When it was first announced a few weeks back that Atwater Village restaurant Canelé would be closing following a ten-year run, locals and long-timers reacted with a mix of sadness and solemn understanding. Every restaurant has a lifespan, after all, and the comfortable neighborhood favorite had pushed the odds to hit a decade in the first place.
Thankfully, the restaurant is falling into good hands. Partners David Wilcox and Guy Tabibian will soon be taking full control of the space to operate under the new banner Journeymen. The name speaks not only to the wandering nature of both men but to the industry as a whole, where chefs and cooks and front of house staffers tend to stay transient throughout their entire career. Much like Canelé the restaurant, sticking around for years on end tends to be the exception, not the rule.
Chef Wilcox and general manager Tabibian have used their time well, however. Wilcox spent years in the Bay Area honing his craft and learning about what it means to truly give back as a restaurateur from places like Chez Panisse, while Guy helped Gjelina expand into Venice with Gjusta. That restaurant has in many ways become a new kind of neighborhood model, offering a different service style and atmosphere without compromising on quality.
When those stories combine with Canelé owner Corina Weibel’s own run at the Atwater Village location, the full structure of Journeymen the restaurant begins to take shape. The plan, says Wilcox, is to keep the charm and much of the look of Canelé while expanding on the notion of what a neighborhood restaurant truly can become. First and foremost, that means changing the nature of service, from the moment you step in the door.
Instead of a host stand and stodgy book of reservations, Journeymen will instead be a sort of seamless experience, where guests enter and get to interact with kitchen staff basically from the first moment on. Step up to the long open kitchen counter to discuss the day’s menu items, and maybe grab a pre-prepared bite to snack on while you wait for the rest of your food and drink order to arrive. In Spain these would be called pintxos, and they’re aimed at easing guests into their meal without any lag between arrival and dining time.
If all goes well, the rest of the meal at Journeymen would work much the same way, possibly even taking cues down the line from dim sum restaurants or SF’s State Bird Provisions, where guests can snag extra bites of passing fancy as they make their way into the dining area. Everything — the process, the price, the total experience — should happen organically, says Tabibian, including the final bill.
Much like Scratch Bar up in Encino, there are practical reasons for cooks to be runners and guests to interact directly with the chef. Labor costs and transaction times decrease, and if the place is firing correctly consumers get the added benefit of feeling closer to the restaurant, its staff, and the food they serve.
There is one other added benefit, of course: the cost. Journeymen aims to truly land in the neighborhood restaurant pricing spectrum, where quality, cost, and personal value converge. It’s a tough place to aim for and even harder to hit, but Tabibian and Wilcox are keen to find the sweet spot, particularly when it comes to the final bill.
Amidst all the talk of tip lines and service charges floating around Los Angeles these days, Journeymen will seek to fulfill a tax and tip-included menu model. That is to say, the price represented on the menu will take into account all the other background costs associated with running a restaurant, and the final bill will be a simple matter of adding up what you’ve eaten, paying that amount exactly, and leaving. There won’t even be room for a tip line, let alone discussions over how much extra cash to leave behind.
Journeymen is coming about at an interesting time in the Los Angeles restaurant market, and working hard to turn one long-running neighborhood restaurant into a sustainable business model for the future. Wilcox and Tabibian would love to take what they plan on learning from the journey and helping other chefs and burgeoning restaurateurs down the line. Much like the Chez Panisse model, the idea wouldn’t be to take over and rebrand a series of Journeymen restaurants, but work behind the scene to let others thrive, offering a bit of operational experience and some money along the way.
For now, Wilcox and Tabibian can be found Monday nights working their new experiment at the Canelé space. Journeymen won’t take over officially for the next couple of months, so the duo is doing their thing with rotating menus of dishes that are meant to be shared, snacked on, or served as part of a larger group. Wilcox passes along the below menu for tonight’s meal in Atwater Village, though because of their transient nature it’s all subject to change. So too is the entire Journeymen model, really. It’s a fluid, moving sort of thing — but you knew that from the name.
Journeymen’s pop-up dinners run Monday nights at Canelé for the next several weeks, before the entire space flips to become a full Journeymen concept sometime in the spring.