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Susan Campoy dies at 70; chef-owner of San Marino bistro Julienne

By Valerie J. Nelson

March 7, 2009

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Susan Campoy, the chef-owner of Julienne, a French-inspired bistro that has been a neighborhood mainstay in San Marino for more than two decades, has died. She was 70.

Campoy, who lived in Pasadena, died Wednesday of breast cancer at the City of Hope in Duarte, said her daughter Cynthia Campoy Brophy.

An inventive cook who enjoyed hosting themed dinner parties, Campoy needed to find a way to support her four daughters after her divorce. She kept thinking, she told The Times in 1997, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to cook?"

For about five years, she ran a home-based catering business before opening Julienne in 1985 on Mission Street. At first, it was mainly a catering and takeout shop but soon had a wait staff for the burgeoning lunch crowd. By 1990, she was serving breakfast, usually on the outdoor patio.

Her food was "cleverly conceived," wrote restaurant reviewer Michelle Huneven in 1994 in The Times. "It also has the great, haunting visual appeal of food in old still lifes and trompe l'oeil."

Another Times reviewer, Max Jacobson, acknowledged in 2002 Julienne's role as "a neighborhood hangout, a de facto daytime social club and cafe" and gave high marks to the Tuscan meatloaf, glazed with a spicy tomato chutney.

Campoy once described her menu as "very good, basic food" and "home cooking," but one reviewer considered her "interesting salads" a strength.

"She viewed cooking as so much more than sustenance," her daughter said. "She had such flair. . . . The presentation was as important as the food.

"People would go to Julienne not just for a sandwich but to cry on her shoulder, to get direction," she said. "She inspired, supported and encouraged people. She was the life of the party."

Another daughter, Julie Campoy, joined the restaurant in 1989 and will continue to operate it.

When the Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children in Los Angeles was expanding a complex near Echo Park, Susan Campoy pushed for a kitchen that could be used to train women as pastry chefs.

In June, the center's Village Kitchen started teaching culinary skills to recently homeless women in a kitchen outfitted by Campoy, who served on the center's board.

At the dedication ceremony, Campoy said, "It's just like that old adage: 'Give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.' "

An Arcadia native, Susan Barbara Jolly was born in 1939. Her father ran the Jolly Cafe on 1st Street in Los Angeles.

She attended UC Santa Barbara and UCLA but left school for a marriage that lasted about 16 years.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, Campoy completed a life goal -- to write a cookbook -- from her hospital bed. The day after she died, her daughters held the first bound copy, titled "Celebrating With Julienne." They would like to self-publish it by Mother's Day.

In addition to her daughters Cynthia and Julie, Campoy is survived by two other daughters, Lesley and Jennifer Campoy; four sisters, Mary Niedringhaus, Vicki Regan, Michelle Smith and Emmy Lou Jolly Van; and two grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Holy Family Church, 1501 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena.

Memorial donations may be made to the City of Hope, www.cityofhope.org.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com