Owner: Cube Cafe & Marketplace
615 N. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90036
Interview Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Like many restaurant owners whom I have met, Alexander Palermo grew up in a family that valued food. “Life was 50% eating and 50% social,” he says of his childhood, which was shared between the U.S. and Italy. His Italian father and German mother encouraged a healthy appreciation for fresh, seasonal foods that has influenced every aspect of Alexander’s food businesses.
Alexander began his food business, Divine Pasta Co., in 1991 while a senior at Pepperdine University. “I rented an old pasta machine from another manufacturer, and then borrowed space from a restaurant called Verde in Santa Monica,” he says. “I would go in twice a week after hours – from 12-5 a.m., and then we would deliver the pasta to our accounts in the morning. It was great because we traded fresh pasta for space at Verde.” When his small company outgrew the barter situation it had with Verde, Alexander leased a catering kitchen next to Versailles Cuban Restaurant on La Cienega.
Soon after that, Alexander opened a retail space on La Brea called Divine Pasta, but in 2006 he revised the space and menu and re-opened as Cube Café & Marketplace. Located on La Brea, Cube is a great place to experience the attention to quality ingredients and delicious flavors that Alexander holds dear to his heart. “Italian cooking is about curiosity – paying attention to flavors and combinations,” says Alexander. “Often times, less is more, and the most important thing is that if you put great quality products into your food, you don’t need all the extras that can make food become unhealthy. It’s when you use low-quality foods that you need to add more salt, sugar and fat to mask the lack of flavor – we don’t do that.”
This philosophy is the foundation behind all of Alexander’s food companies, which include Divine Pasta Co., a fresh pasta and sauce company supplying restaurants and stores such as Whole Foods; Pizza Romana, a pizza company based in Italy; Fla’ver, which supplies stores such as Trader Joe’s; and Cube. “All of my businesses are an expression of love for great ingredients, curiosity and the craft of cooking,” says Alexander. “I am lucky to have a core group of employees who share my belief system and help me make it a reality.”
Alexander was born in Wisconsin, but spent his early childhood in Italy. His father’s business brought the family back to Wisconsin when Alexander was about 4, but they returned to Italy every summer. “I was making pasta by the time I was 10 years old,” he says. “Cooking was very much a part of my family, and has always been something that I really enjoy.” In fact, on a recent visit Alexander’s mom brought a cookbook that Alexander created when he was just 10, appropriately titled “Hot Shot Recipes.”
As a concept, Cube is designed to be a “really cool neighborhood restaurant,” says Alexander. It is casual but unfailingly consistent, delivering excellent food as well as a well-stocked marketplace. “The great thing about our marketplace is that we actually use those ingredients in our kitchen,” says Alexander. The gourmet salts, cheeses and meats are all meant to be used on a daily basis to make even the simplest ingredients pop. Cube Marketplace items are also available for sale on the company’s online store.
“I am blessed to be surrounded by an amazing team that could possibly love the concepts behind my business even more than I do,” says Alexander. “That means that I can also focus my energy on my non-profit organization, Cube Foundation, which is about educating children about the benefits of fresh, healthy food. I was lucky: I grew up in a healthy household that valued these things, but today we have a massive problem in the U.S., and I want to be part of the solution.”
The roof garden features citrus, stone fruits and blueberries (I grabbed a few on my way out – delicious!), as well as seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs.