Posts Tagged ‘cafe’

Gail Silverton and Joel Gutman – Gelato Bar and Espresso Caffe

July 20, 2010

Gail Silverton and Joel Gutman Gelato Bar and Espresso CaffeRestaurateur Profile: Gail Silverton and Joel Gutman

Owners: Gelato Bar and Espresso Caffe

4342 ½ Tujunga Ave

Studio City, CA 91604

Yelp: 4.5 stars

Interview Date: Friday, July 16, 2010

Although I grew up in Los Angeles and have spent a good deal of time in Studio City, I had never before been on the short block of Tujunga Avenue that takes you back in time to a simpler, friendlier small town. Gelato Bar and Espresso Caffe is a fixture on the street of mainly husband-wife business partnerships, and it was full of neighborhood friends meeting and working over gelato, espresso and Panini.

Gail Silverton is the founder of The Neighborhood School, a well-known nursery school in the Valley. “I was operating three schools, and I love it,” says Gail. “It is a very intense business – the parents and the health and safety concerns are very serious, so I was looking for a business that was lighter … something that felt less serious. As long as we don’t poison anyone, we’re OK serving gelato.”

As she searched for the perfect location that would provide her with the sense of community that she loved about her schools, the location on Tujunga Ave. opened up and she jumped on it. “The building came available and I signed the lease – I didn’t know what it would be yet,” she says. Gail and her sister, Nancy Silverton of Mozza and La Brea Bakery, travel to Italy annually and have a deep love of the culture, so when she saw the space, she naturally gravitated to an Italian fixture: gelato and espresso.

The café opened in September 2006, right around the time that Gail met Joel Gutman. In 2007 they were married, and in February 2007 he quit his 23-year career in the advertising business to join Gail in the café business. “We were both looking for a simpler life,” says Joel. “We were paring down as we got older. I thought to myself – if money was no object, would I be sitting at a desk all day?” The answer was clearly “no.”

gelato bar and espresso caffe studio cityThe two were planning to work in the business only occasionally, but their savings were wiped out by Bernie Madoff, bringing them deeply into the day-to-day operations. “Instead of 20 hours per week, we are working 40 hours or more,” says Joel. “But we still go to Italy every year, and are working on tasting every gelato and coffee in the country,” says Gail.

When Gail and Joel added espresso to the menu they undertook it as a learning opportunity and have fully immersed themselves in the coffee business. “Coffee is a moving target and a great challenge,” says Joel. “It is a great challenge not only to learn how to buy and make it correctly, but also to educate our customers about how espresso fits naturally with gelato – as it does in Italy.”

The best part of owning the Gelato Bar and Espresso Caffe are comments like “Oh my god, this reminds me of Italy,” says Gail. “Also, we are seeing that people are becoming entwined through the café. They come here every day and get to know each other, and that’s what I really wanted – a community. We survive on about 100 customers who come in twice a day – for coffee in the morning and gelato in the afternoon, with a Panini here and there. Many of the people who come here have gotten to know each other.”

Gail sold two of her schools and has maintained one with 80 students. “I love my school, and I love this, too,” she says. “Scaling the school down was necessary so that I could do both.” Gail and Joel recently opened a second location in Los Feliz, but that location is more hands-off. “We have a great store manager – a friend of mine,” says Gail. “So we basically set up the store and trust her to run it.” As for additional locations, Gail says that they are always on the lookout, but that it really depends on finding the right community-driven location and service-oriented people to help them grow.

These factors are critical because there is something sweet about their lifestyle now. “We live two minutes from here,” says Gail. “And the customers love knowing the owners and knowing that we will do almost anything for them.” For example, one day Joel personally delivered 20 small gelato cups to a child’s birthday party on his way home one afternoon. “We can do that because we’re the owners,” says Joel. “It’s an amazing feeling to be able to say ‘yes’ to almost any crazy idea, and people really love it.”


Randy Arnold and David Barenholtz – American Tea Room

July 12, 2010

Randy Arnold David Barenholtz American Tea Room Beverly HillsRestaurateur Profile: Randy Arnold and David Barenholtz

Owners: American Tea Room

401 North Canon Dr.

Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Yelp: 4.5 stars

Interview Date: Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Randy Arnold and David Barenholtz, owners of American Tea Room, clearly love what they do. When I walked in, both were happily ensconced in work, obviously pleased to be doing exactly what they were doing.

