Jean Loup Bitterlin
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Jean Loup Bitterlin
Celebrating El Rey Sol’s 65th Anniversary
By Pat Tyson
Jean Loup Bitterlin is proudly celebrating the 65th anniversary of Mexico’s oldest family-owned El Rey Sol French Restaurant in Ensenada, a city he considers one of the best communities in Mexico. This is where the fascinating legend begins.Bitterlin was born in Santa Rosalia, a French copper mining town halfway down the Peninsula. As the French concession ran out, the family moved to Ensenada in 1947. His mother, Virginia Geffroy de Bitterlin, nicknamed Pepita, opened a small eight-table restaurant, naming it for the French king, Louis XIV, who was known as “Le Roi Soleil,” or ‘The Sun King.” Within two years, expansion forced her to move to the present location across the street. Running a restaurant and raising a family of four was a challenge for Pepita, so she moved to San Diego, where she bought a house and sent the children to school. Bitterlin and his sisters would return to El Rey Sol on weekends, to help and learn all aspects of the business. His mother taught extensively in the restaurant field, especially to those learning about good French cuisine in Baja California.
At the University of Southern California he earned a degree in architecture. Graduating in 1969, he returned to Ensenada, where he began working at Villa de San Miguel, a residential development of which his mother was a co-owner. Bitterlin was highly influenced by his mother’s work ethic, with emphasis on quality, and by his father, a French artist, who brought culture to many lives in Baja.
“During my last semester at USC, I built Casa de los Siete Patios for my mother,” he says. ‘I also designed and built Villa Bitterlin for ourselves, which was featured on the cover of the L.A. Times Home Section back in 1972.” Around that time he also rebuilt the El Rey Sol Restaurant, as well as the El Cid Hotel next to the restaurant.
“But I discovered that architecture was a very expensive hobby,” he points out. “So I focused on helping my mother with the restaurant, besides many other ventures in the eighties. We divided the San Miguel property and I renamed my section Cibola del Mar, in memory of the legend of the seven lost cities of gold of Cibola.”
The project has become one of the foremost communities in Ensenada, featuring cobblestone streets and red tiled rooftop homes. Bitterlin’s vision includes a progressive living community with a medical center. “Our philosophy is offering the best quality with the best service, as well as satisfying clients’ demands,” Bitterlin explains. “Casa de los Siete Patios as well as Hotel Posada El Rey Sol follow that same format. I believe that we have to supersede what our clients have at home to justify their becoming loyal clients. This is the goal of a successful tourism destination.” He also suggests Mexico needs to stress that, “besides vacations, retirement costs less here.” “In fact, I believe that Mexico’s “oil fields” are its advantages as a retirement option; due to the recession many Americans can’t afford to retire but, if we make them aware of our cost of living in Mexico, they can afford to retire for as little as $1,200 a month,” he predicts. “Our climate in Ensenada is the best in the world, and our proximity to the California border makes it a very convenient drive-to location.”
Regarding safety of residents and visitors, Bitterlin is more concerned about global terrorism that involves killing innocent people. The cartels, he notes, are focused on protecting their drug turf and killing each other. They see tourists as potential customers—and you can’t get too far if you harm your customer! He also feels that, unless you are involved with drugs, you have nothing to worry about.
“Fear is a great paralyser,” he says, “I believe the media and the travel advisories are focused on keeping the American consumers at home. What they forget is that provoking a bad economy in Mexico only promotes people seeking work in the United States. It is like the famous potato famine in Ireland in the 1800s, many emigrated to the U.S. to avoid starvation. But times have changed as Mexicans can’t get immigration papers, so they become illegal.”
As far as Baja is concerned, Bitterlin sees business from the United States and Europe picking up as visitors are able to see through the media smoke screen. He is optimistic that Baja, especially Ensenada, located in beautiful surroundings and offering great food and wine, is for all to enjoy. And he finds it difficult to pick a preferred spot in Mexico.
“Mexico has such a diversity of destinations that it is hard to choose a favorite,” he states. “The Baja Peninsula is striking and offers variety. We had a condo in Vallarta for many years. The colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas are peaceful and full of treasures. I love the variety of culture, beaches and its fun-loving people!”
From an eight-bypass heart operation thirteen years ago, Bitterlin learned a vitally important lesson–that a man destroys his health trying to make a fortune, then destroys his fortune trying to recuperate–without a guarantee of fortune and much less health, he adds.“I believe Mexico’s position in the world economy is healthy,” he concludes. “Its vast variety of resources, both material and human, is unique as well as is its geographical location. It is the land of opportunity, so I welcome you to visit and, hopefully, consider staying.”