Listening to the Food

Emerging restaurant designers who understand the connections between menu, price, and place

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Working with a minimal budget, the Thoreen&Ritter opened up the space for this 180-seat restaurant by eliminating several walls.

Photo: Nicholas J. Reid/courtesy Thoreen&Ritter

First-time restaurateurs Brendan Collins and Carolos Tomazos took a gamble in choosing to open a restaurant in western Los Angeles’s sleepy Culver City. And they made an even bigger wager in choosing Brian Thoreen and Brant Ritter to design it. But both bets paid off. “This project was about scale for us,” says Ritter, a light-and-space installation artist who met fashion-and-housewares designer Thoreen in 2001 when the pair worked as fabricators for artist James Turrell. Their firm specializes in high-end furniture commissions. “In restaurant design, we pulled back from being overly pre- cious. We knew the space was going to be used and abused. And we wanted it to get better as it aged.”

The benches are church pews purchased at a thrift shop.

Photo: Nicholas J. Reid/courtesy Thoreen&Ritter

The fruit of their work is Waterloo & City, a 180-seat restaurant fitted into a 40-year-old diner that has injected new life into the neighborhood below Mar Vista. Thoreen&Ritter preserved much of the former greasy spoon’s layout, but eliminated several walls to make the space feel more open. Responding to Collins’s upscale comfort-food menu, the interior tilts towards homey, keeping much of the original wood and wainscoting, church-pew seating ransomed from a thrift shop, and a solemn black-and-white Shaker sensibility enlivened by occasional flashes of color. “Brendan believes in this type of food,” says Ritter, who works with Thoreen in an old warehouse in L.A.’s Arts District. “We wanted a design that reflected that. Because if you present what you love, the people will find you.”

Photo: Nicholas J. Reid/courtesy Thoreen&Ritter

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