Originally opened in 2003 as Les Palais Des Thes, American Tea Room was a licensee of a French company. “I was in Paris and walked into a store and immediately fell in love,” says David. “It turned out to be a tea store, and I looked into it and soon became a licensee of the company.” After two years as a licensee, David and Randy separated from the French company and eventually re-branded and re-launched as American Tea Room in 2009. “The costs were higher when we went through the French company,” says David. “Plus, Americans don’t know what ‘Thes’ is! Our own brand has been much more successful here in Beverly Hills.”

American Tea Room Beverly HillsSince re-branding, David says that the store has become more accessible. “We can afford to give customers better prices because we source directly,” says David. “I travel all over the world several times per year, sourcing tea.” The store also expanded its food and beverage service – offering guests hot and iced teas as well as a selection of delicious pastries. “We have expanded on our strengths,” says David. Currently, they are seeking a city permit to allow them to offer even more café service by having tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk. “It’s quite an extensive process, but it will be well worth the effort,” says David.

Before launching into the tea business, Randy was a Vice President of Marketing for Universal Home Video, and David run multiple businesses, including running an art gallery and developing homes. “I really liked the idea of a retail tea store,” says David. “There really isn’t anything like this in Los Angeles.”

The company employs five plus a graphic designer who “might as well be full time,” says David. The graphic designer is critical because the company has a growing web business selling teas sourced from around the world to customers based around the world. At this point, web sales account for 10-12% of revenue, a percentage that David intends to see grow significantly. The partners are also seeking additional locations. “We haven’t found anything that is just right yet,” says David. “But we’re always looking.”

When I asked David what the hardest part of running the American Tea Room is, he looked puzzled by the question. “It’s really a joy,” he says. “”There is nothing terribly difficult. It’s a pleasure to come into work every day and introduce teas to our guests.”

David equates American Tea Room to a wine bar – offering a large variety of beverage options and a selection of foods designed to pair perfectly with them. He says that they have worked hard to make the tea room gender neutral and not overly “zen.” “We are looking to bring top-quality tea to everyone in a nice setting,” says David. “We’re going for a loungey feel and are slowly expanding our food options to appeal to the foodies.”

For now, the business turns into a full restaurant a few times per year during a Weekend High Tea with waiter service. “It’s a modern interpretation of the high tea,” says David. “We serve many celebrities and VIPs at private parties and special events.” The most popular event for which to schedule a high tea from American Tea Room are birthdays. “We offer tea tasting classes on Sundays from 12-1, which are very popular,” says David.

“The best part of owning this business is dealing with a wide range of customers – producers, directors, housewives, tourists,” says David. “We are able to share something that we’re so passionate about and are proud to be the ultimate tea resource. We can help anyone from a newbie to a very sophisticated tea drinker.”

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.

Onil Chibas – Elements Kitchen

April 14, 2010

Onil Chibas Elements Kitchen Pasadena RestaurantRestaurateur Profile: Onil Chibas

Chef/Owner: Elements Kitchen

37 S. El Molino Ave.

Pasadena, CA 91101

Yelp: 4 stars

Interview Date: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The first thing I thought when I arrived at Elements Kitchen in Pasadena was “wow – how great to be next to the Pasadena Playhouse!” When I said that to Onil Chibas, owner and chef of Elements, he chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “except we opened on January 19th and the Playhouse closed on February 7th!” Despite this potential setback, Onil is positive and optimistic about his third food business, and his energy is infectious.

A native of New York City and Massachusetts, Onil says that he has always loved cooking and food. While attending college in Boston, he worked as a waiter at several fine hotels and restaurants. “It gave me an appreciation for the restaurant business, but I knew that I didn’t want to be a waiter,” he says. So he moved to California to pursue the dream of making movies, and ended up working in animation at companies including Disney. Although it sounds like a very creative business, Onil found that working in animation was somewhat restrictive, but he did learn about organizational structure, operations, marketing, and other key practices that have served him well in the restaurant business.

Elements Kitchen PasadenaIn 2003, Onil hit the big question of “What do I want to do with my life,” dropped out of animation and attended Le Cordon Bleu. “I loved it!” he says with his characteristic enthusiasm. “I wish that I could have been as good a student in college!” When he finished the program, he started Elements Catering with a friend who also attended the school. “We were working out of her loft apartment downtown, and the business was growing slowly when we caught a lucky break,” he says. A friend from his days in animation was a producer on Barnyard – they needed a caterer once per week for 18 months. “That was a great steady job to give us the confidence to find a location and build a kitchen,” says Onil.

