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Superba Food + Bread, LA's Super-Styled Neighborhood Canteen

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Photo: Elizabeth Daniels

"I opened this restaurant simply because I wanted to make bread," explains Superba Food + Bread owner Paul Hibler. "And then I learned that you can't just make bread and have it be viable because you have to have something else." And that something else has become Venice, California's newest all-purpose canteen, now an area staple. The design-forward Lincoln Boulevard restaurant offers a little something for everyone, thanks to hours of operation which begin at 7 a.m. and end at 10 p.m. daily.

Hibler has a knack for giving Los Angeles inhabitants something they didn't know they wanted. In this case, a sprawling, sun-drenched community hang serving everything from coffee in the morning through to lunch, dinner, and evening wine. Inspired by images of an old tea factory and tobacco cabin in Japan he saw in the interior design magazine World of Interiors, Hibler trusted architects/designers Design, Bitches (Coolhaus Pasadena, The Oinkster Hollywood) to facilitate transforming these photos into an artful 5,000-square foot community-driven restaurant and bar.

Design, Bitches, made up of architects Rebecca Rudolph and Catherine Johnson, have worked with Hibler since 2009. They met while Johnson was designing with celebrated Los Angeles architect Barbara Bestor under her namesake brand. Hibler had hired Bestor to shape Pitfire Pizza in Mar Vista, one of the locations of his hip, informal California-style pizzeria. Hibler co-founded Pitfire Pizza in North Hollywood with partner Paul Sanfield in 1997, and that first restaurant marked his foray into the world of hospitality. Since then Hibler has gone on to open six Pitfire Pizza locations in Southern California.

Superba Food + Bread won AIA/LA's 2014 Restaurant Design Award's Jury Award Winner.

His first break from Pitfire expansion hit Venice in the form of Superba Snack Bar, an inspired, seasonal California-style Italian restaurant headed up by former chef (and partner) Jason Neroni (10 Downing, NYC) in 2012. Around this time, Rudolph and Johnson had separated from Bestor and formed their own design group under the "Design, Bitches" name. Hibler's Snack Bar was the first restaurant they ever designed as "Design, Bitches." Two years later, this past April, Hibler and The Bitches followed up with their second Superba-branded restaurant, Superba Food + Bread. So far, the team has together won two architecture awards: Superba Snack Bar was AIA/LA's 2013 Restaurant Design Award's Jury Award Winner and this year Superba Food + Bread won AIA/LA's 2014 Restaurant Design Award's Jury Award Winner as well.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

Judging by Superba's spacious expanse and open-air feel, it's hard to believe that Hibler almost crammed the restaurant into a 1,800-square foot space just across the street from the restaurant's present home, mere steps from American Gonzo Food Corp's main office, the name of Hibler's restaurant incubation group. "It was going to be cozy," he adds with a grin. Hibler and The Bitches had finalized the restaurant's design and were ready to start building, but at the very last minute Hibler's wife Tiffany Rochelle, who is a real estate broker, told him about an old auto body shop for sale across the street. And then everything changed.

From Cars to Cooking

Out of pure luck, 1900 S. Lincoln Boulevard, the site of two dilapidated auto body businesses that lived a life in various car-related iterations, came on the market. Per Hibler, "I was drawn to the massing of the building and the possibility of turning a neighborhood blight into a more useful resource for my hood. I have always been drawn to adaptive reuse of buildings." So, he bought the building and land. Rudy's Automotive and B&S Auto Body Shop, built in 1914, lived within an exactly 100-year-old building. It was a mechanic shed, an auto body repair place and, at one point, the property also housed a gas station.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

As Hibler tells it, residential neighbors were quite content with the auto repair shop since the business didn't affect traffic patterns or create much noise. So, when Hibler began to petition the neighborhood to open a restaurant and bar, it wasn't the easiest fight. One would think that a community-driven eatery would be a much supported endeavor, but locals were worried about losing parking spaces and rowdy late night imbibers.

Hibler spent 18 months convincing neighbors to allow him to open.

Also, the back wall of the repair shop sits on a residential property line. Normally, a restaurant won't be able to open in such close proximity to residential neighbors, but Hibler was adamant about keeping the building's shell, so he spent 18 months convincing neighbors to allow him to open within the original space.

