On Riverside Drive’s thriving restaurant row, Brian Veskosky and Jim Orozco, proprietors of Red Maple Cafe, are turning tradition on its head with their knack for incorporating global flavors into comfort-food favorites. However, the two share their French neighbors’ focus on customer service and the small details, as well as a contagious enthusiasm for their products.
A Bold Move
Red Maple Cafe opened in May 2017 and is Brian and Jim’s second business venture together. The life and business partners first opened the Metro Cafe in the Hollywood Production Center, where for years Brian worked as a producer for unscripted television. It happened a bit by chance. Jim had had a long hospitality career but was keen to open his own place. One day Brian learned that his office building’s existing café would be shut down, and alerted Jim. The two quickly put together a proposal and acquired the 400-square-foot space. Their artisan coffee, smoothies and California-style menu opened in 2014 and quickly gained a following beyond the building’s occupants. Brian and Jim started thinking bigger, seeking a more commercially viable location that could be open on the weekends and accommodate some ambitious ideas they were throwing around.
They were drawn to Toluca Lake for its proximity to studios, office towers and Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, says Brian. “Ultimately we saw this place. It had been empty for a while and we thought we could do something special here.” They loved that the space had a patio, and their plans included renovating the interior and attaching a standalone gelato and coffee bar.
The two signed a lease in March 2016, and started construction in December. Brian took a leave of absence from work while the two poured their hearts, souls and personal savings into making the café reflect their own aesthetic. “We probably went a little overboard,” admits Brian. “This was a massive investment for us. We smoothed out the stucco. We vaulted the ceiling. We put in all these new windows and doors, and we softened it up by bringing in the trees.” With their signature color, red, showing up in everything from the walls to the logo and carryout bags, the store definitely has a cohesive look. “It’s amazing how it just came together,” says Jim.
Ahead of the Curve
To set themselves apart from other local eateries, the couple frequented trade shows to stay updated on food trends and worked with a consulting chef on a menu that would introduce new flavors to the area — creating combinations such as the slow-braised brisket served on a green onion waffle, and artisan flatbread with smashed avocado and smoked mozzarella. Their gelato flavors include the top-selling purple yam and, naturally, a maple-roasted butter pecan.
The most important thing to both Jim and Brian is creating the best possible guest experience, through their high standards of customer service and ensuring that everything coming out of the kitchen is consistent (Jim’s domain). Brian can often be seen at the gelato bar encouraging people to try all 16 flavors. The café has one of the city’s two ripple machines — a new technology that prints coffee “ink” images onto foamy drinks. “You can send any photo to the machine by downloading a free app,” says Brian. “We’re still waiting for that person to come in and secretly tell us so we can do a wedding proposal on it!”
The pair are introducing menu items for the new year, including a “red-plate special” starting in January. “We’re always looking to evolve,” says Brian. Although he jokes he would never recommend opening a restaurant to anyone, he adds, “The community has welcomed us, is supporting us and enjoying what we’re offering. So that makes us happy.”
To meet another entrepreneurial couple in the neighborhood, read “Marrying Love & Business at Lou the French on the Block.”