charities. In 2008, Kids Korps honored the Hug family with its National Leadership Award for its support of Kids Korps and other charities.
When they heard Julien Hug was missing early last week, said Naversen, organizers considered calling off the event. But even after Julien Hug’s body was found on Wednesday, Bertrand and Denise Hug insisted the fundraiser go forward.
“Despite the tragedy, it was the Hugs’ wish we go on with the fundraiser to support Kids Korps, USA, a cause so dear to the family’s heart,” said Naversen.
The event turned into a celebration of Julien’s life, said Naversen, with members of the audience taking turns sharing their stories and remembrances of him. Although Bertrand and Denise Hug were not present, many of the restaurant’s long-time staff, including Mille Fleurs chef Martin Woesle, were on hand.
The factors that led Julien Hug to take his own life remained a mystery to many who knew him, and even his family had little idea there was anything wrong, according to Bertrand Hug in an interview granted to San Diego’s Fox Channel 5.
“Some of us never saw this coming or anything. He was the most beautiful person inside and out, he was a classic guy, he was a gentle soul,” said Bertrand Hug in the broadcast interview.
“He should have been a writer, he should have been an actor, he was too beautiful,” Bertrand Hug said.
According to the interview, Julien Hug left notes for his parents, girlfriend and co-workers, describing how he had battled emotional problems for many years. Bertrand Hug told the interviewer that he had not yet been able to bring himself to read the note addressed to him.
Another family friend, Maggie Bobileff, owner of Mr. B’s clothing store at Rancho Santa Fe Road and Encinitas Boulevard, said Julien had modeled clothing during photo sessions for her store’s advertising campaigns.
She is among those who wondered how such an outwardly vibrant young man could have in fact been suffering from severe emotional pain.
“I just cannot understand about Julien. He was the most handsome, polite, friendly person, always with a smile, he makes you smile,” Bobileff said. “Everybody who knew him… is questioning why he never spoke out, he never talked to anybody about it.”
The Rancho Santa Fe Review has created a special section dedicated to sharing memories of Julien Hug.