More than 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry taught Sonya Huff how to run a restaurant, but her passions fueled the type of environment she created for The Levee, a Cajun/Creole restaurant at 451 Main St. in Placerville.
“I love to cook and I’m passionate about fresh, good quality food that people really enjoy,” said Huff, 50. “If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you’re not going to put out a great product.”
Three years ago, a job transfer moved Sonya, her husband Robert and daughter Brandi from Florida to California. “We wanted a house with some property and Placerville was it for us.” But the commute to some of Robert’s job sites was challenging and the Huffs settled in Fair Oaks.
Still wanting to make Placerville part of their lives, they bought a business — Café Luna. “We thought it would be great to come into a small town that had history with a great restaurant,” Sonya said. “Robert wanted a place where I could cook my way and I wanted a place where he could have his music.”
For eight months, Sonya and Brandi ran Café Luna but they found it constraining. Some customers wanted things just as they had always been and changes weren’t always welcomed. That’s when Huff discovered another important part of business — be yourself.
“I grew up in Arkansas and Louisiana and lived 25 years in Florida; I’m a southern girl,” Sonya said, “and with us, hospitality is No. 1. I wanted a place that had a great fun, welcoming atmosphere where people would become regulars.”
She took the advice of some of her fellow Main Street merchants, closed the restaurant, made some changes and reopened in November 2013 as The Levee, where the Cajun food is fresh and the music is hot.
“We use all my recipes and make everything from scratch, including our sauces and spices,” Sonya explained. “I do some of the cooking, but I like to mingle with our customers. I’m a people person.”
On Fridays and Saturdays, Robert, a drummer in his spare time, organizes the live music. “The change is really working for us and there’s a lot of positive energy,” Sonya said. “We’ve gotten very positive feedback and it’s a lot of fun.”
Sonya likes to come in when the restaurant is closed to try out new dishes. “I love to create, whether it’s food or arts and crafts. I try new dishes out on family and friends and then we try them in the restaurant as specials. If people love them, we include them in the menu.
“I want people to know that our Cajun food is not spicy hot — unless you ask for it that way,” she added. “It’s good, quality food.”
Besides great food and music, Sonya values family and a family-run business is just her style. “My employees are also part of my family and I want them to enjoy what they do and being here. I’ve found that working with an unhappy person makes the whole staff miserable,” she said. “Keep that special bond with family, because without it, you have nothing. Try to let the small stuff roll off your back instead of letting it put something between you.”
Sonya brought Brandi, 22, to work with her when she was in middle-school, “so she’s always been around the restaurant business. She wants to go into medicine, but she’s helping us out right now and she’s really picked up on the wine industry. I’m very proud of her.”
“We serve local wines. You are so spoiled out here with all of these wonderful wineries,” she continued. “The restaurant is great for us. If I could have a little casino in here, it would be perfect.”
The Levee is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday with a 4 p.m. Happy Hour and dinner beginning at 5 p.m. Enjoy live music on Friday and Saturdays beginning at 7:30 p.m.