Cooking comes from the heart. The timeless act of lovingly preparing a meal for someone using a favorite recipe and a few simple ingredients is a sacred human experience. It’s that passion and love for all things gastronomical that make Danielle Kuhn so absolutely amazing at what she does.
This year, her newest endeavor, Giana Bakery + Provisions, has earned the much-deserved Golden Lantern as Dana Point’s Best New Restaurant. You may already be familiar with her work, as she’s been the owner of the very popular eatery Maison Cafe + Market since 2018.
Giana is her latest creation for coffee lovers and those with a sweet tooth.
“My first job was working in a coffee shop in Laguna Beach when I was 13, and I fell in love with it immediately,” Kuhn says. “There’s something magical about working in the food service business, the beautiful chaos of the kitchen and the dining room and all that’s happening, swirling around; it’s like dance.”
From the coffee shop in Laguna Beach to various restaurants throughout Orange County, Kuhn dedicated herself to learning the ins and outs of the industry. Around the same time her first son surfed into the world, she took a job at Cannon’s in Dana Point.
“I started as the bookkeeper there. When my first son was born, they let me set up a playpen in the corner and work,” Kuhn says, smiling. “I wanted to learn every aspect of running a restaurant, so that’s what I did. I bought all the books from the Culinary Institute and learned to cook.”
Kuhn says she learned how to order supplies and stock the kitchen, as well as how to keep books and run the business.
“I ran the front of the house. I love it all,” she says, proudly adding that “I would come home from tending bar at 2 in the morning and dive right into my cookbooks; I was learning the restaurant business and raising my two boys. It was all-consuming.”
It’s that love, that attention to detail and dedication to her craft, that set Giana—which translated means “God is gracious”—apart from other bakeries and cafes. When it comes to the food, like Maison, it starts with only the best ingredients.
With a deep appreciation for the importance of nutritional health in our daily lives and a belief that better living can come from better eating, her approach is a repudiation of the big-food, corporatization of how we eat.
Produce is organic and locally sourced as much as possible. The various flours used for baking and making pastas are inspired by old-world cooking, a benefit for those gluten-sensitive folks. Giana doesn’t have a fryer, and it doesn’t use canola oil in its cooking, preferring to use organic olive oil and other healthier options instead.
Nobody ever said health food had to taste bad or be stupidly expensive, and Kuhn’s work at both Giana and Maison is proof-positive that the secret is all in the kitchen.
Sitting down to talk with Kuhn in the corner of Giana on a brisk, bustling morning, it’s clear that her customers are not only there for the warm coffee and mouth-watering pastries, but also for the sense of community. Midway through the conversation, Kuhn excuses herself.
“I’ll be right back,” she says, nodding to an older gentleman who’s come in for his morning coffee.
Kuhn walks across the room and gives the man the warmest, kindest, most empathetic embrace, like they had been friends for decades. Immediately, it’s obvious the man is at ease and comforted.
“His wife’s been sick for a few weeks,” she says, returning to the table in the corner. “I had to give him a hug and see how she was doing.”
And perhaps that’s what makes Giana, as well as Maison, so special. It’s a place where community thrives, a place where people come together to share a cup of coffee—or a hug. It’s a place to slow down and enjoy a meal and some conversation. In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, sitting down and breaking bread together is still important. It’s still special.
Dana Point is fortunate in that the past several years, a growing number of like-minded restaurateurs have also chased their dreams, like Delahunt Brewing Company and aPizza Doho, which tied for Best New Restaurant’s Silver Lantern.
Opening during the darkest days of the pandemic, Delahunt fought tooth and nail to establish itself as an incredible destination for locally brewed beer, tacos to die for and an assortment of savory meat plates, including pork belly and chorizo.
The creation of Todd Delahunt and brewer Kyle Boruff, the Dana Point taproom is a few short blocks from Giana, while the main brewing facility is located down the road in San Clemente.
And also opening in 2022, aPizza Doho is the relative new kid on the block, although it’s owned and operated by a seasoned team of veterans.
Located in The Row off Pacific Coast Highway, owners Marcos Costas, Christopher Christian and his nephew, Anthony Christian, have sought to pay homage to the world-famous East Coast pizza tradition—simple, classic, delicious.
The pizza dough is made fresh in-house every day, and customers have the option of ordering a house pizza or getting creative with a build-it-yourself option. Like Giana, customers and community are a pillar of this success of aPizza Doho.
“I always like to touch the table and ask how everything is, and I always like to recognize people: ‘Good to see you again,’ ” Costas says.
Thanks to the work of Kuhn and her restaurants, Giana and Maison, as well as the teams at Delahunt Brewing Company and aPizza Doho, Dana Point is quickly becoming a destination for incredible, locally created, community-inspired cuisine. Needless to say, it’s a great time to be hungry.