It’s been a gas station, a butcher shop, and an apartment. It’s now the original Tesuque Village Market.
Seeking to export the laid-back air of the New Mexico eatery and general store, owners Michael and Reeve Stein partnered with lived-in-Tesuque-then-left-and-is-back-now Alicia Searle and Christi Offutt. In March, they opened a Tesuque Village Market in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice Beach.
The New Mexico TVM morphed into what it is organically. Jerry Honnell opened the place as a restaurant in the late '60s. Stein bought it from him about a decade ago. The transition, he says, amounted to Honnell handing him the keys one night after work and Stein showing up to open the place the next day. There have been changes since then to a more upscale market—with $13 Frito pies, it's not cheap—but it has a distinctly low-key feel.
The effort to buck the trend of style moving inland from the coast and to transport that feel from Tesuque to LA has been far more bureaucratic than organic. While the market is now open, it’s still only part way to what the owners want it to be. They hired the same Santa Fe artists who did the mural in Tesuque to paint the Venice exterior. They’ve put long tables down the center of the inside. There are beer coolers, a deli case and an espresso bar. All with what Stein calls a “beachier” vibe.
The Kim's Food Corner market that occupied the corner of Mildred and Ocean avenues before Searle and company bought the property was a beloved, if not revered, local dive in Venice. It served no-frills, cheap stuff—food and otherwise. Venice holds fast to the funky vibe it grew during the '50s and '60s. The neighborhood was wary of what might make its way into the mostly residential area just off Venice Boulevard.
The "dirty-grit element" that TVM's Stein saw in Kim's was something he wanted. It felt aligned with Tesuque. It was also something the Venice Neighborhood Council, part of the City of Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, felt it had to protect. As a result, the Venice version of TVM isn't yet a restaurant. There's alcohol, but it's a package license that only lets the market sell booze, not serve it. Breakfast burritos, Frito pie, posole and the market's green chile cheese bread are cooked up off-site. TVM will have to convince the neighborhood that it can become the same local hangout as its Tesuque self.
"It's the only commercial property in a residential area," Searle tells SFR. "And that's what we were looking for. We wanted the same feel … to be the local place for the community. It is still our dream to do that."
Santa Fe can relate to what's happened on nearby Abbot Kinney Boulevard. It's boomed, with local stores largely pushed out in favor of hot-spot restaurants, boutiques, yoga studios and third-wave coffee bars bringing hipsters en masse. Snap—which owns the photo-sharing app Snapchat—plopped its LA headquarters in Venice Beach and the neighborhood has occasionally gone ballistic as the company has bought and leased buildings and homes for more office space, its techie tentacles reaching deeper into the community.
TVM is no Snapchat, though.
“We’re not the gentrifiers that we were being accused of,” Stein says, perched on a stool in the Tesuque location late on a Friday morning. “I mean, look at this place.”
He and Searle are confident that once the community realizes what the market is all about, the permits to open a restaurant will soon follow.
"I think they saw these people from another state coming in. And unfortunately in Venice, people have taken advantage of the property and come in and said, 'Oh, yeah. We're just going to do this.' And then turn around and demolish it and turn it into something that the community never wanted," says Searle.
"If they could all just come to the market here and experience it, they would know what we're trying to do there."
In the two months the Venice property has been open, they've actually had a few people from Los Angeles stumble upon the Tesuque market and make the connection between the two. Either Stein or Searle is in Venice every other week and say the market is doing well.
"The margins in retail aren't what I'm used to," Stein says. But they're good enough for now. If he can get the restaurant open, it may not be too long before he's established enough to go looking for a third TVM location in the market he passed up to move into Southern California: Get ready, Dallas.