When Paul Hibler (Pitfire Pizza) teamed up with chef Jason Neroni (Osteria La Buca), together the duo decided they wanted to open a neighborhood-friendly restaurant. The entire concept and name were practically conceived on the fly, and Superba Snack Bar is the result of those early interactions. Now, after about a year of serving Venice's Rose Avenue enclave, the pair have their sights set on transforming the area's perception of quality food and drink. Hibler and Neroni sit down with Eater to talk about Superba's first year and what's going to develop in the coming months at Superba Food & Bread.
How did you guys meet? Jason: At the Paramount backlot. I was doing an event there, The Taste, and I was serving elote corn with jalapeño butter. Paul eventually came by Osteria La Buca, where I was chef at the time, and we hit it off.
How did you come across this space? Paul: My wife is a real estate broker and knew about this location, which had been in development for two and a half years. I was already planning to work with Jason on Superba Food & Bread, but when this opportunity came about, I called him and conceived of the idea. Jason: I want to burst myths about how restaurants come together. Paul: Real restaurant people know what they want to do from their gut and instinct. We had a ten minute conversation on the phone. Jason: I wanted to do a modern pastaria, with big wine, small plates, something that fits with the neighborhood, a community place. I was standing on the street corner when we talked about the concept.
How did the concept come together then? Paul: We were already planning Food & Bread, but then we thought, what about snacks and drinks? Hence the name, snacks. Superba became like a branding, like Momofuku or Blue Ribbon. We were committed to the name.
What was this place supposed to be before you guys bought it? Paul: Ironically it was going to be a pizza place. It was a brick-clad building and was going to serve pizza on paper plates. But for our concept, we knew we wanted to do some sophisticated stuff. The footprint didn't change much, we brought in Design, Bitches, who had worked with Barbara Bestor, to do the interior. We eventually won an AIA award. We opened within 9 months.
What was it like in the first month? Jason: It was crazy. It was like The Walking Dead. Just people everywhere. People couldn't get in because it was so busy, there was this mass of people engulfing the restaurant at all times. It was daunting because the kind of food we were doing. I had an induction burner out front to help finish dishes. Paul: I've opened a lot of restaurants, and this didn't get off the track. Jason brought his whole crew with him and these guys already knew how to work together. We had Alex Gonzalez from Alinea who helped staff up the front, and since we opened we've had almost the same people in the front and the back of house, which is almost unheard of.
Why do you think that is, that people stay here? Paul: It's a fun place to work. You make good money. It's a different format. No one gets yelled at. There's no bussers, it's all a team effort. Even the dishwasher is still here. Jason: The first night, this 18 year old guy had to handle 200 covers. He was buried in dishes. But he came back the next day and he's still here. He's in college right now and he seems happy and content with the job.
Why do you think you guys have been so successful? Paul: There was a lot of buzz. Jason has a lot going on. We have high food aspirations. I mean, it's great to be the hot new shiny thing in town but my background is building a successful relationship with the community. We own the building so our hope is that we build a restaurant that lasts for generations. Jason: We're just cooking what we want to eat. We all eat out a lot, and we wanted to make things we were really into. Paul: Big flavors.
Do you feel like you executed the idea of a modern pastaria? Paul: I think so, but I always wanted to do dim sum here. We're a pastaria, but we're not necessarily Italian. Jason: We smoke pasta, we add seaweed to pasta. We have a gluten-free gnocchi. We've pushed the boundaries as to what modern pasta could be, and we've set that tone. Paul: We'll never be able to not do the smoked bucatini. These pastas are great expressions of our attitude. It's what we like, a little bit disruptive, it's what turns us on.
What about six months in? Paul: We added brunch, and adjusted the wine list. Early on we had a manager that got a little too creative. When we hired Alex, we had a great wine list to start, but then the person we hired after liked things that were progressive, natural, forward-thinking wines. So we ended up going back to where we started, with small vineyard European wines with high-acid and low alcohol. When we started brunch, we wanted it be like Prune in New York, big hangover brunches. Jason: We sell a lot of eggs Benedict, a shit ton of bucatini. We could open a restaurant called Bucatini.
Has it felt like a year? Jason: Yes. Paul: It was a hard year for our company. We opened four restaurants. This one was a one-off, and we had three Pitfires. We're planning to put a cocktail bar at Fairfax.
Are you happy with what you've accomplished? And what will you change up going forward? Paul: We accomplished our goal for this year. We're really happy with the content and the direction that we picked. We want to create more of a community dynamic. We still take reservations and get a lot of people traveling over here, but this should be a neighborhood place. With our food aspirations and the wines, it's a fine line in terms of being a locals place and destination.
What's going on with Superba Food & Bread? Paul: It's going to be pretty awesome. We have a 5,000 square foot bow & truss building. We have a commissary across the street from it where we now handle all the pasta production. This is a very personal project for me. This community is very dense and full of creative, progressive, forward-thinking people, but it's hard to get enough casual, simple food. So we want to be the daily bread. We're going to have a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We're flying in an oven from France, planning an afternoon bake with bread delivery. We want to deliver warm bread and food to the neighborhood. People want these casual places with some quality in them. We'll have plenty of room inside and a huge parking lot. We're hoping to open some time this fall.
Anything else in store? Paul: We're planning a new Pitfire Pizza in Pasadena at an old Sizzler Building on Arroyo Parkway. We're going to build an annex on that parking lot. We'll probably do a little Superba cafe or something like that. We can't use "takeaway" because of Gjelina Take Away here. Jason: Pitstop. Paul: Yeah, that's awesome dude! That's a great name!...You were here!
·All One Year In Coverage [~ELA~]