Former Newport restaurateur to have local funeral services

Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version.

Services for the late Geril Muller, a prominent Orange County restaurateur who was behind the posh Chez Cary, Ambrosia and the Viking Lounge establishments in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, will take place on Thursday.

His funeral service is scheduled for noon at the Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary, 1702 Fairhaven Ave., in Santa Ana.

Muller, 87, died of natural causes Jan. 23 at his home in Hemet.

"Restaurants were his life," said his widow, Karen, 63.

Her husband opened Chez Cary in Orange in 1965 and Ambrosia in Newport Beach in 1972 with his brother, the late Gusta "Gus" Muller.

The two restaurants no longer exist, but in their heyday they were reputed as fine dining establishments, according to Los Angeles Times articles from the period.

Chez Cary once served President Nixon on one of his trips back to his home state in September 1971.

The restaurants that the Muller brothers established were known for their signature flambé dishes, according to a short biography released by Geril Muller's family.

One of Chez Cary's noted dishes was flaming wilted spinach salad — a fiery concoction of spinach, watercress, bacon bits, lemon juices, sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and brandy.

"The leaves should feel heavy with dressing," Muller told the Times in a February 1969 article.

The brothers also boasted a wine cellar of more than 25,000 bottles, ranging in price from $10 to $7,000 each.

Born Aug. 20, 1923, in Denmark, Geril Muller studied at the Danish International Hotel and Restaurant School, which accounted for his high standards in food service and preparation, said his nephew, Howard Kent.

Muller emigrated to the U.S. from Denmark in 1954.

In 1983, Muller merged the three restaurants, Le Premier Grill, Viking Lounge and Ambrosia, into one concept: Le Premier Restaurant, which was housed adjacent to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now the Segerstrom Center of the Arts. However, the restaurant closed in 1985 due to financial reasons, Kent said.

While growing up, Kent, now 51, worked with his uncle at his restaurants, he said.

"He was very tough on me teaching me the business, but he was absolutely the most generous person," Kent said. "To people who didn't even know him, he was a very warm individual."

Karen and Geril Muller were married six years ago. While she expected to take care of her ailing husband, she said it was actually the other way around.

Muller was a frequent jokester, even teasing the doctors while undergoing medical attention for his emphysema, she said.

"He brought so much to my life," Karen said. "He gave me a peace and tranquility that I didn't expect and didn't know I needed. That's just his nature and how he was."

Muller is survived by his wife; an adopted son, Axel "John" Muller; three stepchildren; four step-grandchildren, a step great-grandchild; his sisters, Lisa Kent and Greta Toubro; a niece, Lorene Kent; and his nephews, Preben E. Kent and Howard Kent.

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