There are plenty of foods currently in the national zeitgeist, from locally-milled grains to Santa Barbara uni. Sandwiches, on the other hand, act as a sort of constant. A decent sandwich is never far away, and great ones still manage to inspire the sort of lust that makes driving to Bay Cities from East L.A. on a Saturday afternoon seem like a reasonable idea (it isn't). So why would chef Roberto Ivan (better known as Bobo) want to branch out from his upscale Piccolo Venice operation to open yet another Italian deli? Because he thinks most places simply don't do things the right way.
With CiBOTECA, Ivan is trying to change things, if only just a bit. A quirkily-shaped, sunny space on the ground floor of one of Santa Monica's countless new mixed-use apartment complexes, CiBOTECA is part marketplace, part deli and part sit-down sandwich shop, with a beer and wine license in the works. There are pre-made salads that make a nice addition to a home-cooked meal, simple pastries for a morning bite and more substantial fare that can be enjoyed on site, but nobody is confusing this quick-service shop with Piccolo Venice, or even it's more subdued stepchildren, Hostaria del Piccolo in Venice and Santa Monica.
We recently sat down with Ivan to talk about the transition into fast-casual, why Santa Monica might just need a simpler sandwich shop and just who exactly their ideal customer is going to be.]
Squid Ink: Why put CiBOTECA here on Broadway, practically in the shadow of Bay Cities?
Bobo Ivan: Well, more than anything, it is next door to our hostaria. We never had any space in there, so we were always climbing on the tables to have our meetings. This building's first blueprint was supposed to be a bit different. When they finished the development, nobody wanted it because there is all this office space in the back. We said, “You know, it would be perfect for us.” We have an office, we put in a walk-in, a bathroom, then said, “Well, what are we going to do with the space up front?”
SI: So the idea for CiBOTECA came from the space, not the other way around?
BI: The full growth of our restaurant group is: we have the fine dining in Venice, casual dining here in Santa Monica. So we said we would make this a deli. Unless we did sushi – but I don't know how to do sushi. I think we want something casual, to not compete with the hostaria next door. We don't want to do pasta and pizza and complicated salads.
We do only what we feel like. We opened CiBOTECA because we sometimes wanted a panini and we didn't want to always go to Bay Cities.
SI: Now that you're here, how do you anticipate being able to stand out in the crowded fast-casual market in Santa Monica?
BI: In a way, the places around here, they really play safe. I think they go with only what people like. When I think of the Old World, there is so much that we haven't experienced yet, that we haven't proposed yet. I come from Italy, where a portion of pasta is 80 grams, not 150 grams. And our philosophy is to eat less, taste more. That's what I try to bring from the Old World. That you need the very right amount for you, the right ingredients, then you can eat something else. There's so much that we can experience.
I don't know what only the people like. So I do what I like, and we hope that others will come and like it too.
SI: Who do you anticipate will be coming through, then? Do you have an ideal customer in mind?
BI: We really aim to the community. Here in Santa Monica, and adjacent cities. We built the hostaria for that purpose, and we didn't want to go on Third Street for people that doesn't understand us and looks for that typical food that they recognize. There's plenty of those places – we're not after the money. We like to eat, we like to enjoy.
People that recognize us will come and get a little side of something to take home for a party or a dinner that they're putting together. People that recognize us will say that Piccolo, CiBOTECA, they represent quality. It's not very touristy, but we want locals to love us.
SI: That means more than just being an occasional alternative to Bay Cities; you're talking about really becoming a neighborhood marketplace and restaurant.
BI: It already happened. At first, we spend so much money on cold cuts, we don't know how we can go through it all. But some people come in and say, “Can I have half a pound of this and this and this.” And we say, “This is pricey stuff, we have Iberico, we have San Daniele prosciutto. You know, this is $60 a pound.” And they say, “OK.”
That's the target that we have. You know, Santa Monica is really growing fast. Every corner is a new building. I think that it'll only increase. The demand won't cease. And I think that for what we offer, people will take the extra step to come enjoy good food. There's plenty of fine dining from here to Silver Lake, but people say they drive 40 minutes to Piccolo because it's worth it. Here, we already have people coming from Culver City for a sandwich.