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Creating the Restaurant of Your Dreams, With Walter and Margarita Manzke of Republique

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Walter and Margarita Manzke reflect on their first year at the helm of Republique.

Elizabeth Daniels

Welcome to One Year In, a profile that features restaurants that are just now celebrating their first year's anniversary. Here are their struggles, accomplishments, and future plans.

It’s surprising to think that Republique has only been open for a year. The immensely popular all-day eatery from Walter Manzke and his wife Margarita Manzke in the old Campanile space on La Brea already fits the city like a warm blanket, offering room for the laptop crowd, ravenous brunchers, cocktail aficionados and French cooking enthusiasts alike.

Things haven’t always been smooth sailing for the well-reviewed restaurant, however; it took a shotgun opening and weeks of slow morning service for Republique to catch on, and the Manzke’s still feel like they’ve got plenty to check off their to-do list. Still, it’s been a fun, wild ride for Walter and his wife Margarita, who sat down with Eater to talk about the beauty of their restaurant space, and the importance of a great support staff.

You had been wanting to do Republique for a while. What was it that finally was able to make this place happen? Walter: This happened out of a brief meeting with Larry Silverton, Nancy Silverton’s father. We met, connected, and started talking about this space. I was so excited, as soon as the discussion even started, because in my mind this is the greatest space that a restaurant could ever be in, in L.A. There’s the history with Charlie Chaplin, how the building looks and feels, Nancy’s history here. It’s a timeless building. I was extremely lucky to get this. And beyond that, a lot of it fell into place because of Bill Chait.

We were struggling financially, struggling personally, struggling professionally. We didn’t know which way to turn.

Margarita: We had another space downtown that we had put a lot of money into already, and it just fell through. Bill came and helped us get this space, the financing. He really put it all together.

You were also busy in the Philippines at that time, right? Walter: We were like a lot people out there, just a husband and wife chef couple, dreaming and talking about opening this little restaurant somewhere. And we came back to L.A. to do that. We never envisioned this giant thing.

We weren’t making any money, we weren’t working, so we decided to get together with Marge’s sister in the Philippines, and that just took off. We actually have three places now, and we’re going this week to open a fourth. We start construction on a fifth in December, and we just signed a lease for another place next June or July. So we’ll have six places over there, out of nowhere, in three years.

Petty Cash also — there’s a whole story to that, but it really only happened because the opening of this place was delayed, and I had this staff that needed somewhere to work. So we spontaneously opened Petty Cash without any planning, and that’s doing great now. We’re actually planning on opening a second Petty Cash at the beginning of next year. It’s safe to say we’ve got a lot going on.

What was delaying Republique from opening? Walter: In almost every restaurant, it just takes longer than you want it to. We set up our OpenTable, and all of a sudden we had around 50 reservations a day, about a month out. And everybody freaked out, because we weren’t even done building. But I was thinking, maybe this is meant to be, because otherwise we’re never going to actually open. So I said, let’s serve these people. They were the ones interested enough to make reservations, we should honor them.

We did it on one condition, that we would have a dinner for all of our investors first, because they should be the first ones to see the restaurant. So we put some of the communal tables together and sat it that way. It was the first time we cooked in the kitchen, and we lit the wood fire but it set off the alarms and shut the whole stove down. We ended up cooking the whole dinner out of our wood oven and some induction stoves.

Almost the next day, we served. That was our friends and family. They were people that we didn’t really know; we just opened.

The bakery has become such an important part of what this restaurant is. Was that by design from the beginning? Margarita: It’s still a little too big for me. Near where we live, there’s this little bakery, and I keep telling Walter that it’s my dream place. It’s small, with a really small counter.

But you can’t complain. From the first day we opened until now, it’s been really amazing. I remember the first day we opened, maybe two or three people came in. We were making like $100 a day; really discouraging. And it went on for a few months. It was slow at first.

Walter: It’s continued to build.

Is that natural growth, or is there a reason that this place’s popularity has really skyrocketed lately? Walter: Whatever it was, I think it’s been a good thing. This is a big place, and I’m glad it’s happened organically. We weren’t overwhelmed in the beginning. We still run out of bread almost every day. It’s just a little more and a little more, all the time. But it’s fortunate that we never got hit with a crowd in the beginning, because we needed time to get up to speed. We’re very busy now.

How much more room is there to grow inside of Republique? Walter: Me personally, I have a list that’s 1,000 items, that I still want to accomplish. I feel like we haven’t even opened yet, we haven’t even started. There are so many things that I want to accomplish, so many things I want to work on. Every day, we keep knocking one more thing off the list. In one year, we’ve accomplished a lot, but we haven’t even started.

It does feel like this place has built quite a bit of staying power. Walter: I certainly hope we’ll be here for a while.

Margarita: At least the next ten years, I hope. Then we can retire [laughs].

Walter: I don’t think we have any plans of going anywhere. This is a great building for us. One thing that I’ve learned in my career is that old, maybe rough around the edges buildings, are what have staying power. My favorite restaurants, whether they’re in Chicago or Paris or Rome, whatever it is, they all tend to be in these old buildings with a lot of character. And that’s what I like to go back to. Hopefully everybody else does, too.

In your first year, were you ever able to take a moment to realize that this place really became what you’d hoped it would? Margarita: Not yet.

Walter: I don’t know if we’re ever content with what we’re doing. We’re always looking forward.

Margarita: Looking for new things to do, new things to make, new dishes, new pastries. There’s always not enough time.

Walter: We’ve accomplished a few things. Number one, and I don’t think this has been done too often, and it was probably a little risky when we started, is that we’ve been able to make this two different restaurants. It looks, feels, acts completely different during the day as it does at night. And it was a challenge to pull that off. It’s two different clientele, two completely different restaurants. At night, we’re serving in a very casual way, with hip hop playing and every sitting on wooden seats, and we’re still serving things from when I was at Bastide. I don’t ever want to be so unapproachable and high end that you can’t come here all the time.

What does that really take? A great support staff? Margarita: It definitely comes down to the people who work with us.

Walter: The restaurant industry is only about people. It’s the people you work with, it’s the customers. Without people, a restaurant is nothing.

Margarita: We definitely cannot do it on our own. Even with the pastries, I have a great team, and I’m really proud of them. I try to give them a lot of credit, so when people tell me something looks or tastes great, I say it’s not me, it’s really them. Yes, I’ve shown them things, but it’s their passion, their willingness to learn and all of that. It’s awesome. I’d never, ever be able to accomplish all of this without them. And the same with Walter. He’s got a great staff, a great sous chef who’s worked with him for how many years? Twelve, I think.

Walter: He started at Patina with me. We opened all of the restaurants in Carmel, worked there for five years. We were at Bastide, he helped me at Church & State.

Margarita: He’s really a big part of this place. Taylor [Parsons, sommelier and General Manager] is a big part.

Walter: We’ve made some changes in management, and now it’s finally coming together with Taylor being here. Campanile had a sommelier who was also a general manager, so maybe it’s this building, that’s always meant to be that.

Republique

624 South La Brea Avenue, , CA 90036 (310) 362-6115 Visit Website

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