Walter and Margarita Manzke are just a few weeks away from completing their LONG awaited new restaurant, Republique, which moves into the storied Campanile building on La Brea Avenue. As the construction process nears a close after a six-month build out, the Manzkes sit down to discuss the long and windy road that's brought them to this French eatery, their magnum opus to a lifetime of working in restaurants around the world. Below, Eater asks the Manzkes how they came upon the iconic La Brea space, and how they've honed the concept over the past few years.
How involved were you in the design of the build out? WM: The two of us designed most of it, but we had help from Osvaldo Maiozzi, the architect. We got a lot of advice and direction, but we were heavily involved with the design process. I have a good feeling about the design because my vision was to take the building and make it look more like it was originally built. We tried to put in materials that would've been used in that time period, with the exception of the kitchen.
What's the kitchen design like? WM: We made the kitchen very open, very transparent. The kitchen is bright and shiny with tiles and stainless steel.
What's happening in the front cafe section? WM: During the day, you come in, there's pastry cases, you order at the front and food comes to you. We have coffee, all the typical things you might expect from a cafe. But the difference is, I built the front counter like a kitchen so that at night it almost feels like a wine beer. There will be oysters, charcuterie, and desserts coming from that counter, like an extension of the kitchen.
What about the far section of the front? WM: There wasn't much of a bar area originally so we extended the original counter at Campanile that comes out into the room. I tried to create almost two parts of the bar, an outside that spills out into the dining room and another room that's darker with more wood with a nice view into the kitchen.
Is this the first restaurant you've built out essentially from scratch? WM: No we did two in the Philippines, we did three in Carmel. Bouchee in Carmel was 50 seats, with a small wine and retail store. Then we opened L'Auberge, a 20 room hotel with 10 tables, very high end. Cantinetta Luca was bigger, about 110 seats. That was simpler, more casual. We just signed another lease in the Philippines and have a couple more projects planned over there.
How has it been opening restaurants in the Philippines? It's very busy, going all hours of the day. We make over 1,200 cronuts a day there, seven days a week, and sell them out. Margarita was able to pull of the recipe, I think that shows what's happening there is that they're so connected to the rest of the world. They want everything they hear about and read about. We feel like we did it in a way that credited Dominique Ansel: not everybody can get to New York so we took something that was great and made our version of it. It's been incredibly successful. I've never been involved with anything in my career that's been that successful. And that's out of the side of a restaurant, to-go, over the counter, selling over 30,000 a month. We're partners with Margarita's sister and she's doing a fantastic job. I'm very happy that her sister Anna has a great business that she's involved with. We go there as much as we can.
How did your career start in L.A.? WM: I was introduced to Joachim Splichal at Patina. I thought I would work for a year but ended up working there for nine years, from 1992 for two-and-a-half years. He sent me to work in Europe for a year, and a few places but most notably at Le Louis XV, Alain Ducasse's restaurant in Monaco. I came back and spent six and a half years at Patina. I went back to Europe and worked at places like El Bulli, back in 2000. It was just when Ferran Adria was just getting big. Never had a chance to eat there, but the couple that set up that stage invited Marge and I to go back in the final year and eat there. It was incredible to see the dining room and see the kitchen after all those years.
How did the two of you meet? WM: We met at Patina. I was the chef and Marge came by while she was finishing an externship out of the Culinary Institute of America at Spago. I interviewed her, hired her, she worked for me for quite some time. I was working the fish station on the line. When we started dating, I connected her with Melisse in Santa Monica and she became the sous chef there. Probably something a lot of people don't remember or know. Marge doesn't even think of herself as a pastry chef sometimes because she made it up to be a sous chef at a two Michelin star restaurant. She accomplished that and could work at any kitchen. She later became interested in pastries and baking.
Where did you go from there in your career? WM: I had nothing but good experiences working at Patina. It did a lot for my career, they really took care of me. I was there when they had two restaurants, and left when they had 22. I saw a lot, was involved in a lot. It was fantastic but it got a point where I wanted to go in a different direction and be a chef on my own. Through Joachim we met David Fink in Carmel. We moved to Carmel and ended up opening three restaurants in about five years. They're still open, but one was sold off. The hotel we opened is Relais & Chateau. We got to work together again. Marge started doing pastries there. We had a hard time getting bread so we started baking our own. It was very basic and mediocre in the beginning. We didn't have equipment but we had lots of practice and kept building it. Eventually, we wanted to open our own restaurant, but we didn't think Carmel was the place. We were getting a little tired of the small town, as both of us are from big cities.
