Esther Kang

Blood is thicker than wine: Café Pierre’s father-daughter duo start new chapter

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Sylvie and Guy Gabriele inside Cafe Pierre on Manhattan Beach Boulevard in downtown.

Sylvie and Guy Gabriele inside Cafe Pierre on Manhattan Beach Boulevard in downtown. Photo by Esther Kang

By the time Guy Gabriele realized his 8-year-old daughter, Sylvie, had gone missing, he was already flustered. It was 1978, the year his restaurant Crepe Pierre opened its doors in downtown Manhattan Beach. He was running the show on a very busy night, darting back and forth between the dining room and kitchen, when he lost sight of the blue-eyed girl who in those days hung out at the restaurant to spend time with her father. He dropped what he was doing and searched for her.

He found her a few frantic minutes later, sitting at a corner table with a bemused customer. Guy immediately apologized on behalf of his little girl.

“And he said, ‘No, no, she’s fine. She’s just asking me how the food is,’” Guy recalls over sparkling water at the restaurant on a recent Sunday, flanked by a chuckling Sylvie, now in her forties. “It was already starting.”

A year later, Crepe Pierre became Café Pierre with the expansion of a French bistro-style menu. Today, Gabriele’s business is revered far beyond Manhattan Beach, racking up acclaim from the likes of Bon Appétit and Wine Spectator. Sylvie officially joined the effort at 16 as a hostess, then as a server two years later. Back then, she explains, it was a way to put herself through college at UCLA, where she studied psychology and women’s studies.

Sylvie and her husband, Alex Mosaui, own and operate Farm Stand in El Segundo, an “urban country food” restaurant with Persian influences, while Guy owns Tuscan and Provençal-inspired Zazou Restaurant in Redondo Beach. Yet both consider Café Pierre as the “headquarters” – the mainstay of their various ventures. It’s where the two collaborate and work as partners. Over the years, this Manhattan Beach restaurant, soon to be reinvented as an Italian-inspired restaurant called Love and Salt, has become a shared passion and a family haven.

Growing up between Tunisia and the Provence region of France, Guy was exposed to a love of food at a young age. His mother’s side of the family was from Tuscany in Italy, and food, he says, “was everything.”

His family surrounded the table twice a day – lunch and dinner – for three- or four-course meals. His aunts enlisted in friendly competitions for who made the best pasta. His grandfather cooked a hen every Sunday for his signature risotto, boiling down a stock from the freshly killed bird and pulling the meat for a separate dish. His father owned a butcher shop and took pride in supplying his clientele with the freshest meat on the block.

“He wanted to have the best product on the street, the best clientele, and to see people come back and say that the meat from the other day was amazing,” Guy says. “This is the way I look at the business. It makes it easier.”

He and Sylvie carry this philosophy today. Guy attributes their success over the past 37 years to the humility he learned from his own father.

“I always tell my servers, ‘Do not look at your customers and think what you can make from them,’” Guy says. “Just look at them as people who came here because we made a promise, a promise to make them happy. If you want them to leave happy, the rest will come.”

The two have discussed what the next era of Café Pierre would look like since 2010. The idea of a locally sourced, Italian-inspired restaurant stuck, especially after they enlisted Chef Michael Fiorelli as the new venture’s head chef. The Italian American chef, most recently the executive chef for Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, shared their vision of transcending the traditional Italian restaurant for a more creative interpretation.

Richard Foss, the Easy Reader’s restaurant critic, noted that Guy was decades ahead of what has now become a common practice as part of the larger farm-to-table movement, changing menus frequently based on what was seasonally available. But he also frequently tweaked the restaurant’s concept to reflect his culinary origins, and in Fiorelli, he has found a perfect accomplice.

“Guy has periodically found ways to go back to his roots, which are French and Italian,” Foss said. “It is the nature of those cuisines to have a farm-to-table element, so his roots are closely aligned with modern dining trends. In finding this chef to work with, he has found someone who has roots in Italian cuisine and a modern attitude.”

While Guy has no plans to retire – “retirement for me is a bad word” – he plans to retreat into the background to allow Sylvie and Fiorelli’s youthful vision to materialize. “At some point, you have to give credit to the youth of the moment and understand that there are things they see that maybe you don’t see,” he says. “It keeps you young because all of a sudden you’re surrounded by all this creative energy. It makes you better.”

They both renounce the term “boss” – it’s always been about teamwork for the two. Love and Salt, they explain, is a metaphor for their love for each other, the family business and their shared desire to live a full, flavorful life.

“This is a new phase,” Sylvie says. “A new incarnation.”

 

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