Longtime chef and restaurateur Andre Guerrero is confident but humble, and after decades spent in the Los Angeles dining scene, he's more seasoned than most. His most recent endeavor, Maximiliano, a modern but unfussy Italian number, doesn't quite fit on its rough and tumble strip of York Boulevard in Highland Park, but most nights it's full nonetheless. With several other restaurants in his pocket, below Guerrero recounts the last year at Maximiliano and discusses the road ahead.
At what point did you start talking about this project? I was the executive chef at a Italian restaurant in Tarzana called Brio during the '90s and I've always had a passion for the food. A few years ago, my sons and I would get together once a month to watch one of the Godfather movies. Each week I would cook up a different dish to pair with the movie and it was a lot of fun. We tend to brainstorm tons of concepts whenever we get together and this one inspired us to do an "old-school" Italian restaurant.
Why this concept? It seems like there is this sort of gray area when it comes to eating good Italian food in Los Angeles. You either go to a divey mom and pop type of place or a really expensive, fine dining type of restaurant. We wanted to have something right in between where you could get a really great meal, reasonably priced and in a casual environment. We'd really like it to be sort of like Roberta's in New York. When you go there, you see it's much more than just a restaurant. It's kind of like a community annex. They bake bread, have a garden, throw block parties, etc. We're definitely in the process of doing the same thing here. We have the patio opening this week. We're gonna extend the restaurant in the space next door to make a bakery/take out counter which would stay open late at night and just serve pizza slices once the full restaurant shuts down. We grew up in this neighborhood and with all the changes going on, we want to do everything we can to help nurture its growth.
And Maximiliano was named after your son, right? It was. His real name is Maximilian, so we just added the "O" for fun. We thought it was a good extension of the MAX brand being that that restaurant is closed.
How did the opening go? The opening was really great. Everything went really smooth. With The Oinkster being in the same neighborhood, I think people were excited for this restaurant to open. Being a part of so many restaurant openings, I feel like it's finally getting easier. It'll never be easy, but I'm definitely getting more comfortable with the process. The opening of The Oinkster was such a mess and it took us a long time to recover from that. We worked really hard here to make sure we wouldn't be in that same place.
How did people take to the concept early on? People were extremely receptive early on. I think we really filled the void of what the neighborhood was looking for. There's such a great community here, and everyone really makes an effort to support each other's efforts. Everyone's friends, we all eat at each other's restaurants and hang out.
Did you have to make any changes after the first month? We didn't really have to make too many changes after the first month. Just minor tweaks in recipes here and there. It will always be a work in progress. We're constant students here. Always reading up on what's going, who's doing what, and eating out a ton. I think it's really important to keep your ear to the ground and see what everyone else is doing to stay inspired and competitive.
What changed six months in? Six months in we had gotten more confident in our concept and really gotten everything dialed in. We just made some menu changes last week. Focusing on more pizzas, making more fresh pasta, and offering some more vegan/vegetarian options.
How did LA Times/LA Weekly critical reviews effect business? The reviews really helped give us a good push in the beginning. It's very humbling that they chose to come in right away. Any press in the beginning really helps. The other review that was really helpful was Westways. They reviewed us in June and that brought in a lot of traffic.
Does it feel like a year? No way! It feels like a month. Time really does fly when you're having fun. It's been such a great experience opening this place, and we still have so much more we want to do here.
Is there one dish you are most proud of? I would have to say its the Spaghetti & Meatballs. It's just a great, classic, comfort food. We make the meatballs everyday in house from veal, pork, and beef.
What are your plans for next year? Next year top priority is getting Oinkster 2.0 open. It's really exciting for us because we never anticipated The Oinkster becoming what it has. There were a lot of issues we never anticipated at Oinkster one, so this gives us the chance to address all of those and do things right. We also would like to get the bakery/take-out counter done here at Maximiliano. The past two years have been non-stop, so it would be good to relax and enjoy this time.
So, how about far out is The Oinkster in Hollywood? Oinkster Hollywood is still in it's early stages. We're still in the process of raising some capital and simultaneously working on the design. We were very meticulous with design and layout at Maximiliano, which helped us open so smoothly. We want to make sure that we do the same here.
·All One Year In Coverage [~ELA~]
·All Andre Guerrero Coverage [~ELA~]