In the glamorous realm of fine dining, where exquisite flavors and impeccable service intertwine, the Manzke family has carved out a place that goes beyond a glitzy exterior.
While many perceive the restaurant business as a captivating and enviable venture, few truly comprehend the intricate tapestry woven to create success in this industry. The culinary world is a relentless crucible, marked by an astonishing 80% failure rate within the initial five years—and a 60% closure rate within the very first year.
Within this enigmatic landscape, the Manzke family has not only flourished, but has also managed to create an enduring legacy. Sitting down with Walter Manzke, the visionary behind acclaimed establishments like République, Manzke, Petty Cash, Sari Sari Store, and Bicyclette, as well as 17 Wildflour Cafés in the Philippines, we discussed the intricacies of operating a growing gastronomic empire. With chef Walter’s French influences harmonizing with chef Margarita’s Filipino heritage, the journey unfolds as an embodiment of culinary multiculturalism, reflected not only in exquisite dishes, but also in the company’s unwavering commitment to nurturing diverse teams.
A VALUABLE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
Walter and Margarita Manzke seamlessly meld their unique global experiences for each of their restaurants. Having honed their craft at some of the best restaurants in the world, such as Ferran Adria’s El Bulli and Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV, the Manzkes embarked on a transformative path back to the United States, where they left an indelible mark on the culinary scene. Their tenure at illustrious American venues, including Spago, Melisse, Bastide, and Church & State, shaped their culinary vision, defining their team’s unique yet familiar guest experience.
The Manzke’s saga is intrinsically tied to the resilience of the restaurant world, a fact underscored by their experiences during the 2008 financial crisis. During that time, they confronted the industry’s vulnerability head-on. Through his close network, Walter was invited by chef Thomas Keller to stage at The French Laundry in Yountville. Chef Walter decided to follow his instincts and remain in Los Angeles to lead the team at Church & State. His tenure proved transformative, not only in terms of culinary innovation but also in mentoring talents like Allen Buhay who would later ascend to the role of executive chef at Wildflour.
Guided by a network of industry luminaries and close collaborations, Chef Walter’s education in the world of gastronomy continued to flourish. The mentorship of renowned Chicago restaurateur Richard Melman proved invaluable, enabling Walter to cultivate his skills and remain anchored in Los Angeles with his family. He referred to his experience with Melman as the “best restaurant school” he could ever attend.
This period of growth and learning laid the foundation for a significant venture—an entrepreneurial leap into the Philippines, where Walter and Margarita, alongside Margarita’s sister, Anna, embarked on groundbreaking bakery enterprise Wildflour.
This bakery concept was met with skepticism and criticism as it did not fit the existing bakery and café experience in that country. Margarita’s innovative vision transformed the Filipino bakery scene, propelling the Manzkes into a realm of unmatched success. Wildflour now has more than 1,000 employees, 17 locations, and six new Wildflour bakeries opening in the coming year.
NEW SKILLS, NEW VENTURES
With their resolute mantra of “Gotta Keep Moving,” the Manzkes’ journey took them on a path marked by unwavering determination. As they crafted a future for their culinary pursuits, their footsteps led them to an iconic Los Angeles landmark: the historic home of Nancy Silverton’s Campanile and La Brea Bakery. In the quest to preserve the building’s original charm and essence, Walter embarked on an unexpected detour, honing his skills in restaurant design. This evolution, while initially uncharted territory for him, soon became an integral part of his creative arsenal that incorporated the spirit of a chef as well as entrepreneurial self-sufficiency and a willingness to roll up one’s sleeves.
The pinnacle of their journey materialized in the form of ‘Manzke’, a culinary marvel that Chef Walter has called a “10 year sprint.” Receiving one Michelin star, the namesake restaurant, has become a culinary beacon that embodies their relentless pursuit of excellence. As accolades continue to pour in, their newest endeavor, Bicyclette, is located on the first floor of the same building. Bicyclette is the quintessential French bistro, which Los Angeles has been missing for the past 5 years. It has emerged as a symbol of their cross-cultural influence. Designed with meticulous attention to detail, Bicyclette seamlessly integrates elements from their French and Filipino heritage, while being consistent with pure French cuisine. The restaurant demonstrates their commitment to authenticity and innovation.
VALUING YOUR TEAM
Through building these dining pillars in the Los Angeles landscape, the throughline appears to be a consistent network and appreciation for their team. Their focus on helping develop rising stars within their organization has served them well. Allowing their teams to build their skills at each of their restaurants has resulted in these team members being able to advance into indispensable roles within a respective restaurant. Chef Joseph Ruby is a prime example of this. His early introduction to the Manzke team in the Philippines at Wildflour, then progressing through each of the company’s restaurants, enabled him to learn their proprietary systems, leading to a key role as sous chef at Bicyclette in Los Angeles.
The Manzkes’ story stands as a testament to the power of resilience, the value of loyalty to your team, and the unyielding pursuit of passion in the ever-evolving realm of gastronomy.