Guy Gabriele, who will soon close Cafe Pierre in order to reopen in a joint venture with Chef Michael Fiorelli. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan
One of the landmarks of downtown Manhattan Beach is about to disappear – Café Pierre, which opened in 1978, will soon shut down and be transformed into a new restaurant.
Owner Guy Gabriele started the restaurant as a modest crêperie, gradually transitioned it into a local favorite for stylish California-French dining, and in time he brought in his daughter Sylvie, who also owns Farm Stand in El Segundo. The two will remain involved in the new venture along with new partner Michael Fiorelli, formerly of Mar’Sel at the Terranea Resort.
“We’ve been in business thirty-six years, and it’s time to change,” explained Guy Gabriele. “We had only two chefs during the entire time at Café Pierre – the current one was sous-chef for the previous one, so there has been continuity. We are going to do a different concept, and it’s going to be really cool…”
Guy is reluctant to give details about the new concept, but Chef Fiorelli has described the concept as “neighborhood Italian in the style of Los Angeles dining.” Guy met Fiorelli, who worked at some of the top restaurants on the East Coast before moving to California, and they bonded thanks to a common passion for food. As Guy describes it, “I met Michael through Mar’Sel, and we clicked. I got to know him, and I respected his skill and his passion. It’s very important that he’s someone who’s a team player – very often chefs are great cooks but don’t work well with other people. We met very many times before we said ‘Let’s do this together.’ There are things we have both been doing that are rare in this area – I’ve been making my own charcuterie for years, and so has he.”
Guy repeated several times that some things won’t change. “My daughter and I will still be involved – she knows this business and will be at the forefront, I’ll be more in the background. We are keeping the core of the staff, though some of them will move into different jobs and some of them will be transferred to Zazou (Gabriele’s restaurant in Redondo). We don’t want to lose people who are good, who are used to working together. Michael was very impressed by our kitchen crew, so we’re keeping that team together. We’re working on the plans, and I’m going to have them all approved before we close. I don’t want to give any precise dates yet, or even the name before we get the trademark approvals, but we’ll probably close around the end of February. It will probably take two, maybe two and a half months to complete.”
However the restaurant changes, the loss of the Café Pierre name and style will be a blow to local tradition. When Café Pierre moved into a space that previously housed a liquor store, the only French restaurants in the South Bay were very formal, and Guy Gabriele’s restaurant was most locals’ first encounter with casual, informal French food. As he explained, that was deliberate.
“I remember there were restaurants like Chalet de France, good places but they gave the wrong image of French cuisine and culture. In France you eat in relaxed bistros with amazing food, and then I came here and saw restaurants that were pompous and had an attitude. I worked in places like that, and I always said that I will never, never conduct business that way. The way they treated the personnel, the attitude toward the customer… Instead of going there and relaxing, you were uptight.”
As Café Pierre matured the cuisine diversified – with Gabriele’s enthusiastic approval they experimented with French techniques and Latin fusion. They also did theme nights – Latin, Italian, even Moroccan, and ran the first program of wine tasting dinners in Manhattan Beach. The restaurant was briefly closed for a makeover about a decade ago, but reopened with the same staff and menu; this change will be more comprehensive.
Since Café Pierre will still be open in this incarnation for a while, Guy anticipates that a lot of customers will be stopping in to reminisce about past meals and sample the menu one more time. “A lot of people are probably going to come here for some more meals in this environment – I think we’re going to be very busy once the word gets out.”