Co-Owner: Food + Lab Café and Marketplace
7253 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
Yelp: 4 stars
Interview Date: Thursday, March 25, 2010
Mother and son team Esther and Nino Linsmayer opened Food + Lab Café and Marketplace in 2009 with a strong vision “We take high quality food and focus on creating flavors and unusual combinations that turn even simple concepts into something special,” says Nino. “We will never serve something that we wouldn’t eat, and we eat very well!”
Nino and Esther moved to Los Angeles when he was just 12. Their move here solidified their strong bond, and they have developed a powerful collaboration now as business parters. “Our collaboration takes us beyond the Mother-Son relationship; we live and breathe Food + Lab,” says Nino.
Esther was trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and owned a restaurant in Salzburg, Austria, but when she moved to Los Angeles with her son she focused on interior design. Nino attended Cornell School of Hotel Administration, where he learned about the basics of running a hospitality business. He worked at Le Pain Quotidien after graduation, where he worked directly with the owner and rose to Assistant General Manager. But it was about four years ago that the opportunity arose for Nino to realize his dream of running his own shop and incorporating his mother’s cooking talents.
“I was helping a fashion photographer friend of mine occasionally, and I noticed that there was always food at the shoots,” says Nino. “There seemed to be tons of it, but it was awful.” Nino asked his friend whether his mother could cater the next shoot, and that is how Food + Lab began its catering business, which blossomed quickly in the LA area. The team found a commercial kitchen in the Hollywood Media District and focused on growing the catering business for years, until one day Nino was driving through West Hollywood and saw that the place they now lease for Food + Lab was available. After a quick and intense remodel, which included lots of hands-on work by Nino and Esther, the first Food + Lab Café and Marketplace was opened.
The business has thrived without any significant marketing or advertising efforts. “I would rather grow slowly than become overrun and disappoint our customers,” says Nino. “It is better to add five great customers each day than to get 500 all at once.”
The best part about owning a restaurant for Nino is the reaction on people’s faces when they taste the food. “I love watching their eyes at every stage – from the moment they walk inside to their first bite,” says Nino.
Nino says that the hardest part about owning Food + Lab is that it’s a business that occupies him 365 days per year, with no vacations and no sleeping in. He’s not complaining though, and seems completely comfortable with exactly how his life is going. “I am here (at the marketplace and café) or at our kitchen all the time and my phone is always ringing,” he says. But all of this will be worth it, as Nino and Esther plan to grow the business to 3-4 more stores in Los Angeles over the next 5-7 years. Nino’s dream is to expand Food + Lab into a large chain focused in specific regions including San Francisco, San Diego, New York and Chicago. The mother-son team is also expanding into a new restaurant concept next year – they plan to open a European Gastropub in the space next door to Food + Lab Café and Marketplace.
Nino has strong opinions on everything about the restaurant business, including the best way to grow. “We will not take on investors – ever,” he says. Food + Lab is also dedicated to building in an environmentally conscious manner, and uses only organic, nitrate & hormone free ingredients whenever possible. The restaurant also uses environmentally-friendly and biodegradable plates, cutlery, cups and packaging.