Chad Robertson, Elisabeth Prueitt, and Chris Bianco's New L.A. Complex Is a Huge Deal
The Manufactory is a 40,000-square-foot space with three restaurants and room for all kinds of collaboration.
Chad Robertson and Chris Bianco are walking through The Manufactory, the massive bakery/dining/coffee complex they’re about to unveil in downtown Los Angeles. This is a 40,000-square-foot space, so the pioneering baker and the beloved pizzaiolo have room for three restaurants plus an industrial bread-and-pastry facility, a Califia Farms-affiliated coffee roastery, and much more.
Robertson and Bianco, who will start opening The Manufactory at Row DTLA in phases next month along with co-owner Elisabeth Prueitt, have known each other for a long time. They are so comfortable together that they finish each other’s sentences many times during my hour-long tour of The Manufactory. This is their first joint venture, a truly collaborative process where the chefs are pushing each other outside of their comfort zones as they do many things that are completely brand-new.
“Chad, he’s a brother,” Bianco says. “I’ve known him for over 25 years. We’ve been through a lot of life together and growth together.”
Robertson, who’s co-founder of Tartine in San Francisco, is a legendary bread-baker. Bianco serves what many consider the country’s best pizza at Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco. So when they started talking about making pizza together for The Manufactory’s casual Market restaurant/bar, things got deep.
“Here’s the fucking thing,” Bianco says as he compares his relationship with Robertson to a marital union. “I think the thing about our marriage is Chad definitely didn’t need me and I didn’t need him, but we wanted to work together. And we thought we were better together, and I think that makes for the best marriage.”
Bianco says he’s not even sure he should be calling what he’s doing with Robertson pizza. To be clear: This is absolutely pizza, cooked in PizzaMaster ovens from Sweden, but it’s also something new.
Here’s how Bianco describes the dough: “If you took Chad’s epic Tartine country loaf and now you could stretch it to whatever the fuck. You just had some beautiful, fermented, sour, delicious bread that you could now shape. It’s kind of like making music in a way. You take those notes and kind of put it together.”
“I think both of us are famous for making certain things, and we sort of get put in these boxes, and I think we’re both really appreciative of that,” Robertson says. “But at the same time, we still want to continue to innovate.”
“You might just see it as, wow, that looks like focaccia or stretched pizza dough,” Bianco says. “It’s all those things. If you grew up in New York, it would almost be Sicilian-style. But the foundation of it is something like … we’re going to start doing this thing we’ve never done before.”
The Manufactory’s Market, which will also have salads, sandwiches, pastries, cut-to-order cheese and charcuterie, and ice cream, will serve slices of pizza that could be as simple as crushed tomato with oregano and “a scrape of Pecorino.” This all-day destination is set up for relaxed dining or grab-and-go meals, but it’s also where the chefs have been workshopping dishes like bowls of mussels and caviar-topped deviled eggs.
The adjacent Tartine Bianco will be a three-meals-a-day restaurant where you can book a table and enjoy, among other things, fruit-topped toasts, patty melts, and fried chicken sandwiches made from grains that are specifically grown and milled for The Manufactory. Then there’s Alameda Supper Club, a dinner/weekend brunch spot where a recent tasting included duck ragu with pasta featuring Cairnspring Mills durum from Washington State. The tasting also included Santa Barbara black cod from the Dock to Dish sustainable-seafood program. Bianco plans to serve organic, grass-fed Cream Co. beef from sustainable farms.
“I think [The Manufactory] is about understanding the crux of what makes good things good,” Bianco says. “We try to get the best ingredients and not fuck them up. No matter what the technique is, you can never make something fucking awesome that isn’t.”
The driving principle of The Manufactory is something Bianco discussed with Robertson years ago. It’s become a mantra of sorts for Robertson: What makes good food? The idea is to hone in on what makes a loaf of bread or a pasta or a pizza or anything else good. And then you figure out how to make that even better. It is, in short, about amplifying goodness.
I ask if Alameda Supper Club will be an Italian-leaning restaurant, and Bianco and Robertson take turns answering the question.
“I guess It has a slightly Italian accent, but …,” Bianco says.
“I feel like it’s Italian in the sourcing …,” Robertson says.
“In the spirit of it …,” Bianco says.
“And the simplicity …,” Robertson says.
These chefs seem simpatico in so many ways as they talk about ways to use grains from sources like Southern California farmer Alex Weiser.