Design Inspiration

Two years ago Hibler was perusing interior design magazine World of Interiors, and images caught his eye from two separate stories on an old Japanese tea factory and cabin where tobacco is dried. He immediately knew he wanted to base Superba Food + Bread's aesthetic on the photos, so he showed them to The Bitches as a point of reference and let them run from there. As for their approach, they explain, "We did our own inspirational research ... thinking a lot about Venice ... what Venice was, what Venice is becoming ... and also the idea of the shop/work space ... we were not necessarily working so much off of the auto repair place ... although some of that is in here still ..."

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Design inspiration [Spreads: World of Interiors]

Superba's foundation and base are new because the auto body shop's original slab was soaked with oil and chemicals, and Hibler discovered that the building never even had a foundation. But the perimeter walls exist with the help of tresses. The roof is original, too. Adding to Superba's open-air, laid back feel are two garage door-sized openings; one by the front entrance and one on a perpendicular wall that opens out to a side patio. Each doorway is an original garage door bay from the auto body shop days, just expanded. "We tried to keep some of what we could," states Johnson.

Light Versus Heavy

Although it's not immediately evident, upon closer inspection, much of Superba's aesthetic plays on the contrast between light and heavy. The Bitches explain that when conceiving the restaurant's design, they thought about abstract ethereal environmental ideas like fog and sunshine, and worked to incorporate them into the space. Take, for example, the coffee bar up front. The bottom of the bar is mirrored, and when you stand at the right angle, the reflection of the floor makes the bar appear as though it's floating. Also, check out the heavy cement indoor banquette along the old garage bay entrance that opens out to the patio. The Bitches constructed the banquette to look as though it's pillowed on the front, which gives a softness to the massive concrete block.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

Superba itself is a restaurant brimming with surprises. Surprises that a customer might subconsciously feel but not necessarily notice. Look up. The exposed ceiling helps the restaurant feel open, and if you look at the top corner of the roof above the pastry bar, there's a mirror at the very end which makes the roof appear infinite. And speaking of mirrors, check out the series of plexiglass boxes which incase pastry chef Lincoln Carson's fantastically beautiful selection of baked goods (don't miss the kouign amann!). When Superba first opened, and for the first four months or so, Carson displayed his baked goods out in the open on the wooden counter, which doubles as a wine bar at night. (His more elaborate composed desserts had a small refrigerated case from the beginning.) When designing Superba, aware that the restaurant would change personalities from day to night, Hibler knew that he needed a wine bar, but also recognized that during the day he would have to use the bar area to store and display bakery items.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

But what the team quickly learned is that pastries without a case are a health department violation, so the heavy clear green boxes on the bar were added in after four months of business. When queried who designed those cases, Hibler responds with a laugh, "the health inspector made it happen."

Superba tripled its sales the first weekend the pastry cases went in.

But in all reality, LA architects Paul and Tim Bonefeld of Berksonfab designed them on the fly. And what's crazy about those boxes is that there's a mirror at the back of each, which makes the cases appear larger and fuller than they are. Per Hibler, Superba tripled its sales the first weekend the cases went in and since then sales have continued as such: "Something I learned on my own ... you have to tell people .. you have to show them what's important."

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

To Hibler, the three imperative components in a restaurant are food, art, and community.

To Hibler, the three imperative components in a restaurant are food, art, and community. No one is more important than the other. And in designing Superba, the idea of interactivity and uniting a community, in this case Venice, was a major factor in much of the restaurant's aesthetic. Hibler wanted the restaurant to feel open and inviting, and he hoped locals would walk or ride their bikes over. There's bike parking out front, in addition to a take out coffee window. As a whole, the restaurant's lack of clutter and open layout is conducive to diners intermingling, as is the front and side patio. By the entrance one will find a "waiting area" with benches for customers to loiter.

Around the corner to the side is what Hibler refers to as the "community pool." In the middle of the outdoor side patio is a recessed area tiled in pool water blue meant to serve as a stoop for neighbors coming from the residential side: "We just left a big hole in my patio that I don't use, that I don't make money on for the sake of design. That's supposed to be the front porch/stoop ... I could have seats all over that area but it would have hurt the design drastically."

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

The "community pool" also connects back to the design over at Superba Snack Bar. The restaurant's open kitchen and outdoor patio both incorporate pool tile. Other similarities between the two Superba-branded restaurants are their exteriors. The Snack Bar's facade is covered in raked concrete, while Food + Bread incorporates a similar looking corrugated concrete. Also, Snack Bar's wood and metal stools, designed by The Bitches, are repeated at Food + Bread in white. And finally, Hibler like to incorporate atypical signage at his spots, so at Snack Bar one will find Superba lettering spelled out in Scrabble pieces, while Food + Bread's sign is drawn in sidewalk chalk onto the ground outside the restaurant's main door. Each restaurant also incorporates a billboard into its design.

