Downtown's Maccheroni Republic opening soon in Hawaii -- and beyond

Russ Parsons
The California Cook

Is Maccheroni Republic going to take over the world?

Jean Louis de Mori and Antonio Tomassi, who opened the always-crowded little downtown restaurant two years ago, have formed a partnership with celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi to open places in Hawaii, and possibly even to franchise restaurants in China, Japan and South Korea.

Yamaguchi, who has cooking roots in Los Angeles, is the proprietor of more than 30 upscale Roy’s restaurants in the United States and Guam, including six in Hawaii and nine in California.

The first of the new Maccheroni Republic locations will probably be in Honolulu, De Mori says, and may be open as early as this summer. From there, the plan is to expand into another half-dozen locations throughout the islands, and then possibly even outside the United States.

“We’ve known Roy for many years and we’re really happy about this partnership,” De Mori said. “Roy is part of a big company, but he’s also a chef, not just an investor who is looking to get his money back right away. He understands about building a business.”

Maccheroni Republic, which is located on Broadway just across from the Grand Central Market, opened in January 2013. Despite having handmade pastas, there is little on the menu that costs more than $15.

As Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold wrote when he reviewed it, “Maccheroni Republic isn't a temple of cuisine, it's a trattoria -- the kind of place where it is possible to go for both lunch and dinner on a single day, a restaurant where waitresses race down the aisle with four identical bowls of rigatoni with eggplant.”

The new partnership came about, De Mori said, because he and Tomassi were exploring ideas for expanding. He said Yamaguchi was in town, so Tomassi suggested “Let’s ask Roy.” They started talking over lunch, De Mori said, and “pretty soon we’d been doing the blah-blah-blah and he said ‘I’d like to be your partner.’”

De Mori, Tomassi and Yamaguchi share deep roots in Southern California kitchens. De Mori and Tomassi opened Locanda Veneta across from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 1988, when it was part of the first wave of casual regional Italian restaurants in the area.

Yamaguchi, who had worked for the fabled Jean Bertranou at l’Hermitage, opened 385 North -- one of the first Asian fusion restaurants -- on La Cienega Boulevard at about the same time.

“We met when he came to Antonio to teach him how to make pasta,” De Mori said.

The new Maccheroni Republics will be as much like the original as is possible: “It’s going to be exactly the same concept,” De Mori said. “We may try to work in some of the local fish or vegetables, but we want it to be as much like this as we can.

“We want the places to be fast and casual, but friendly and with very good food. That’s our concept,” he added.

Maccheroni Republic, 332 South Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 346-9725.

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