It’s no stretch to say that Scopa Italian Roots, Venice’s late-serving, high-ceiling’d neighborhood Italian spot, has been a hard reservation since basically day one. Well, not day one exactly — co-owner Pablo Moix shares a story below about the first two guys through the door, and it’s a less-than-stellar reception.
Still, the simple Italian-American take by chef Antonia Lofaso has certainly resonated with Westsiders, who’ve also fallen for the long bar, classic accents and front of house hospitality provided by Steve Livigni. As part of Scopa’s ownership team, Lofaso, Moix (who handles a lot of the restaurant’s bar duties) and Livigni have a certifiable hit on their hands. They sat down with Eater to discuss how being swamped from day one helps any restaurant stay on their toes, and what it’s like to try to fit into the often insular Venice neighborhood.
How did the idea for Scopa come about? Lofaso: It’s basically a tribute to the American Italian. I grew up on Long Island, two of our other business partners grew up on Staten Island, Pablo grew up in Queens. So it’s this very playful, fun idea of American Italian food.
Livigni: It’s sort of gluttonous, Italian eating. You don’t come here to diet, and we all kind of like that. So we started to just talk, and thought about what we wanted to cook the most, and that was old school Italian food.
Was there something about Venice specifically that drew you guys in? Livigni: The space really drove it. We were looking for any good opportunity around town, but this was particularly unique, because this was so different. It wasn’t a space that had been flipped five or six times, it was an old Chinese restaurant for decades. So there was kind of a good element to it already.
How has it been to fit into this neighborhood? Lofaso: I think we’ve been really well received. I mean, I live in the neighborhood, so I know how the Venice/Marina del Rey people are. They’re very specific about who’s eating where, and who they allow in their cool club or restaurants. It just is. Sometimes I don’t know how I’m cool enough to live here.
Livigni: I had questions about, you know. The Westside protects the Westside, things like that. But that all melted away really fast. The frequency of the patronage in Venice is amazing. It could have been like, fuck these guys with their Hollywood clubs. That didn’t happen.
Moix: Well, when we first posted about coming out here, a blogger jumped on it right away and was like ‘fuck these Eastside hipsters, we don’t want them on our side of town.’ It was this whole thing. It was an onslaught about everything that the Westside’s not, and how this place is going to fail. But that wasn’t the case at all. Now, in retrospect, I’m so glad that Scopa happened here, and not anywhere else in the city.
Antonia: It’s that old restaurant adage, right? Know your surroundings. Know who you’re serving. And so one of our early focus was just being really nice to people.
Livigni: That supersedes being hip or lame or anything. If you just take the hipness and all of that shit out of it, and treat everyone really nice, it works.
How was opening night? Livigni: It was pretty easy.
Moix: Well… Our first customers were these two guys who said they loved everything and then left and went on Yelp and said we were basically serving Subway sandwiches.
Lofaso: I feel like that happens with basically every restaurant. There are always people that hear you’re open, and they cannot wait to come in and be the first, to be like ‘I loved it,’ or be the first hater. I don’t even go to a restaurant when it first opens. I wait 90 days, because that’s how long it takes.
Moix: When these guys came in, they were like ‘Man, this place is amazing. Congratulations, we’re so happy you’re in the neighborhood.’ They walked out the front door, got in their car and wrote on Yelp that we just served them a Subway sandwich and that we’d be closed in six months.
Livigni: But really, we still haven’t had that night where we just went down in flames. We’ve never had to like comp half the restaurant, or had people yelling in the front. Those nightmare nights just never happened.
When you get busy quickly, it really helps the whole process. When you’re limping into the first six months, then an article comes out or whatever, it’s hard to make that pivot. The energy, the efficiency, the staffing — it’s hard to make that adjustment. We were fortunate to be busy real quick, because it puts you in the zone. And if we couldn’t have dealt with it, we’d be closed already, or burned through 10,000 people who had a bad experience. So when you get thrown into it and you’re prepared for it, it means the tweaks are quite small. It’s not like we’re talking about needing to get some good service.