Furniture & Fixtures

Almost all of the furniture found without Superba Food + Bread was custom designed by The Bitches. Take, for example, the restaurant's tables. There are Douglas fir communal tables and two-tops, but the most interesting tables are located along the pillowed concrete banquette. Those are constructed with a steel base attached to the ground (which Hibler had never done before), plus a marble top. Fixed into each piece of marble is a built in votive. And actually the tables were a mistake. At first Hibler wasn't pleased that they were attached to the ground and the marble tops were a bit too small for the Heath ceramics plates from which diners eat. But call it a happy accident because that row of tables has turned out to be the area in which dines choose to sit the most.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

As for seats, one will find about 100 inside and about 40 outside. In addition to the stools from the Snack Bar, the white indoor chairs are Lisboa Side Chairs designed by Joan Gaspar and sold at Design Within Reach. Indoor fabric banquettes were initially made from blue and green furniture packing blankets, but after the first week of business Hibler noticed that the stitching on the cusions was not holding up so he swapped them out for more durable blue and gray sunbrella fabric, which accomplishes nearly the same look. When utilizing materials in an unintended fashion, Hibler admits, "that's what you get.. you just don't know if everything is going to work."

Outdoor chairs and bistro tables were sourced from French outdoor furniture manufacturer, Fermob. The white sunbrellas are by way of Hibler's "secret" supplier in Florida, Greencorner.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

Hibler states that beloved California ceramics maker Heath Ceramics doesn't discount its plateware for restaurants, although the company did design a custom light jade color for the restaurant. Water is poured into vintage French public school cafeteria glasses and the colored espresso cups stacked above the floating bar are by Italian coffee cup company Nuova Point. By the wine bar one will find Riedel Bordeaux stemware. Utensils are mismatched vintage procured from eBay. Those dish cloth napkins now found at restaurants across the country are also used at Superba, although Hibler found that the early version of those left lint on diners' laps and so he buys an upgraded type from Republic Linen.

Superba incorporates a variety of lighting fixtures, both in the dining room and even in the kitchen. The larger dining room bell fixtures were purchase from design store A+R and the hanging pendants were designed by Filipe Lisboa and are sold at VISO. Each restroom is lit by vintage pieces from Amsterdam Modern. Another super cool lighting trick can be found in the bar area. Above the bar one will find pegboard with tiny holes punched in. Strings of LED lights sit behind the pegboard so at night the lights cast tiny rays over drinkers.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

Anti-Uniforms

Hibler says he's totally against uniforms, but everyone told him he had to have them. Last year he was traveling through Provence, France checking out bakeries and along the way he stopped at Chateau St. Marie in Bonneaux. There he found simple off-white linen aprons, and he commissioned LA designer Min Young Lee to recreate them for Superba. So, servers don those aprons plus a light blue shirt and jeans.

Happy Accidents

Lemon yellow is a legacy color through most of Hibler's establishments. It can be found at Pitfire Pizzas around the city, and the same yellow has found its way onto the smoke stack atop Superba Food + Bread. It was once the vent for the auto body's paint booth and Hibler chose to leave the stack and paint it yellow in homage to the building's previously life. Yellow continues to show on Superba's bike racks out front, on to the La Marzocco espresso machine, and it's also the color of the super graphic loaf of bread on Superba's patio wall and the yellow/green/blue colored stripes supergraphic at Superba's entrance.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

The Bitches created a whole graphic design package for the restaurant but that color block super graphic, which is supposed to represent sun and water, wasn't in it. Although the image fits perfectly into the restaurant and looks like it was planned since day one. But, in actuality, the image came about later on when the restaurant was in construction mode and Hibler noticed the "juicy" wall along the parking lot. The Bitches quickly mocked up that super graphic and now that logo is going to be the mark on all of the restaurant's branded packaging for pastries and coffee. "A lot of the best things come by accident," Hibler adds. Which is also the case for the bike racks up front. Johnson was walking along Pico Boulevard and noticed old pavers in the sidewalk that naturally make a zigzag pattern. She decided to take that design and incorporate it into Superba's bike racks up front.