The pair found a storefront location in Old Pasadena that fit their needs for a catering kitchen, but also had the opportunity to expand into a café. And, thus, Elements Café was born. “We retrofitted the location and decided to take advantage of the storefront,” says Onil. “We were thinking we would just have food to go, but from the first order, the guests wanted to eat on-site, so we added more tables and chairs, and just grew naturally.”

The partnership ended, and Onil kept both businesses until last year when he found the location for Elements Kitchen next to the Pasadena Playhouse. “I love old buildings and classic things,” says Onil. “This just felt really right.” The day that I interviewed Onil he added outdoor tables in the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse. “We hope the Playhouse will be back up and running soon, but until then, it’s up to us to make this place look open and inviting,” says Onil. The colorful red umbrellas and crisp white tablecloths set around a beautiful old fountain on the courtyard should do the trick.

The common theme throughout all three businesses is using fresh ingredients in creative ways. Onil is obviously an artist at heart, and his medium is food. He has attracted a team of creative cooks, bakers and bartenders, who work with him to constantly create new items and combinations. “This is why we went to culinary school,” he says. “We want to cook, not just open cans!”

Onil Chibas Elements Kitchen Pasadena RestaurantOnil’s favorite part of running Elements is the collaboration with his crew and seeing everything come together. For example, he and a crew member brainstormed on a creative omelet. “We were inspired by Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so we took an omelet and added all kinds of luxurious ingredients, like caviar, crab, lobster and truffle oil.” Onil has also instituted Wednesday night “sketches” in which each crew member is tasked with coming up with a creative way to use a single ingredient – last week it was asparagus. This approach allows everyone to have their own creative expression, and keeps loyal guests interested and coming back week after week. “Creative energy is the best part of being human,” says Onil.

The hardest part of owning Elements? Onil says it’s managing the financials. With two established businesses and a new one just launched, he has a lot to juggle. But he doesn’t seem at all stressed. “We are still climbing, but everything is so positive,” he says. “As the leader, I have to keep the vision and the passion alive.” And it seems to be working – Elements Café doubled sales in 2009 – a year that most restaurants would like to forget. Now he just has to keep “climbing” at the kitchen!

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.

Anders Karlsson – Berolina Bakery

March 25, 2010

Anders Karlsson of Berolina Bakery in Glendale, CARestaurateur Profile: Anders Karlsson

Owner: Berolina Bakery

3421 Ocean View Blvd
Glendale, California 91208

Yelp: 3.5 stars

Interview Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Berolina Bakery originally opened in the 1960s, and was purchased by Anders and Youna Karlsson in 1991, at which time the updated the entire operation. “We replaced everything in the kitchen, except for maybe that fridge!” says Anders, pointing to a large refrigerator holding the bakery’s specialty cakes: Princess Cakes.

Originally from Sweden, Anders says his primary motivation for moving here was the weather. “I was working at a McDonald’s and then got offered a position as a bakery apprentice,” he says. “The 4 a.m. start times were hard, especially because in Sweden it is very cold most of the time, but I got used to it.” The weather in Southern California is, obviously, milder.

As owner of Berolina Bakery, Anders has arranged his schedule so that he starts work mid-day, which is a better fit for him. His wife and co-owner Youna, who is originally from Belgium, takes the morning shift. “This is a bakery, so there is someone here 24 hours a day,” he says.

Berolina Bakery is first and foremost a bakery, but that delicious bread makes a great sandwich, so it does a brisk café business as well. In addition to sandwiches and Panini, the bakery’s café also offers salads along with a delicious selection of European pastries and gourmet coffee. Berolina Bakery recently added Belgium waffles to its Friday and Saturday breakfast menu, which has been a big hit.

The restaurant has been serving breakfast and lunch for many years, but about 3 years ago, the city of Glendale widened the sidewalk, which allowed Berolina Bakery to add about 10 tables and greatly expand its serving capacity.

Anders says that the best part of owning Berolina Bakery is the freedom of being an entrepreneur. The bakery and restaurant are closed on Sunday and Monday, which allows Anders and Youna to have a (mostly) 5-day workweek. Of course, the flip side of ownership is that “you have to always be prepared for ‘the call’ when something goes wrong or someone needs something,” says Anders. With employees working around the clock, that call can come in at any time.

