No expense was spared or detail overlooked when chef Evan Funke and real estate mogul Kurt Rappaport dreamed up Funke. Together, the first-time partners (with a shared “passion for exquisite things,” says Rappaport) wanted to build a legacy restaurant that delivered peerless fare and service inside a sumptuously appointed Beverly Hills address. Following three years of ideation and extensive construction, the results are impressive.
Funke spans three stories and 10,000 square feet in a 1930s Art Deco building that Rappaport purchased for $40 million in 2018. The restaurant, which is set to open on Friday, May 5, represents the culmination of the past 25 years of the chef’s career. “You can only put your name on something once, and that has a lot of gravity. I wanted to speak to where I am as a chef, as a person, and as a mentor and a teacher,” says Funke. “It’s where I began in Beverly Hills, I cooked at Spago for six years; it’s also driven by my experience in Italy, where I began in Bologna, and what I’m most inspired by now, which is Sicily and the south. It’s going to be my atelier.”
Funke, who continues to run the kitchens at Felix in Venice and Mother Wolf in Hollywood, understood from the get-go that teaming up with Rappaport offered a different kind of partnership. “Most of the time when you open a restaurant, things get value-engineered out because of budget constraints,” says Funke. “Kurt has been such an exceptional business partner in that he just said, ‘Dream. Make it exactly what you want it to be.’”
Designed by Dan Brunn with interiors by Clint Nicholas, the 180-seat marvel boasts two main dining rooms (one on the ground floor and the other at the mezzanine level) plus a private dining room, three kitchens, and three bars, including Bar Funke perched on the rooftop. Rappaport worked with Brunn and Nicholas to design “a very clean, Italian, contemporary feel,” he says. “We wanted to create a restaurant that felt like a residence; it’s on three levels that all feel interconnected.”
Funke is lit up by 273 handblown Murano glass lightbulbs that dangle from the ceiling at varying heights and apertures to mimic an effervescent glass of Champagne. Artwork from prominent artists and photographers — including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Jean “Johnny” Pigozzi — lines the walls, along with acoustic panels shrouded in Loro Piana linens. (Given the enormity of Funke and its potential for cacophony, an acoustic specialist engineered the space to limit the kitchens’ clang and tables’ din.)
At the center of everything is a two-story glass-and-steel workshop where Funke and his team make a dozen different pasta shapes: six formed by hand and six that are extruded. “It looks like a Damien Hirst cube except with people inside that are making the most beautiful, detailed, bespoke pieces of pasta by hand the way it was done 150 years ago,” says Rappaport. As Funke sees it, the “pasta lab” is a vehicle for connecting more deeply with diners. “This theatrical environment of pasta-making provides the guests with this transportive experience,” Funke says. “I don’t think it’s good enough to just have good food or a good wine list or a nice ambience. Guests are looking to be transported to another place, and storytelling is the biggest component of that for me.”
Funke’s menu is a distillation of the regional Italian food and techniques that the chef learned cooking alongside matriarchs in remote corners of Italy over the past 15 years. “It’s a restaurant where the generational histories and the anthropology of the women that I’ve studied handmade pasta with, for those histories to live in full illustration,” he says. To give credit to the sfoglini who bestowed their skills upon him, each pasta dish on Funke’s menu will provide attribution to the Italian city, region, and teacher.
At the heart of Funke’s menu is pasta. In addition to the dishes that have become synonymous with the chef over the years, like tagliatelle Bolognese, cacio e pepe, and all’amatriciana, are newcomers like the Piemontese classic agnolotti dal plin. The chef is particularly excited for the forno (oven) section of the menu, which includes two varieties of sfincione, the crisp yet plush focaccia that is a signature dish at Felix. In addition to sfincione bianco, made with oregano and olive oil, the chef is introducing at Funke a version from Palermo with tomato, anchovy, caciocavallo cheese, and onion. Also under the forno section is cipollina, a savory puff pastry stuffed with onions, provolone, and tomato, commonly eaten as an afternoon snack in Catania.
The antipasti section of the menu is “littered with seasonal vegetables — artichokes, asparagus, fava beans — because we’re opening at the perfect time,” says Funke, while the succinct list of secondi includes whole-roasted fish, a large-format steak, and the popular rib-eye cap available at all of Funke’s restaurants. Rounding out the savory portion of the menu will be half a dozen or so Neapolitan-style pizzas made in one of the only wood-fired ovens in Beverly Hills.
Pastry chef Shannon Swindle is charged with baking all of Funke’s bread and pizzas and spearheading the Sicilian-inspired desserts. “Sicily has a long-standing and vastly diverse lexicon of desserts because of the Arab influence, because of the spice trade with nuts and dried fruits,” says Funke. Swindle will draw upon the island’s “massive pastry kitchen” to bring sweets like granita with brioche à tête, market-driven gelati and sorbetti, and of course, cannoli, to diners. Funke’s beverage program features seasonal cocktails based on classic Italian drinks, as well as an all-Italian wine list (with the exception of French Champagne).
For those seeking a more freewheeling night, the walk-ins-only rooftop Bar Funke offers an abbreviated food and dessert menu, along with caviar service, cocktails, and wine centered around a pink onyx bar. Rappaport calls it “the icing on the cake,” with panoramic views of “gorgeous architecture, swaying palm trees, the city of Beverly Hills to Hollywood, mountains, and the bell tower of City Hall in Beverly Hills.”
It takes a tremendous team of 100 staffers to run Funke effectively. “Even though my name is over the door, it’s not about me, per se, it’s about everyone that has made me me. And that includes the employees I work with now,” says Funke. To that end, all Funke employees receive health insurance and paid time off, and the hourly wage for front-of-house employees ranges between $16 and $20 plus tips, while line cooks earn $18 to $25 per hour. “I run workplaces that are very inclusive, very focused on the health and wellness of our employees,” says Funke. “Because without our team, we are nothing.”
Looking toward the near future, the restaurant will offer lunch service by year’s end. Also launching later this year is the chef’s first Chicago restaurant at the St. Regis Hotel, an Italian steakhouse called Tre Dita. But for now, Funke is squarely focused on introducing the world to his passion project. “I had a beautiful line of a melody in my mind for many, many years and just didn’t have the orchestra to achieve that melody,” he says. “I held on to that melody and those are the melodies that I’m going to be playing now, with this orchestra specifically designed to play these pieces of music.”
Funke is located at 9388 S. Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, and is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Bar Funke is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.