The father of SCV’s viticulture

By Taylor Villanueva
Signal Staff Writer

Along Sierra Highway is a building with blue doors constructed of stone, with bushes of flowers sprinkling the outside.

Inside is an upscale restaurant with classic French cuisine.

The ambiance of Le Chène rings true to a European feel, while the outside is lined with a green garden, twinkling lights wrapping around the trees. Behind the food and wine is chef Juan Alonso, who has been grooming his restaurant for 39 years to maintain the most authentic French cuisine, and bring a taste of France to Santa Clarita.

Before Alonso brought European flavor to the SCV, he lived in several places throughout the world, he said.

“I was born in Spain,” says Alonso. “I grew up in France, and lived in Switzerland and the Canary Islands.”

He grew up watching his father grow grapes to make wine. He also worked as a cook throughout his life.

Alonso lived in the San Fernando Valley, which was his first home after he moved to the United States. He later moved to Santa Clarita, where, in 1995, he became the first person to plant grapes in the SCV to make wine.

“It was out of nostalgia,” Alonso says, “(since) my father used to make wine and grow his own grapes… I was a small boy then, and there was that sensation of taking care of the vines. I watched him and decided to try it.”

But growing grapes in the SCV did not come without some doubts.

“People told me, ‘Oh no, you cannot grow grapes here,’” he recalled. “But we proved them wrong.”

Alonso has been growing grapes to make wine ever since then, which he now offers on the menu at his restaurant, Le Chène French Cuisine.

“We are here,” he says. “We have been here for 39 years.”

“We are an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city,” he added. “It’s like an escape — a destination restaurant.”

Alonso explains that he didn’t mean to aquire a restaurant, despite his previous cooking experience. He was selling real estate when the opportunity arose.

“The lady who owned the building would buy and sell through me. One day, she came and knew I was a chef. She said, ‘Would you like to have your own place?’ and that is how it happened.”

Alonso said that before that, he hadn’t thought about opening a restaurant. But he wanted to take the opportunity. The only problem he had was the issue of payment.

“I was broke and had no money,” Alonso said. “I had to borrow money. I borrowed from Peter and Paul and everyone else.”

With the help, he was able to buy the space that is now Le Chène. But the building looked different than it does today.

“The place was in shambles and pretty bad,” he explains. “I had to sand the rocks. The place had psychedelic colors.”

Before Le Chène was the little piece of France it is now, it was a “funky beer bar.” The place was even featured in Steven Spielberg’s film “Duel.”

Alonso had to fix the place up to make it his own, even sanding down the rocks outside to give it a new look. Now, it has the taste and feel of France, right in the middle of the SCV.

“Here we are 39 years later,” says Alonso. “To dine at the side of the road, it’s like a French country inn.”

And Le Chène is the perfect place to celebrate any occasion.

“People come from all walks of life, from birthdays to anniversaries,” says Alonso.

He even hosts events for holidays and special occasions, the next one being a murder mystery dinner experience for New Year’s Eve. But for those who would rather enjoy a traditional dinner, the restaurant has an option for that, too.

Le Chène is located at 12625 Sierra Highway, Santa Clarita, CA. 91390. For more information, visit the website, lechene.com, or call 661-251-4315.

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