At ROW DTLA, a Big, Aromatic Vision

When you step out of the 10-story parking structure at the Row DTLA complex these days, the first thing you notice is the smell. As you march toward the collection of offices and stores in the refashioned concrete warehouses, the aroma of fresh-baked bread wafts through the air.

The olfactory element is new, an asterisk of The Manufactory. The restaurant and retail operation from the San Francisco-based Tartine brand opened in the Industrial District complex on Jan. 29.

The Manufactory has been one of the most anticipated projects in Downtown Los Angeles. First announced nearly three years ago, and initially expected to open in the fall of 2017, it is a collaboration between Tartine founders and James Beard Award-winning chefs Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, and Chris Bianco, who gained notoriety for an Arizona pizza restaurant. They managed to endure through a seeming never-ending series of changes and setbacks.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Robertson sat down with Tartine Chief Operating Officer Chris Jordan to discuss the project. Although Robinson has spent almost 30 years in the food business and is one of the better-known bakers in the world, he admitted that nothing could prepare him for the arduous process of stripping down the two-story, 40,000-square-foot space and transforming it into a modern culinary mecca.

“I couldn’t have imagined how it all came together,” Robertson said. “It was daunting, but it all came together and we’re starting to get some really great feedback.”

Built in one of Row DTLA’s six buildings at 757 S. Alameda St., The Manufactory functions almost like a living organism, with seven different components all operating independently while still serving as part of the whole — there are two restaurants, a bakery, a coffee roastery, a walk-up window, a market and a coffee lab.

The most attention-grabbing element is Tartine Bianco. Bright and sunny during the daytime hours, and bustling and sleek during the evening, the collaboration between Robertson and Bianco features an open kitchen, a bar and 148 indoor and outdoor seats. The menu is accessible, with options including plates of seasonal fish, lamb shank and rotisserie chicken.

On the other side of the complex is the Alameda Supper Club, which is scheduled to open March 16. The space, which will serve dinner and weekend brunch, contains a 16-person private dining room, an indoor bar, and an outdoor patio and bar space.

The Market, located in the corner of the building, provides a space for customers to purchase both items produced by The Manufactory, and options made elsewhere. Those looking to grab a quick bite can head to a walk-up window to snag smaller items such as pastries and coffees.

A quick ride in the elevator reveals the 6,000-square foot Coffee Manufactory Roastery, which is highlighted by the almost 60-year-old German Probat coffee roaster dubbed Bertha. At top efficiency it can roast nearly 70,000 pounds of coffee beans per week.

Jordan, who had recently returned from a bean-sourcing trip to Ethiopia, said that while Bertha dates back to 1961, the roastery is otherwise filled with state-of-the-art equipment that makes the roasting process more efficient. This includes mechanical arms to lift the 150-pound bags of coffee beans.

“We had the opportunity to build something from scratch,” Jordan said. “You see it as this big thing, but it’s the nuanced things, like this machine, like the grain elevators, that make this a really great place to work.”

Then, of course, there is the massive bakery. Visible from Row’s ground level through almost floor-to-ceiling windows, the facility also has state-of-the art equipment, though on a recent visit the machines were covered in flecks of flour as employees wrangled massive globs of dough from the huge mixers. Robertson described the scene as a smaller industrial bakery.

“We’re using industrial technology, but we’ve scaled it down,” Robertson said. “It’s like walking into a Transformer. We’re using technology to enhance the artisanal process.”

Building a Team

The Manufactory is Robertson and Prueitt’s seventh project since they opened the first Tartine Bakery in the Bay Area in 2002. There is now the flagship Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco’s Mission District, as well as three locations in South Korea. There are plans to open a cafe in Japan.

Despite the international growth, Robertson said he and Prueitt knew that they wanted to expand to Southern California.

They were introduced to Row DTLA in 2016. Development firm Atlas Capital acquired the complex in 2014 and has since been transforming the aged collection of buildings — previously best known as the home to American Apparel — into a modern destination filled with businesses seeking creative office space, and a collection of independent shops and restaurants.

While Robertson said that he was instantly intrigued by the property, he was unsure of what to do with such a large space. When it came time to move forward, he and Prueitt partnered with Bianco, who was known for his Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, and Jordan, who had worked as a coffee taster (also known as a cupper) for Starbucks.

The team faced challenges from the beginning. The warehouses were originally constructed in the 1920s by Southern Pacific Railroad as the Los Angeles Terminal Market. Crews essentially had to strip the building down to its core and completely rebuild and retrofit the space. Studio BBA was hired to handle designs.

After the fall 2017 opening was missed, other anticipated debut dates came and went. The team encountered difficulties common in Los Angeles.

“Between all the permits and the people involved, it’s so big that it’s almost like a city project,” Robertson said. “But the harder you work for it, it’s almost like you appreciate it more.”

The team behind the Manufactory sees the project as just its first move in Los Angeles. It plans to open three smaller cafes across the region this year, starting with a spot in Silver Lake at 3921 W. Sunset Blvd. That will be followed by outposts in Hollywood and Santa Monica.

The bakery is capable of pumping out about 5,000 loaves of bread a day, and the Downtown operation will employ a total of 300 people once it hits full capacity. After the other locations open, the goods manufactured at Row DTLA will spread out across Los Angeles.

That is in the future, and right now the focus is on The Manufactory. Robertson said that early reactions have been positive, though there have been some jabs tied to the elongated opening process.

He understands the comments, but is more focused on the scent of fresh bread and the people who will eat it.

The Manufactory is at 757 S. Alameda St., (213) 375-3315 or tartinebakery.com. It is open daily from 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.