Posts Tagged ‘cafe and marketplace’

Alexander Palermo – Cube Cafe & Marketplace

April 21, 2010

Alexander Palermo Cube Cafe & Marketplace La BreaRestaurateur Profile: Alexander Palermo

Owner: Cube Cafe & Marketplace

615 N. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90036
Yelp: 4 stars

Interview Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cube Marketplace La BreaLike 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.

Blueberries from Divine Pasta CoThe corporate headquarters of Divine Pasta Co. are in Downtown Los Angeles, and feature an expansive roof garden, modern test kitchen, and expansive space for educational events.

“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.


Maire Byrne – Thyme Cafe & Market

April 1, 2010

Maire Byrne Thyme Cafe & Market Santa MonicaRestaurateur Profile: Maire Byrne

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 Cafe Market Santa MonicaThyme 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.”

Nino Linsmayer – Food + Lab Cafe and Marketplace

April 1, 2010

Nino Linsmayer Food + Lab West HollywoodRestaurateur Profile: Nino Linsmayer

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!”

Food + Lab Cafe & Marketplace West HollywoodNino 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.