Felix, the Los Angeles pasta destination from chef Evan Funke, was one of the buzziest openings of 2017. The perpetually packed Venice restaurant is among Eater critic Bill Addison’s best new restaurants in America, was Eater LA’s 2017 restaurant of the year, and currently sits on the long list for James Beard’s Best New Restaurant award. And although Felix is not yet a year old, Funke is already thinking about what’s next.
“As soon as we opened Felix we started looking for spaces,” Funke says. “I’m a champion of playing the long game, and if you’re not planning your next move within the next 18 months of your life you’re already behind the eight ball.”
Funke rose to prominence making pasta by hand as chef at another LA Italian restaurant, Bucato. He abruptly resigned in 2015, and Bucato closed just four months later. Felix marked Funke’s long-awaited return to the LA dining scene, and now, it appears the chef’s acclaimed pasta will one day be available to more than those who manage to snag a reservation at the LA hit. Funke confirmed to Eater that Toronto-based restaurant group Gusto 54 is exploring two different paths for growth with the chef, including a New York City expansion of Felix and a separate fast-casual restaurant project.
Although there are no definite plans for either restaurant to open yet, Funke says he is “eagerly exploring” the idea of expanding. For Funke, growth is almost inevitable. “It’s not a matter of concepts, it’s not a matter of ideas, it’s a matter of real estate,” he says.
New York City has no shortage of Italian restaurants, and Funke is aware that he will be entering the market as an outsider. “For me the most important thing is that we’re not an invasive species,” he says. But, the chef thinks his brand of Italian could work on the East Coast. “I think that New York’s palate is very elevated, and a restaurant like Felix would do very well there,” Funke adds.
Bicoastal expansions are something of a trend. Eleven Madison Park team Will Guidara and Daniel Humm recently expanded Nomad, their New York restaurant and hotel, to Downtown LA, and Momofuku empire builder David Chang just opened his first LA restaurant in Chinatown. Funke isn’t the only LA chef to participate in this New York-Los Angles restaurant exchange — the team behind Gjelina will soon open a version of their vegetable-centric, all-day restaurant in New York’s Noho neighborhood.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, is the likely site of a fast-casual restaurant from Funke. He describes the idea as “very elevated fast casual,” along the lines of Mark Ladner’s Pasta Flyer in New York. And, although Felix consistently draws crowds to Venice, a fast-casual restaurant at a lower price point wouldn’t be in the same neighborhood.
“The beauty of fast casual is it can only work when there’s a lot of foot traffic,” Funke explains. Plus, the real estate along Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where Felix is located, wouldn’t support a lower price point, according to the chef. Instead, he’s considering neighborhoods like West Hollywood and Silver Lake.
But, Funke and the Gusto 54 team are still looking for potential restaurant spaces, and there’s no timeline for either expansion just yet. “It’s extremely important. It’s the sophomore album, so we’re taking our time,” Funke says.