Bistro Toulouse has the feel of a casual, sidewalk café in Paris with natural wood décor, soft lighting, French artwork and soothing music. Combine the atmosphere with fine wine and classic French bistro dishes like escargots Bourgogne flavored with garlic, butter and parsley, and you may forget you are in the Sea Island Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant.
In April, this award-winning restaurant celebrated five years in business.
“We wanted to open a neighborhood restaurant that would become a destination for locals,” said Candice Mahala, co-owner and manager of Bistro Toulouse. “We’re proud that after five years in Mount Pleasant, we have customers who come back again and again — some as often as once a week.”
Mahala oversees the dining-room service and the wine and beverage program, while her business partner and husband, Matthew Schulz, is the executive chef. Schulz loves perfecting each element of a dish with a focus on braised and grilled meats and making sausages in-house. The menu varies by season, and specials are offered nightly.
The pair met while attending the Culinary Institute in New York. Mahala’s career has spanned a wide range of food and beverage positions — from cook to sous chef to pastry chef to banquet and catering manager to catering sales for large luxury hotels in Washington, D.C., serving thousands of guests per meal including VIP heads of state and celebrities.
After years of visiting Mahala’s father in Charleston, the couple moved to Mount Pleasant in 2013 and soon realized that they could make their dream of opening a restaurant a reality. They were surprised by the lack of culinary diversity, particularly French eateries, so they opened Bistro Toulouse in 2014. They had experience with French cuisine and wine and chose the name based on regional specialties like cassoulet from the city of Toulouse.
“My favorite part of owning a restaurant is getting to know our customers and having them return again and again. It’s always great to hear someone say, ‘This is my favorite restaurant!’” Mahala said.
In the beginning, Mahala said they worked long hours and had little time for a personal life. But with experience and the restaurant now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, life is better balanced for the couple. “We have more time to catch up and focus on ourselves.”
As for the future, Mahala said they plan to continue perfecting what they already do and become more involved in the community. She also hinted at possibly opening a second restaurant in the future. If it’s anything like Bistro Toulouse, the Lowcountry is in for another award-winning dining experience.
By Tonya McGue