“Grain bowls are pretty popular now, in L.A. especially,” Robertson says. “Chris and I talk about, ‘Why don’t we make pasta the new grain bowl?’ Let’s do fresh-milled. Let’s pick the right grains that have the most flavor and the most nutrition and then make them taste the way we want but also be super nourishing. I want that satisfaction of the idea of a grain bowl. What makes a grain bowl good? What makes a pasta good? You put them together.”
“For example, we’ll have a few pastas on the menu that are whole grains,” Bianco says. “It could be a simple bucatini, but let’s look at grain varietals and fermenting pastas and working with our sourdoughs.”
Robertson is also encouraging his team to put more vegetable purées into sandwich buns. The Manufactory isn’t exactly a health-food spot, but it’s a place where the chefs are looking for ways to pair nutritiousness with deliciousness.
“Right now, our bun in San Francisco that everything goes on is 30 percent sweet potato,” Robertson says. “Last night at our tasting [at The Manufactory], we had crackers that had bean flour and sweet pea flour.”
This was part of a three-hour tasting with dishes from all three restaurants. The Manufactory includes a double-sided kitchen setup featuring wood-fired grills where food is cooked for both Tartine Bianco and Alameda Supper Club. There’s a smoker on one side and a rotisserie on the other side. Technically, there are separate cooking areas for Tartine Bianco and Alameda Supper Club. But The Manufactory is about collaboration, so there will be some overlap. And it’s important to note that there’s also a huge kitchen space downstairs where food will be prepped. The upstairs, Robertson says, “is essentially a finishing kitchen.”
Bianco says he’s excited about The Manufactory’s “extremely talented young staff,” including Alameda Supper Club chef de cuisine Lee Foden-Clarke and Tartine Bianco chef de cuisine Camden Hershberger. Foden-Clarke and Hershberger won the 2015 Ment’or Young Chef Competition in Houston together.
“It all takes a village,” Bianco says. “There’s no big cutouts of me and Chad here. I like to think I have a little gas in the tank, but I’m not 19 anymore. I’m 56 now. You become a mentor. I burnt my hand enough that I want other people not to burn their hand.”
He pauses as he thinks about how large and ambitious The Manufactory is.
“We’re doing something that’s really specific,” he says. “You can come to downtown L.A. and get, at a minimum, three unique experiences in one space. And they’re not mirages. There’s humanity. There’s fire. There’s people."
There are also stunning ingredients, like citrus from JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch in Southern California. When you have products this great, you can confidently make “simple food” like lemon pasta or steamed black cod with colatura and thyme.
The infrastructure powering The Manufactory, though, is anything but simple. This is a space where one-ton sacks of freshly milled flour are put in downstairs silos and then vacuumed upstairs into giant diving-arm mixing bowls. Parts of The Manufactory resemble a pristine spaceship, if a spaceship had a nine-deck thermal-oil oven for bread, a room for making ice cream, and a setup to blast-freeze croissants and morning buns that are proofed overnight before being baked. The Manufactory will also bake pies, cakes, and cookies, not just for its own restaurants but also for three forthcoming Tartine spaces in L.A. that are under construction. The Manufactory has a climate-controlled proofing chamber that can hold 3,000 loaves of bread. The roastery, meanwhile, is capable of processing three million pounds of coffee each year, much of which will be used by Califia Farms.
Robertson’s wife and business partner is pastry chef Elizabeth Pruiett, and they plan to make buffalo-milk soft-serve in L.A., which very much aligns with the overall ethos of The Manufactory.
“People don’t normally think of ice cream as, like, a health food,” Robertson says. ‘But buffalo milk has much higher protein than cow milk. It’s naturally homogenized, it has very small molecules, it’s easier to digest. I think of it as a nutrient-dense food.”
Similarly, Bianco mentions a buckwheat-shell cannoli with sheep’s-milk cheese and organic California pistachios that was served at the tasting for Alameda Supper Club.
“All of a sudden, I’m eating a treat with optimum ingredients,” he says.
The Manufactory, which also includes indoor and outdoor bars with cocktails from famed barman Julian Cox, is a gigantic undertaking, but it could have been even bigger.
“At one point, we were taking [an adjacent space] too,” Robertson says. “We were going to do a brewery with some friends.”
He adds that he’d still like for there to be a brewery there. He sounds like he’s open to discussing a collaboration.
The Manufactory, 757 S. Alameda St., suite 160, Los Angeles