Berolina Bakery has about 15 employees, and most have grown up in the Glendale area, which includes La Crescenta and La Canada. “I’m more of a laid back manager,” says Anders. “I like to have people learn how to make their own decisions as much as possible.”

Expansion plans focus mainly on selling the famous loaves of fresh-baked breads off-site. Berolina Bakery recently began selling bread at the Sierra Madre Farmer’s Market and will begin selling in Howie’s Ranch Market, an independent market in San Gabriel. Anders and Youna split marketing duties, with him responsible for Twitter and her managing the Facebook fan page. Anders estimates that he spends about 2 hours per week on Twitter.

Inside a Swedish Princess Cake

A Prinsesstårta (Princess Cake) is a traditional Swedish cake consisting of alternating layers of airy cake, thick pastry cream, and jam, all topped with a thick layer of marzipan. The marzipan overlay is normally green, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and decorated with a pink marzipan rose. Yum!

Amelia Diaz – Amelia’s Espresso & Panini

March 12, 2010


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.

Lenny Rosenberg – Seventeenth Street Cafe & Bakery

March 10, 2010

Lenny Rosenberg Seventeenth Street CafeRestaurant Profile: Lenny Rosenberg

Owner/Manager, Seventeenth Street Café & Bakery

1610 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403

Yelp: 3.5 stars (70 reviews)

Interview Date: Monday, March 08, 2010

The Seventeenth Street Café on Montana Ave in Santa Monica has been a fixture in Santa Monica for 20 years. Since Lenny Rosenberg acquired it about a year ago, it has seen some subtle but significant changes.

Lenny got his restaurant legs in New York, where his dad owned about 25 Jewish-style bakeries. When I asked at what age he started working for his dad, he said “about 4 or 5.” This may explain some of the newest additions to the Seventeenth Street Café & Bakery’s menu, including Rugelach cookies, Matzo Brie, and Challah French Toast.

After growing up in the food business, it was natural for Lenny to become an accomplished baker and restaurateur. He moved to Los Angeles about 10 years ago and previously owned Mayer’s Bakery in Palos Verdes and The Nosh of Beverly Hills before acquiring Seventeenth Street Café.

Lenny Rosenberg Seventeenth Street CafeSoon after acquiring Seventeenth Street Café, Lenny added an extensive bakery selection and added “Bakery” to the name. He also conducted a subtle but significant remodel that included freshening up all of the paint and installing modern windows to the front. The overall effect makes a regular think that something is different, but not shockingly so.

Lenny is proud of the fact that the Chef, Carlos, has been with Seventeenth Street Café since its inception, which means that all of the excellent core menu items remain, including excellent salads and delicious sweet potato fries. Many of the busboys have also been with the restaurant for 20 years, and the waitresses average 12 years with the restaurant.

Some of Lenny’s marketing efforts since coming to Seventeenth Street Café & Bakery include a revitalized catering program, which is advertised on tabletops throughout the restaurant. Another new program is the Curb Side Savings program, which offers a minimum of four dinners available for pick-up at a 30% discount. Lenny has also instituted several coupon programs, offering 30% dinner for diners who come for breakfast, and 30% off breakfast for those who come for dinner. This clever marketing activity helps Seventeenth Street Café demonstrate its breadth of food, potentially broadening customers’ perceptions of what type of restaurant it is.

Lenny says that he spends about 60% of his time managing the “front of house” and about 40% of his time baking. While he says that he does have the typically intense hours of a restaurateur, his employees are solid, and make it easier for him to avoid a completely brutal work schedule.

The best part of owning Seventeenth Street Café & Bakery is “seeing customers appreciate a good meal,” says Lenny. And the toughest part? “When an employee doesn’t show up for work.” Ouch. Yeah, that’s gotta suck.

Good To Know:

* Everything at Seventeenth Street Café & Bakery is baked on-site. That includes complimentary and delicious mini-muffins and bread that can easily fill you up if you’re not careful. Be sure to check out the many bakery samples on the counter, too!

* The restaurant is now open 3-5, and that’s a great time to come if you’re looking for a quiet meal. Core Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner times can be crowded depending on the day and time.

* Most popular salad: Chopped Grilled Veggie Salad

* Baked goods are fresh daily and sometimes come out fresh from the oven 2-3 times per day!