Restaurateur Profile: Amelia Diaz
Amelia’s Espresso & Panini
2645 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Yelp: 4.5 Stars
Interview Date: Thursday, March 11, 2010
Amelia’s is truly a family restaurant, in fact; you won’t find anyone other than the three Diaz’s behind the counter – Mimi (short for Amelia), Ralph and Gianni.
Amelia’s is a small, coffee-shop style café in the heart of Main Street. There are many options in the neighborhood, including Starbucks just a few doors down, but that hasn’t stopped Amelia’s from becoming a popular hangout for regulars. During my short visit, it seemed as if everyone who came in knows Mimi, Ralph and Gianni. Mimi says that some of their customers don’t even order anymore – they just walk in and Mimi and Gianni bring “the regular” and a smile, perhaps even sitting down to chat.
Amelia was a professional illustrator for over 18 years before making a career change to become the catering manager at Bristol Farms in Westwood. She says that she enjoyed working in catering, as she was able to contribute her opinions of how food, family and friends can work together to make magic.
Then, one day, while looking through the paper, she saw a deli for sale on Main Street. “I really wasn’t looking for it – my husband bought the paper and I was just browsing, and then I saw the ad,” she says.
As fate would have it, the family was heading out to the movies that night, so they swung by to get a look at the deli. Amelia credits Gianni with giving her the boost she needed to dive in. He said that he would help, and within six weeks, the lease was signed over to the Diaz’s and they opened Amelia’s Espresso and Panini on Dec. 7, 2002.
Ever since then, Gianni and Mimi have been cooking and serving. Mimi says that Ralph is the “people person … the personality, of Amelia’s.”
I asked whether she was nervous at all about opening Amelia’s, but she said no. It could be because she came from a big Italian family, and her mother regularly cooked for 100s of people at a time. “We would have my brother’s soldier friends over for breakfast – she would feed everyone,” says Amelia. Then there’s also the fact that her father opened a restaurant in Massachusetts when he was just 17 years old. “My father always said ‘cook what you know,’ and that is what we do here,” says Mimi.
The best part of owning Amelia’s Espresso & Panini is, without a doubt, being with her family all day. “A big place just never appealed to me,” says Mimi. “Here it’s just us three being together, having a good time with our customers, and then, when we leave, we leave.” In other words, despite many requests to expand the restaurant or even just stay open later, Mimi has no immediate intentions for Amelia’s to grow.
In fact, Mimi says that the hardest part of running the business is telling people that they won’t stay open later. “We just don’t want to have someone to take over for us when we leave,” she says.
Overall, Mimi has achieved a beautiful balance with her business. By keeping things simple, and sticking to what she knows and hours that don’t burn her out, she truly loves what she does, and it shows.