Neighborhood Flavor profiles the people behind the familiar restaurants, bars and food businesses of the Eastside
Atwater Village -- The Village Bakery and Cafe celebrated 11 years since it first opened this month. Barbara Monderine is the mastermind behind all the pastries and items on her menu. She previously worked for Warner Bros. Records before deciding to commit full time to her passion in baking.
Monderine also co-owned Auntie Em’s Kitchen in Eagle Rock, and then Villa Rose in Arcadia before finally buying the commercial kitchen of her dreams in Atwater Village. When the pandemic hit in March, Monderine says she hasn't had a day off since.
In a Q&A, Barbra shares her experience owning her own business.
How long have you been in business?
I think that we opened as The Village Bakery and Cafe over Labor Day weekend 11 years ago. So it's kind of our anniversary. Although this year, because of the way things are, we probably won't be celebrating with any big kind of parties or anything. But we've been here 11 years and it's turned out really good for us.
How would you describe The Village Bakery and Cafe?
We're a place where people bring their kids and their families. When their families come in from out of town, this is where they brings them. We serve breakfast all day long. Great lunches and our baked goods are some of the best in all of in all of Los Angeles. We make everything from scratch. We pride ourselves on that. We make some fantastic croissants. And those are all made by hand daily. I would describe us as a neighborhood place people like to come and gather and have their families breakfasts and lunches here.
What is the best part of owning your own business?
The best part is the freedom to experiment whenever you feel like it. If you're sort of tired of doing the same thing over and over again, there's always a chance to expand on something or play around with something to make it a little bit different, to keep things interesting for yourselves.
We have a lot of employees that have been with us since the day we opened our doors. And that's really nice to know. One of my line cooks is celebrating his 30th birthday a week from today. He started with us when he was 19. I couldn't believe it. It kind of smacks you in the face, like wait, what? You were how old? But I love that. Now he's married, has a daughter who's four years old.
Some of these employees feel like part of our family and that's, that's fantastic. Some of my customers feel like part of my family. It's hard in Los Angeles to find a place that has that strong neighborhood feeling, you know? Because it's such a big city. It's nice to know that there's a place that you could feel that way.
Is there a worst part?
The worst part about it is having to be here seven days a week. My husband and I own the Village Bakery ... His birthday was on the 16th of August, and for his birthday I gave him a day off. And that was his first day off since the beginning of March. You know, we're just bone tired. It wears you down after a while, but these are extenuating circumstances. We're doing what we have to do. I would say that that's the worst part, not being able to just take our two days off a week, like we would if we were employees.
What is the most popular item on the menu?
A good example is we make a morning bun that's made with croissant dough and cinnamon. A lot of places have it too. It's one of our popular weekend items that we serve. Last week, we did it with a little twist. We did a chocolate morning bun and we made chocolate croissant dough. We filled it with chocolate pastry cream. Owning my own business allows me to take those creative steps that sometimes, when you work for other people, you don't get a chance to do very often.
How has your business adjusted to COVID?
At first when COVID hit, there weren't a lot of places open. We haven't closed down, even for one day since this hit. So, we've been here the whole time, and we changed our business model right away.
One thing that we do, right now, is we put together family meals. We're serving them Wednesday through Sunday, and they're always advertised on Facebook and on our Instagram accounts. They're meals for two or for four people. They're always priced about $15 per person. At first we were doing, like 120 meals a day and now that slowed down considerably because a lot more places are opening up now, so people have other other places that they're going to, which is good. We can't wait for everything to reopen. Especially our place, but that's gonna be a while.