An Open Kitchen

A steel and glass wall built of elemental pieces connects Superba's dining room to its spacious rear kitchen. When designing the structure, which also sits in an old garage bay entrance, The Bitches wanted it to look old enough that customers would wonder whether the piece was original or new. The wall delineates space between the back of house and front of house, and was built along a slight angle which becomes evident to diners who eat in the smaller platformed deck to the left of the kitchen. The angle allows the kitchen to press into the dining room a little bit, changing the spaceality of the room, and that deck line continues all the way to the outside patio, uniting the two spaces visually.

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

The Bitches wanted it to look old enough that customers would wonder whether the piece was original or new.

Behind the bar and down the hallway which leads to the bathrooms one will find raw sheets of tile board and exposed framing, which is an homage to the artist studios in Venice and a nod to Frank Gehry. In the early 1980s, Gehry designed several loft dwellings in Venice, including Dennis Hoppers compound on Indiana Avenue. It was one of the first times that architects used simple, unfinished materials to create stunning residences. Superba's unfinished hallway is Hibler's favorite part of the restaurant because when one stands there and looks out into the dining room, "Everywhere you look, every corner everywhere there's something going on. We didn't just put drywall and paint," he states.

From that vantage point one can also take note of Superba's custom wallpaper which depicts illustrations of bread drawn by The Bitches. The images are evident on the kitchen door and the outlines of people on the bathroom doors. But that large-scale print of Fleetwood Mac is actually a piece Hibler designed and printed. He explains that he loves that album because "it's evocative of a time and place of LA ... It's the community art board. If you're an artist, if you can thumbtack it up there, we'll put it up there." And when customers ask why Fleetwood Mac is on the wall, Hibler answers, "Why not?" But going forward that image will change.

A Billboard

"I'm kind of humorous in my approach, but also more so disruptive, and I want to make you go 'What? What's with the thing on the wall?'" Hibler states. Design is about being comfortable, but also engaging diners, initiating conversation and stimulating people. "I just don't want a box to sell food out of ... I want people to come away and feel something different. I don't think you can look around here and see, that's right out of a restaurant design catalogue ... we're always reaching for something," he finishes. Just like the billboard above Superba Snack Bar which changes, design phase two for Superba Food + Bread is the billboard above the restaurant. It provides another creative space for Hibler to play with. "I like evolving ... I like palette. That's a place that there's things for us to do in here over time so it's not static."

The Future

Right now, Superba is about 60 to 65 percent what Hibler wants it to be, and he estimates it will take another year to reach 100 percent. He had originally planned to prop up an A-Frame tent on the patio (which still might eventually happen) and over the last four months he has resisted temptation to add more dishes to the menu. Before opening, Hibler, who hails from San Francisco, took an inspirational tour up north to visit Tartine, Ad Hoc, and Zuni Cafe, Hibler's "Norther Star that I judge all others by," because of its timelessness. Overall he feels as though the restaurant needs more content, and that it's not messy enough for his taste. But he's been taking it slow because, he explains, if "the Snack Bar is like Porsche, you can turn it on a dime ... this is a cruise liner, you have to go very slow."

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[Photo: Elizabeth Daniels]

In effort to continue to grow the community, Hibler admits that he has the luxury to incubate the area. He owns the two buildings on the corner and he recently purchased 1930 Lincoln Boulevard and 1915 Lincoln Boulevard across the street. He explains that he's trying to curate and populate Lincoln with a healthy mix of Venice-appropriate businesses complementary to Superba. Some of which he might build out himself. That could mean a small mellow bar, a great wine and cheese shop, some clothing stores. He also recently returned from a trip to Portland where here was trying to inspire some people out there to open in Venice. He says that all the properties from Whole Foods to Deus are all in development: "Come back here in a year, there's going to be some stuff going on."

There's more to Superba Food + Bread than meets the eye. And with its inviting, relaxed and sunny disposition, it's easy to overlook that. With all the commotion on Abbot Kinney, there's a desire to open elsewhere, be it Rose or Lincoln Boulevard, and Hibler has had enough foresight to open an incredibly ambitious project before anyone else. More than launching a restaurant, he's trying to cultivate an artistically-driven Venice community, starting with the smallest of gestures, sending out gift cards to all of Superba's neighbors in hopes that they will embrace the restaurant. While some people may describe Superba's design as Scandinavian because of the tone/color, Hibler sees modern Japanese. But regardless, as the community around Superba continues to grow and change, the restaurant itself is still a work in progress as well. Says Hibler, "When you design a restaurant, you can't ever think that when you open you're done."

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Superba Food + Bread

1900 S Lincoln Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90291

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