DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In Downtown Los Angeles’ first golden era, Schaber’s Cafeteria on Broadway was a popular attraction, drawing people for meals before and after shows at the street’s collection of ornate movie palaces. The building and restaurant opened in 1928.
Now, the Mgaieth family is trying to recapture some of the glory of the past, and position the property at 618 S. Broadway for the future.
In December, the family completed a $2 million renovation of the space that was heavily damaged in the 1992 riots, at which time its main occupants were not Schaber’s, but rather a Carl’s Jr. and a Foot Locker.
The space has been reborn as Les Noces Du Figaro, a 16,000-square-foot, two-level restaurant with a bakery, take-out counter, bar, deli and room for a future lounge and live music. It follows the success of Figaro Bistrot, a much smaller Los Feliz spot the family has run since 2007.
The Broadway business is being overseen by a trio of Mgaieth siblings. Jonathan Mgaieth, 31, is working with his 27-year-old brother Yoann and his 24-year-old sister Farah. Their father Rafik, 62, provides guidance.
So far, said Jonathan on a recent morning, about 100 people are coming to the restaurant each day for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mgaieth admitted it is well below the 500 daily diners the family wants.
“Of course I’m a little nervous,” Mgaieth said. “It’s a huge investment and we don’t want to lose everything, but I’m sure it’s going to work.”
Figaro could be the biggest test yet in Broadway’s ongoing rebound. Under the Bringing Back Broadway initiative, which 14th District City Councilman José Huizar launched five years ago, the street has seen a rapid acceleration of activity. New restaurants including Umamicatessen and Two Boots have opened. Destination businesses such as the Ace Hotel and Ross Dress for Less are under construction.
Still, Figaro stands out for the compelling design, the size of the investment and the French cuisine.
“From the visual appeal of the building’s historic architecture and the restaurant’s design to the incredible food, I was really impressed,” Huizar said in an emailed statement. “The Mgaieth family clearly love what they’re doing and have put their heart and soul into this restaurant.”
Experience and Potential
Over three decades, the close-knit Mgaieth family ran several restaurants in Paris. Six years ago, drawn by the weather and lower taxes, they moved to the United States.
They soon purchased Figaro Bistrot in Los Feliz, which had already been in business for about six years. Jonathan, who had stayed in France to work as a stockbroker, joined the rest of them in Los Angeles in 2009.
When the family took over, Jonathan said, business was slow. They responded by changing the menu, adding more French dishes, staying open longer hours and, perhaps most importantly, ensuring that at least one Mgaieth was always on the premises. They soon saw about a 50% bump in business, Jonathan said.
That success prompted conversations about expansion. After a search that included looking at sites in Long Beach, Santa Monica and Echo Park, they glimpsed the space on Broadway in March 2011. Although their eyes saw the dust and destruction left by the riots and a fire, their experience let them see future potential.
“Immediately we had the idea for the bakery here. We saw those stairs,” Jonathan said, pointing to different parts of the room. “We loved the building outside. You can feel there is a mystery and story in this place.”
Les Noces Du Figaro is open on weekdays from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant currently employs about 40 people.
Mgaieth acknowledges that it was a risk to open on Broadway, which is less developed than streets such as Main and Spring. Still, he said, with Huizar’s program and potentially a streetcar, he believes in the future.
“Maybe people still see Broadway as not so good, but there are so many good things coming to Broadway that will happen and be good for us,” he said.
The revamped space features an 8,600-square-foot ground-floor area with an elegant dining room and white tile floors. The bakery counter, which takes up nearly one side of the restaurant, is painted in a light mint green with gold accents under a simple white ceiling.
The dining and bar area is a bit more contemporary, with dark wood columns. Light purple, white and light green chairs and benches offer seating on the ground floor for about 160.
At the far end of the restaurant a double staircase leads to the still bare top floors. A pair of small fountains flank the staircase.
Currently, a portion of the upstairs space is being used as an art gallery. Once business picks up, the 7,500-square-foot mezzanine will be turned into a lounge with additional seating and live music.
The Los Feliz Figaro has drawn numerous customers who, especially in the morning or afternoon, stop in for a pastry and a coffee. The Downtown spot is echoing the target, as it sells croissants, brioche and other items. It also has a takeout window selling quiches, salads and sandwiches.
Anthony Bar, the 27-year-old French-born sous chef, said the breakfast and lunch menu is comprised of American-French cuisine, which means a lot of egg and bacon dishes with touches like potatoes galette and Hollandaise sauce. In the afternoon sandwiches and paninis get some French flair in the form of béchamel and other sauces and French cheeses.
Highlights from the breakfast and lunch menu include an omelet with potatoes and Gruyere cheese and the Croque Monsieur, a sandwich with ham, Gruyere and béchamel sauce. The Croque Madame version adds an egg sunny-side up.
The dinner menu has more fine-dining options, with dishes including escargot, frog legs, French onion soup and meats and fish. Prices for entrees range from $12-$29.
While business has been slow, some neighbors have welcomed Figaro to Broadway. Mgaieth said that when the restaurant opened he was approached by Shahram Delijani, whose family owns the nearby Los Angeles and Palace theaters. Mgaieth said Delijani offered to put the Figaro name on the marquees of the theaters to draw customers.
“I asked him how much it would cost and he said nothing, I’ll just do it for free to welcome you,” Mgaieth said.
As of last week, the marquees on both theaters still had messages welcoming Figaro.
Perhaps one surprise is that Mgaieth has an ample amount of competition in the realm of French cuisine. The past year has seen the arrival Downtown of French eateries including Coco Laurent, Industriel and Perch.
It may be unexpected, but Mgaieth thinks it is good for Downtown to have these restaurants even if there is some menu overlap.
“I love those places. I like Perch. I love to bring my dates there,” Mgaieth said. “We are not fighting. It’s a big city and it’s very good for Downtown to have a lot of restaurants that bring more people.”
Now, he just has to get more of those people to Broadway.
Les Noces Du Figaro is at 618 S. Broadway, (213) 622-2116 or figarobistrot.com.
Contact Richard Guzmán at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.