Bailey Suesens first worked at Café Sparrow as a teenager, assisting her dad—co-owner of the Aptos spot since 1989—in the kitchen. Eventually, Suesens set out to earn a degree in fashion marketing from the Art Institute of San Francisco, where she met her now-husband Donnie—he went through the school’s culinary program.
With a talented chef by her side, Suesens moved back to Santa Cruz and now co-owns Sparrow with Donnie, who’s flourished running the kitchen.
Bailey describes Sparrow as a “comprehensively French upscale dining experience,” from the décor to the classic cuisine—with a California twist. Seared scallops on polenta with balsamic reduction highlight the apps, and the filet mignon, made with a traditional beef bone stock sauce, is an entrée must-have. They also serve locally sourced wild fish specials and quintessential French desserts like profiteroles, a mini puff pastry filled with custard or ice cream, topped with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce.
Sparrow is open Monday-Friday, 11:30am-2pm, for lunch; Monday-Saturday, 5-9pm, for dinner; and closed Sundays. Bailey talked to GT about her “over it” moment with kitchen work and how Café Sparrow keeps it French.
When did you know your back-of-house days were over?
BAILEY SUESENS: I was 16, working in the kitchen doing prep work and plating. My dad was the head chef, and I plated a dish wrong and burned myself on the chicken livers he was cooking. He got upset with me, and I felt terrible too and started crying—I knew from then on that I didn’t want to work in the kitchen anymore. From there, I became a busser and then a server and felt more in my element. Now I love working front-of-house and being the face of the restaurant.
How does Café Sparrow keep it 100% French?
For one, our sauces, which are very traditional to French cuisine and are all made in-house. For example, the Espagnole, which is the base for our sauce on the filet mignon, and the bearnaise, which is basically a hollandaise with tarragon and shallots. Also, the décor is very French countryside too. We have an entire wall of wine bottles, and the other walls are adorned with hand-painted art; there are also lots of quaint French accents throughout the space and menu, starting at the front door with a traditional farm door.
Café Sparrow, 8042 Soquel Drive, Aptos. 831-688-6238; cafesparrow.com.