By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer


Los Alamos has become known recently for its excellent restaurants, not the least of which is local favorite Plenty on Bell, a culinary gem owned by Jesper Johansson and Alec Roehl.

Photo by Jeffrey Bloom
The combination of Jesper Johansson as executive chef and Alec Roehl as business manager and chef has turned out to be a propitious match for Plenty on Bell in Los Alamos.

Born and raised in Sweden, Johansson came to the United States on a visitor’s visa and fell in love with the area. Wanting to extend his time here, he enrolled at the Santa Barbara City College School of Culinary Arts. Then he did his internship at Brothers Restaurant when it opened in Solvang.

“I said you don’t have to pay me. I just want to learn the business at a restaurant level,” Johansson said. “At school you learn how to cook individual meals, but to really learn your trade, you have to make a variety of dishes over and over again. It’s like anything else, you have to practice to become proficient.”

He subsequently met John Morley and Ralph Quackenbush, who had just opened an art gallery in Los Alamos and wanted to establish a small coffee house attached to the art gallery. Johansson partnered with the two and opened Café Quackenbush, a little place where art patrons could have a cup of espresso and some dessert.

“We started with an espresso machine and it grew from there, serving breakfast and lunch,” Johansson said. “Ralph sponsored me so I could get my green card and I began living the American Dream. I worked at Café Quackenbush for 16 years.”

When Quackenbush closed the art gallery, Johansson began working as the executive chef for Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian at their new restaurant, Plenty on Bell.

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Within the year Ryder asked Johansson and Roehl, who worked at the restaurant, if they would be interested in buying the business. They were.

“The reason we make such a good team is I am self-taught in business. I am an autodidact. I love to learn new and interesting things.  I immersed myself in learning about business and I think that’s what caught Tracey and Carole’s attention. They thought Jesper and I would make a great team,” Roehl said.

Roehl had worked at Café Quackenbush with Johansson and when it closed he went to work at Bell Street Farm, then followed Johansson to Plenty on Bell.

“I had always had an interest in food preparation and in nutrition, so partnering with Jesper made a great fit,” Roehl said.

Johansson mentored Roehl, teaching him the culinary arts.

“Just as Brothers had brought me on board and taught me the intricacies of cooking for a restaurant, I knew that Alec wanted to learn and I wanted to teach him,” said Johansson.

“It was a hands-on education,” Roehl added.

The combination of Johansson as executive chef and Roehl as business manager and chef turned out to be a propitious match.

“I would say I am the business manager and Jesper is the executive chef, but our roles overlap,” said Roehl. “We work very well together.”

Plenty on Bell is celebrating its one-year anniversary at the end of this month. The menu consists of what they call “elevated comfort food.”

Johansson emphasizes that they use the very best ingredients they can source locally. Some of their purveyors are Mary’s Chicken, which is organic and free range; sourdough bread from Bob’s Well Bread; Bakers Table for their rye and other assorted breads; Pattibakes for cakes; Jeffrey Bloom for assorted cookies, cakes, and scones; Edna’s Bakery for brioche; Green Star Coffee, which is a fair-trade organic coffee; and Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, which is also organic. They source fruits and vegetables from local farmers’ markets as much as possible. Also available is an assortment of local wines and beer.

“We like to support our local suppliers as much as we can,” Johansson said. “Our customers will even bring in fruits and vegetables from their organic gardens and that’s really cool. We also have a small garden in the back of the restaurant which we also utilize.”

“What makes us unique is we have options for gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan customers,” said Roehl. “Also our ‘specials board’ offers something totally different from our main menu. We offer an assortment of ethnic cuisine. We have a list of patrons who want to be called when we are serving their favorite specials, like Southern fried chicken or goulash, for example.”

Plenty on Bell recently celebrated its seventh successful Winemaker Dinner, which is a four-course meal and a four-course wine flight. Throughout the evening winemakers talk about the wine industry.

“We set up a long banquet table so guests can feel like they are at a social gathering, chatting with other guests and the winemakers themselves. It’s such a happy, easy-going event, which is very well attended,” Roehl said.

Plenty on Bell heard what Los Alamos residents wanted in a hometown restaurant and implemented those changes.

“All the changes we’ve made to the restaurant were at the suggestion of local patrons. They wanted a cozy atmosphere where people can enjoy the environment and some comfy food. The changes we made created an at-home feeling, which both locals and visitors seem to enjoy,” said Johansson.

Plenty on Bell, at 508 Bell St. in Los Alamos, is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sundays. It re-opens for dinner from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Fridays.

Reservations are recommended for dinner. For reservations and more information, call 805-344-3020 or visit