Expatriate Restaurateurs Sophie, Philippe et Paul
Iwalked into The Survey Café on a typically sultry Southwest Florida morning last August. No other customers were yet in the quaint Bonita Springs eatery, just two of its three owners/operators: French expats Sophie Pouillet Leroux and her 27-year-old son, Paul Crepin-Leroux.
Before interviewing Sophie and Paul, I had official business to handle. This story is “Coffee With … ” So I asked Sophie, “Let me get a cup of coffee, if that’s OK?”
Oui. That was fine with Sophie, who pointed to a counter where self-serve coffee dispensers were primed and filled with fresh choices. “What do you recommend?” But then I answered my question before she could respond. The choice practically screamed out at me as soon as I noticed it—French roast!
Sophie and her husband, Philippe Leroux, purchased the eatery in November 2016 from former Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson. She had first visited it a few months before and fell in love with the place, which is located about a block east of Old U.S. Route 41 in the heart of Bonita Springs.
The family also loves the opportunities they see in America. “Here everything is possible,” Sophie said.
They were ready for a change. It helped that Sophie knows the United States. She attended Auburn University in the late 1970s, taught English in France and is a fan of legendary American poet Walt Whitman.
“We started talking about going to Australia,” Sophie explained. “There’s no really big future in Australia, so I said, ‘Let’s go to Naples [Florida].’ I thought it was a nice adventure.”
They left their home in Rouen, capital of France’s Normandy region, and moved to Southwest Florida in fall 2016 to take over The Survey Café. Its name comes from what Bonita Springs used to be called—Survey. A century ago, Survey was little more than an outpost of hearty homesteaders in a virtually trackless wilderness between the towns of Fort Myers and Naples.
Now it’s a bustling upscale community dotted with golf courses and gated communities—and a café tucked out of sight. “Some people call this the secret place,” Paul said. The Survey Café is on Wilson Street, a small side street that’s easy to miss as one zips along the main road. “Secret hideaway or something like that,” Sophie added.
Many locals know it. Tourists learn about it from websites such as TripAdvisor, where “Michael J.” posted this last summer: “I have driven by this place 100 times and never knew it was here. Incredibly good food, very friendly service and in a quaint atmosphere. A must stop.”
Sophie initially stopped in the secret place while visiting a cousin in Naples, who told her the café was for sale. They drove up for lunch and to have a look at the hideaway on Wilson Street. She was smitten.
After she and Philippe bought the restaurant and property, they added a dinner menu for Fridays and Saturdays, further enhancing their offerings that mix French cuisine and classic favorites. Sophie said she found the right place and the right town at the right time in Bonita Springs. “It feels like a lot of things are happening,” she noted. “Everything is being transformed, evolving.”
And the American adventure continues for Sophie, her husband and son in The Survey Café, tucked away off Old 41 on a side street named Wilson.
Sophie Pouillet Leroux and Philippe Leroux bought The Survey Café in the fall of 2016. The couple and son, Paul CrepinLeroux, moved to the Sunshine State from Rouen, France.