It's a weekday afternoon at Taix French Restaurant in Echo Park, and three employees in button-down shirts are reminiscing about 50 years of serving the restaurant's guests — many of whom return time and time again.
“They like the ambience,” says Bernard Inchauspe, a waiter. “Most of us, we're pretty happy people.”
“We don't treat them like customers — we make them feel like family,” says Jose Fragoso, who serves banquets. “They feel at home, you know?”
“Excuse me a minute,” says Fernando Gomez, who is manning the bar. He turns his attention to a new customer, placing a cocktail napkin on the counter and saying warmly, “How are you, Sam?”
“People come here until they die, or move,” Inchauspe says. It's true!”
The three employees are as loyal as the restaurant's returning patrons. Fragoso, Gomez and Inchauspe have all worked at Taix since 1962. Tonight, the restaurant will host a “50 Year Celebration” dinner honoring the trio. Just don't call it a retirement party — these guys work as hard as ever, with special attention to detail and customer service.
Except for Gomez, who worked as a server his first 10 years at Taix, the men hold the same positions that they were assigned in 1962. That was the year Taix opened on Sunset Boulevard, just up the hill from the Echo Park lake. (It replaced a location downtown in L.A.'s French Quarter run by the Taix family since 1927.) Fragoso, Gomez and Inchauspe were then in their 20s. Each was just beginning to seek a career and a life away from his native country — Mexico, Argentina, and France, respectively. Today, they say Taix is a second home, where they are happy to return day after day. Not that it is the same restaurant of 1962.
The food has changed, for one thing. “In the beginning, there were four or five main dishes,” says Inchauspe. “Now we have many more. Appetizers, a la carte…” His favorite is the beef bourguignon. For Fragoso, the New York steak and filet of sole are top choices. Gomez enjoys the onion soup and clam chowder. He says, “With a tureen of soup, bread and butter — you can make a meal.”
They've observed changes outside of the restaurant, too. “In the '60s, you would park on the street, and then find your radio or battery gone,” says Inchauspe. “It was rougher than today.” Another difference is the influx of young people looking for a unique nightlife scene, such as the comfortable leather chairs of the Taix bar and lounge, to drink and perhaps catch a band or stand-up comedy act.
Taix has embraced the new crowd without losing its longtime fan base. “We have four demographics,” Mike Taix explains. “The suits, the old-timers, the families and groups, and the young, hipster types. As it gets later in the day, the people get younger.”
It is the suits and the old-timers (and perhaps a few youngsters who've dined on escargot with parents and grandparents at Taix since infancy) who will largely fill the event's 150 seats, according to Taix. “They're people who have developed a relationship with these guys,” he says. Inchauspe thinks he and his peers will recognize “at least 95%.”
At the dinner tonight, along with presentations from politician Gil Garcetti, the California Senate and restaurant employees, Taix says there will be plenty of time for reminiscing. The honorees certainly have stories to share.
“When I started, I said I want to be a waiter,” recalls Fragoso. “They said, “You want to be a waiter? Serve 12 people.” Twelve people! So I opened the Champagne on the table and it went … wooo!” The waiter throws his hands in the air, miming fireworks.
Gomez remembers a waitress who once came to the bar asking for Cold Duck, a cheap champagne. The bartender said, you want a cold duck, go to the kitchen! The special was Duck a la Orange. The chef said, “Cold duck? Come back tomorrow, and the duck will be cold!”
“The people who come here like to joke once they know you,” says Inchauspe. “They love that. And then, if they like you, they'll ask for you again and again.”
Fragoso, Gomez and Inchauspe will dine on Scottish salmon, split yellow pea soup, chicken milanesa and roasted leg of lamb tonight in an evening dedicated to relaxation and celebration. Then it's back to work the next day.