There's always a bustle when you stop by Olive & Thyme in Toluca Lake during lunch on an average weekday. By lunch, we mean anytime between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is a part of town where real entertainment business is discussed — a little less have my people call your people and a little more we need P.O.V's on competitive releases in the third quarter — amidst young mothers chatting over entrée salads.
Owners Melina Davies and her husband Christian Davies opened their cafe and deli on Riverside Drive in February 2011, with no outside investors and zero restaurant experience between the two of them. They put their savings, IRA, and even house on the line for Melina to transition away from the movie industry and into the food industry.
“For the first week, I had to hand out free alcohol and food to everybody, because we were just a mess. I'm thankful the community supported us by coming back and giving us a second chance,” says Melina. “And without the skills that I had as a producer, we would have lost it all.”
Davies had worked on action movies like Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave, and Next Day Air while she was in the industry. “I needed that experience to figure this out. It's exactly like producing a film,” she explains. “Multi-tasking, accounting, structuring, budgeting, scheduling — all of that really comes into play when you're building a restaurant.”
“And people skills. How you deal with actors is a key factor as to whether you're going to get your movie made. That goes into dealing with your customers and your staff. You have to make sure your customers are happy and your staff is your team. You can't make a movie without your lighting guy and so forth,” says Melina. It took a year to build Olive & Thyme from the ground up.
“Since I was a kid, I've traveled to the south of France every summer through adulthood. We as Americans eat food and get out versus the European way of treating it like an event. Even if it's over a sandwich, salad, or cheese. I really want to approach it that way here. It's our Cheers,” Melina says.
She also grew tired of having to leave the neighborhood to shop for dinner parties. “It was like 15 different stops — Whole Foods, Marconda's, Beverly Hills or Silver Lake for cheese. Why can't I go to one local place to buy some cheese and wine?”
“It's changing in Burbank. You have Cafecito Organico that went in. The people of Burbank and Toluca Lake want stuff like that. I don't think they don't want another chain restaurant.”
The menu at Olive & Thyme emphasizes the couple's collective background, which received an assist early on from Valerie Gordon of Valerie's Confections, who consulted on its development.
“I wanted to have some Middle Eastern flavors there with the fattoush salad and things like that. I also wanted to stay true to my husband. Although he's not there on they day-to-day, this is his passion too. We have an open-faced egg salad sandwich that resembles what his culture is. The veggie sandwich with secret sauce is something he came up with.”
Her customers have grown used to what she deems as her staples, including her roasted beef farro salad. “I removed the farro salad for a week and I thought there was going to be a mutiny from some of my customers. They were so angry that I'd dare take it away. I have regulars that come everyday and a part of me thought that people would get bored,” she says. “Well, lo and behold, I was wrong. I've learned that some things have got to stay.”
Turn the page for the recipe.
Roasted Beet Farro Salad
From: Melina Davies
Serving: 6-8 side portions
4-5 medium red and golden beets, rinsed and dried well.
8 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cups farro (dry weight), soaked for 1 hour
3 Tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
Fleur de salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup shaved aged parmesan (optional)
3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (optional)
1. Pre-heat oven at 350ºF. Remove beet greens from stems and roughly chop crosswise.
2. Toss greens and beets with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast until visibly darkened and wilted, about 40-45 minutes.
3. Bring a saucepan of water to boil and add farro. When it returns to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Check farro every 10 minutes or so; taste after 20 minutes for doneness. When the farro is tender, remove from heat and let farro sit in boiling pot for 5 minutes then drain well.
4. Meanwhile, peel and dice beets then set aside. Mix balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, remaining extra virgin olive oil (about six tablespoons), and minced garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. While the farro is still warm, toss the vinaigrette with the grains. Mix in beets and greens. Once the salad has cooled, if using cheese, lightly toss in Parmesan and goat cheese.
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