ST. GEORGE — The commonly used French expression “oh lá lá” roughly translates as an exclamation of something surprising – often something good or impressive. In this way, it’s an term that can be used to describe one of St. George’s newest businesses.
The French Bakery, located at 2654 E. Red Cliffs Drive, combines owner and chef Mitchell Sampson’s sensibility and passion for food into an experience that brings people back.
“I grew up on a farm in Salina, Utah, fixing fences, raising cattle, throwing hay bails and doing all that fun stuff,” Sampson said. “When I was 16, I moved to Salt Lake City and did a three-year culinary apprenticeship at The Hotel Utah.”
Sampson said that at the time, he never thought about the pursuit as a career.
“But after I finished the apprenticeship, the head chef sent me to the Virgin Islands. After a few months, I was asked if I was there for the sun and fun or to learn to cook.”
The answer was easy, he said: “I wanted to cook and become a skilled chef.”
Although Sampson never attended culinary school, his practical training has given him the right to be addressed as chef.
This road of training has included serving an advanced culinary apprenticeship at the historic Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, under certified master Chef Hartmut Handke — a member of the 1984 and 1988 United States culinary Olympic team.
Sampson’s in-the-kitchen training has also been rounded out as chef for the Rockefeller and RJ Reynolds families, Ritz Carlton hotels, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Stanford University and The Lion House Bakery in Salt Lake City.
This culinary journey all over the world has fused a melange of flavors from the United States, France, Italy, the Caribbean, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
“It’s been a long path,” Sampson said with a smile.
Now the master of his own restaurant, Sampson said the journey has been well worth the effort and sacrifices.
The French Bakery offers an eclectic mix of scratch-made farm-to-table items.
The menu features a host of salads; juices and coffees; sandwiches that include roasted turkey, Havarti and cranberry relish, corned beef with spicy mustard on deli rye and, of course, French dip with au jus; and a potpourri of pastries, including Danish, croissants, sticky buns and a classic Napoleon.
The No. 1 favorite with customers is the chocolate éclair, Sampson said, adding that on a typical Saturday, 50-75 of the sweet treats are snatched up.
No matter how you slice it, customers seem to love the food.
“What do I need to say?” said St. George resident Claudia Vargas, who was eating at the restaurant with a friend. “This place is wonderful. It’s all about the fresh food that brings me back, and Chef Mitchell combines great flavors and amazing tastes.”
The customer service is also a big reason customers seek out The French Bakery.
“Mitchell knows how to take care of everyone that comes through the door,” Vargas said.
This kind of service has been key during a pandemic, especially considering the fact that the restaurant opened three weeks before the onslaught of COVID-19. There were times in the early days of the business when Sampson said things were more than “terrible.”
“During that time we prayed to do $100 in sales, and half of the time we would come up short,” he said. “We ran the utilities, loaded up the showcase and worked 15 hours a day only to make $65. It was a bit discouraging.”
Because of a mix of federal CARES Act requirements, Sampson added, he did not qualify for COVID-19 financial assistance. However, since Memorial Day, things have shifted, and business has grown.
“I am very thankful to our loyal customers and the positive reception we’ve had to our concept,” he said.
The French Bakery is located in the cluster of businesses behind the Texas Roadhouse restaurant on East Red Cliffs Drive.
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