What was Bastide like? WM: We talked to Joe Pitka and decided to re-open Bastide. There was always a lot of drama there, but it was a great place to get back to L.A. That was 2006, which was after when Ludo (Lefebvre) was there. Unfortunately for everybody in L.A., Bastide just never came together. We had the same concept as the one we had in Carmel, but it was a great experience and it got us back to L.A. We were about ready to open a space in Santa Monica and then the market fell apart. It didn't seem like a good time to open a restaurant. It was out of frustration and not knowing where to go, since fine dining was dying, I came across Church & State.
What was Church & State like? WM: It excited me, the feel of the space reminded me of places in San Francisco. I had a good feeling about it. Nobody knew about it. It was a completely different place over there in the Arts District. As a personal challenge and also being pushed into a corner, I made the decision to go there. It turned out to be one of my favorite places that I ever worked. I never worked in an open kitchen and a place that had so much energy. It was so loud, but it was fantastic. After that I told myself, every kitchen should be open. Everyone should feel it and see it. The customers feel the same energy that the cooks feel. Good cooking is putting a smile on someone's face. It's something special when the whole kitchen can feel that, not just the chef. You have a direct connection with the diners.
How did you find Republique? WM: I fell in love with the Arts District. There's a lot of others that agree, but there was a time when people thought I was crazy for even going down there. We started pursuing a space down there, but was getting difficult. Campanile and La Brea Bakery came around to us in an odd way. After thinking about it, I don't think there's a better space in Los Angeles for a restaurant. It's right in the center. La Brea is a crossroads between all these neighborhoods, so it's accessible. It's one of the only buildings on the Westside that has this character. That's what drew me to the Arts District in the first place. My favorite restaurants have rough edges and character. You could come in ten different times and sit in ten different places and it's a completely different experience. That's certainly what this building is. We took a different course from Downtown and put all our efforts into here. MM: Bill also helped us get this building. We had a different team in Downtown, but we were extremely lucky to have Bill Chait as a business partner. We would never be here if it wasn't for Bill.
How much was the build out at Republique? WM: We tried to make the restaurant not feel like it was expensive. We put the money on infrastructure because the building is already beautiful. We spent on the kitchen and plumbing, those kinds of things. We put a lot of old hardwood we got from the Philippines. We got materials we would never be able to find here, and saved a lot of money because of that.
What are the challenges with the building? WM: It's a big space. We didn't want to make it feel like a big restaurant, but the reality is it's quite large. We broke it up into different elements. During the day, it's like a small cafe, homey, simple. You walk to the counter to order breakfast and lunch. We have a bakery in there but it's much smaller than La Brea Bakery. We're not trying to become La Brea. That's the daytime part of it.
What about for dinner? WM: The challenge of most cafe-bakeries, which we have experience with in the Philippines, is keeping them alive at night. It'll have some similarities to Church & State. The front part is essentially a big bar. We designed the pastry area to become part of the kitchen, so that it stays alive, it doesn't feel like a bakery that closed down. The kitchen is completely open, including the bakery. My favorite smell is the smell of bread hitting the oven, I want everyone else to smell that. We have a wood rotisserie, a wood oven up front, a bread oven from France. The kitchen is all split up, all around the dining room which is a restriction of the building.
What will the vibe be like in the front part of the dining room in the evenings? WM: Everything is bar seating and communal seating. It's very interactive. The tables are incredible, really large, probably around 1,000 pounds apiece right in the middle. The back part always felt like, "the back of the restaurant." Back there, we took off plaster from the walls and exposed some of the brick so it feels like there's some connection. We opened it up a lot. That'll be the last phase and probably won't ready until the end of the year.
So what's going to happen in the back part of the restaurant? WM: That'll be dinner only, and what we're really excited about. We're modeling the bistronomy movement in Paris. It's interesting because you spend your whole life working in fancy restaurants and when you get there, they can become almost boring, at least for me. They don't have the energy or excitement, it becomes restrictive. I'm excited by what chefs are doing in France. Chefs went through the same thing in their career. They cooked in these palace restaurants and just wanted to loosen up a little bit. It's a little more refined food, wine and service but in a loose, casual environment that has energy. I know some people got to experience special menus at Church & State, that's kind of the idea. What if you could have the food that we had at Bastide and eat it at Church & State? That was the idea.
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