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Compagnon Wine Bistro owners Thomas and Loni Compagnon. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

Compagnon Wine Bistro recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, but owners Thomas and Loni Compagnon began building a local following long before that.

Thomas worked as the sommelier and bartender for 19 years at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes. Early in the process of opening the bistro, he let his customers know about his next chapter. They were keen to follow him.

The Royal with cheese burger. (photo: Compagnon Wine Bistro Facebook page)

The bistro’s story is like a multi-course meal of tradition, community, and sweet chance connections. When they opened in 2019, Thomas and Loni had no idea what would come. 

Two weeks after their opening, Cirque du Soleil came to the Port of Los Angeles. “All the Cirque du Soleil people would come here after their performances. One of the Cirque singers performed acapella in the restaurant on a Sunday night,” recalls Loni. “She stood up and just started belting it out.” Cirque du Soleil extended its stay, and as a result, Compagnon was booked for six months straight.

During COVID, the bistro’s customers stepped up to help keep them in business. Many take-out orders, gift baskets, and gift certificates were purchased. “We had people consistently buying food from us,” says Loni, “because they were like, ‘We can’t let this restaurant leave. We love this restaurant.’” 

A charcuterie and fromage board. (photo: Compagnon Wine Bistro Facebook page)

As of 2024, their older regulars tend to stick to what they love best. Thomas and Loni have learned the importance of keeping their staples consistent with the right chef. And new faces continue to come. A younger, hip crowd wants the full experience of a French meal and is drawn to Compagnon’s organic wines, like orange wine. 

“Orange wine is very fun,” says Loni. “It’s very funky and earthy.” The orange wine smells red, drinks like a white, is lightly fermented, and has a darker hue. If this piques one’s curiosity, Compagnon has a wine club, which began during the pandemic. 

“We have a lot of natural wines, which ferment a bit. They’re really good and fun to drink right away. They’re not necessarily wines that you’d keep in your cellar,” says Thomas. “They’re from small productions, with fun labels, and made with no intervention.” 

“It’s like the old-school way of producing wine,” Loni explains. The restaurant also sells wine at retail prices. If the customer likes the wine at dinner, they could purchase a bottle to take home.

FEELS LIKE HOME
Wherever they’ve traveled, the Compagnons have always loved the hidden gems, the cozy stops with the wife and husband running the place. That’s what they wanted to create. 

Compagnon’s French onion soup. (photo: Compagnon Wine Bistro Facebook page)

“We want [you] to feel like you’re in our home. We wanted to create something we’d find in France,” says Loni. “We love the feeling and eating with our friends. These are your best experiences — enjoying food and breaking bread.”

“We’re very hands-on, and most of the people that work with us, we’ve known them for years. We work as a team, and we all do everything. Nobody just does one thing,” Loni continues. “So you have the experience of getting good service and also being taken care of.”

Pairing specific wines to particular dishes is key to Thomas and Loni’s approach. The menu has roots in the soil of specific regions of France. 

By design, Compagnon’s menu is small and relatively limited to mostly traditional French cuisine, reflecting Thomas’s upbringing in the south of France. But they like to play with the specials, which often have coastal Mediterranean influences from Spain, Italy, Greece, or even Morocco. 

The bistro’s Seventh Street signage. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

Thomas and Loni buy their ingredients from local farms, gardens, and farmers markets as much as possible, including the Feed and Be Fed Garden (the Garden Church) and Alma Backyard Farms, which recently opened behind Target.

Some challenges the Compagnons continue to face include inflation — with high food costs threatening to push up the bistro’s prices — and the lingering perception that French cuisine is a mystery and beyond a San Pedran’s comfort zone.

“I think some people think French food is snobby or pretentious, and they’re intimidated,” says Loni. “But then they come in and have the beef bourguignon, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome!’ Once we get them through the door and they try our food, they realize it’s not the French food they imagined. I’m like, ‘This is an elevated stew that your grandma would make.’”

Steak & frites. (photo: Compagnon Wine Bistro Facebook page)

Another challenge for the bistro is that Downtown San Pedro has too many empty storefronts. “We have to be able to create an incentive for people to come and stay here after they eat at the bistro,” says Thomas. 

“Landlords don’t want to invest in their buildings,” adds Loni, “and that needs to change.” 

Thomas continues, “Before downtown becomes what it should be, we need to take all those fences from those stores on 6th Street and make it a little bit more welcoming so people can want to look at it and maybe rent it.”

RISE OF THE WHALE

The front of The Whale & Ale, which the Compagnons recently took over. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

The Compagnons have purchased The Whale and Ale with the help of their partner, Mardo Murillo. They’re unsure when it will reopen, but they have a vision. “We wanted to pay tribute to Marilyn Ginsburg and a great piece of San Pedro history, so we’re keeping the name,” says Loni. The Whale and Ale has a full liquor license, making it enticing. 

“We’re going to be very much a pub, like a gastropub,” Loni continues. “That way, if they want to, our customers can have a drink before or after dinner. It’s like the bistro and the gastropub are going to complement each other. There’s an upstairs area where we’d like people to be able to have cocktails and hang out. Very much like a lounge. We also wanted to create the change we want to see,” she adds, “and have a place like this for our age group.” 

SOUNDS ON SEVENTH
“We met this musician who lives in San Pedro with his wife, and they came [in] for dinner. He loved the place and asked me if he could play,” shares Thomas. “And so, without really knowing much [about] him, we said, ‘Yes.’” 

Actor John C. Reilly has made multiple surprise appearances performing for guests. (photo: Compagnon Wine Bistro Instagram page)

Guitarist David Garza performs at Compagnon Wine Bistro when he can. Sometimes, he brings guests, like actor John C. Reilly, for impromptu jams. 

“The energy around watching those musicians perform, they’re having so much fun,” says Loni. “It’s contagious and a treat.”

“First, there’s the food, which is so good,” says Garza. “Then there’s the hospitality [of Thomas and Loni] and the energy of 7th Street.”

“These big, eclectic jam sessions and whoever David brings, there’s an element of surprise,” says Thomas. “And they don’t want to be paid other than to have dinner and wine.” 

Garza has become a good friend. “Anyone who’s blessed enough to create for a living can recognize the creativity in another,” he says. “I knew this was a magical place and a magical time that wouldn’t necessarily happen again. I’m inspired to go there, and, when I’m there, I always feel like I’m at home.” spt

Compagnon Wine Bistro is located at 335 W. 7th St. in Downtown San Pedro. For more info, call (424) 342-9840 or visit compagnonbistro.com.

Julia Murphy

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