Au Courant Cuisine at Fred Segal
by jen jones donatelli
Fred Segal Mauro Cafe
On any given day, the dining room at Fred Segal Mauro Cafe doubles as a who’s who of the fashion, music, and entertainment industries—from Gerard Butler to Giada De Laurentiis to executives from major companies like Bebe and Guess. And at the center of it all is Evelyne Joan, a petite French entrepreneur who maintains an impressive first-name basis with her wide A-list clientele. “I like to remember their names,” says Joan, who took ownership of the restaurant last August. “I want people to feel like they’re coming into my house and receiving a really special welcome.”
Guess denim director Cinzia Simone, a frequent patron of the café, says Joan is hitting the mark. “Whenever I go there with my team, we see people like Roberto Cavalli and Leonardo DiCaprio, but Evelyne doesn’t care if you’re a celebrity or not. She makes sure everyone feels important,” says the designer. “It really feels like home for a lot of people.”
|Evelyne Joan took over the restaurant last August.|
And for Joan, being at Mauro is also a coming home of sorts. Before buying the restaurant, she was an integral part of its team for 14 years. She and her late husband, Roberto Corbia, helped his brother Mauro launch the fashionable eatery in the early ’90s. After her husband passed away, Joan took a three-year leave of absence to study at Le Cordon Bleu, but her path came full circle last year. “I heard my brothers-in-law wanted to sell their shares in the restaurant, and I knew I was interested in coming back,” she says.
Joan enlisted Swiss restaurateur Guillaume Bonzon as her business partner, and Mauro Cafe was reborn. First on the to-do list was reimagining the menu to make it more “authentic Italian,” working with chef de cuisine Marlon Flores to eliminate California-style chicken-based pasta dishes and adding offerings including pappardelle lamb ragu and pasta con lobster. Another significant change was the addition of a pastry chef to whip up delicate French desserts. “I’m really excited—we’re even making our own bagels with brioche dough,” says Joan, who helps make them each morning. That eclectic influence is important for enticing Mauro’s customer base, which is largely global. “We get customers from all over the world: Japan, France, Italy, Spain, South America,” says Joan, who estimates the café serves up to 200 customers a day. “Fred Segal is the destination, but this is the hub where everyone meets.”
And everyone includes not only international visitors, but members of LA’s fashion elite as well. “It’s a great place to get inspired fashion-wise and see what people are wearing,” says Simone. “Everyone is involved in either art or fashion— I would say it’s the No. 1 gathering place in Los Angeles [for people in those industries].”
Although the restaurant always has a steady amount of foot traffic, the 1pm lunch rush on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays tends to be the most hectic time, and many customers shop while they wait to be seated. Since Mauro’s shares Fred Segal’s operating hours, the restaurant isn’t open for dinner, making it a logical venue for private soirées. (“It’s popular for fundraisers and cocktail parties,” says Bonzon.) Catering also plays into the overall financial picture, as the restaurant is often asked to provide food and drink for store events such as book signings and product launches.
“It’s a nice symbiosis between the store and the restaurant,” says Bonzon. Adds Joan, “I really like that the other businesses are privately owned. We see Ron Herman and Ron Robinson here every day.”
One of Joan’s and Bonzon’s biggest objectives is to reclaim the “golden age” of the mid-2000s, when business was booming just before the economy took a tumble. “We peaked in 2007,” says Joan. “Beautiful people with beautiful cars, and everyone watching from the patio—it was so LA.”
Their hope is that the café’s magic combination of plum location, fashionable clientele, upbeat ambience, and excellent food—and let’s not forget ample parking— will swiftly usher that prosperity back. In this key time for rebuilding, she and Bonzon both wear many hats: Bonzon handles business matters, but also frequently fills in for the chef, while Joan acts as head of operations, sommelier, and curator of the popular rotating photography exhibit that adorns Mauro’s walls. “We’re the perfect team,” says Bonzon.
And while Bonzon and Joan place a strong emphasis on service, their waitstaff is permitted to dress according to their own style, foregoing uniforms. For Joan, it’s all part of the café’s overall image. “We want people to see we care about every part of the restaurant,” she says. “It’s my baby, and I’m really happy to be back.” 8112 Melrose Ave., LA, 323-653-7970.
photography by diane cu (food, restaurant); jason merritt/getty images (diCaprio); donato sardella/getty images (de Laurentiis); jacopo raule/getty images (cavalli)
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.