Owner: Thyme Café and Marketplace
1630 Ocean Park Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Yelp: 4 stars
Interview Date: Thursday, March 25, 2010
Maire Byrne is a chef and a foodie who also happens to have a great eye for restaurant design. These attributes combine to create the newest café restaurant in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park neighborhood: Thyme Café & Market. “We built this space from the ground up,” says Maire. “And it was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it – the space turned out exactly the way I wanted it to be – bright, fresh and friendly.”
Thyme Café & Market has been compared to New York’s Dean & DeLuca and, regionally, Joan’s on Third restaurant. Maire says that her goal is to bring great food and flavors into a casual café environment. “I think it’s important to be able to get great food in a casual environment like this,” says Maire. “You don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant to get gourmet food anymore. In fact, you can order it to go or pick something up from our freezer and take it home.”
Maire grew up in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she was heavily influenced by her mother’s natural talent for cooking and entertaining. “I have great memories of food from a young age,” she says. “Being form a large family, we had nightly sit down dinners at a large round table that had a Lazy Susan in the middle.” She attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and then worked at a number of top restaurants around the country, including Chez Panisse in Berkeley, The Ajax Tavern in Aspen, and Aqua in San Francisco. In 2004 Maire returned to Los Angeles and opened a catering company, Thyme Catering. After a few years of success, she decided that it was time to open a complementary café and marketplace.
Much of the menu at Thyme Café & Market is based on the catering menus that Maire has fine-tuned over the years. “I love finding new recipes and working with them to figure out the best combinations that bring out the flavor and freshness of high quality ingredients,” says Maire. In addition to sit-down service, there is also a large section of “Gourmet to Go” refrigerated and frozen foods that customers can take home and serve. “Our customers love that they can come in for a sandwich and salad at lunch and then take home lasagna for dinner,” says Maire. “Eating great food makes people feel happy and loved, which definitely makes me feel good at the end of the day as a chef.”
Thyme Café & Market opened in October 2009, and Maire says that it has been busy since Day 1. “I had figured out some basic projections for how the business would gradually build, but we were amazed at how quickly we were busy,” says Maire. “It definitely made me feel good about the location we chose and the food that we’re serving, as I think this is the perfect place for me.” With just six months of operation under her belt, Maire isn’t getting too specific about growth plans, as her focus this year is stabilizing her restaurant systems and continuing to grow the catering business, but she does say that growth is in the future. “If I can create another place like this – where people come in and feel like they are at home and can eat great food, then I will definitely do it,” she says. “It’s just a matter of timing.”
“My favorite part of owning Thyme Café & Market is our customers and seeing the excitement they have when they come in,” says Maire. “I love making people happy and I love good service! I love cooking and being in the kitchen and watching the food that we care so much about being enjoyed by people.”
And the hardest part? “Obviously, running a restaurant is different from running a catering company, and I think that the hardest part about Thyme Café & Market is managing my employees,” she says. “I have spent a lot of the last six months learning how to hire great people and train them so that they can represent the vision that I have for Thyme Café & Market. I want everyone to feel good about coming here – whether they are coming in for breakfast or to work.”