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Life & Work with Sara Gabriele

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sara Gabriele.

Sara, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
As early as I can remember, restaurants have been the center of my world. My father, Guy Gabriele, opened Café Pierre in Manhattan Beach in 1977 and I grew up there as well as our other family restaurant, Zazou (where Gabi James is now). My earliest family video is me washing my play table and telling my mom, Nancy, that I was getting my restaurant, Café Cow ready. When she asked what I served, I replied ‘Char-do-nay!’.

One of my favorite pastimes has always been researching different restaurants, recipes & beverages. While I was studying at CU Boulder, I was always the ‘go to’ for info on the best places to eat & drink.

After school, I taught preschool while bartending and working in other restaurants. I always knew that restaurants were my roots & that I would end up there, but loved trying new things along the way. In 2013, I began working full-time at Zazou & during that time, I became a level 2 (certified) sommelier and a French & Spanish wine scholar. When it came time for my dad to retire, my husband, Adam, a longtime restaurant vet & I were excited to bring a new concept to the family.

In March 2018, we opened Gabi James, a Spanish & coastal French restaurant with California soul. It was born of our love for the food, beverage & culture of Spain and the south of France, where much of our family lives. Along with the food, we created a cocktail, wine & beer program that is made of quality, small-batch ingredients that are perfect pairings for our food. Our food is meant to be shared in the hopes that it creates conversation with the friends and family that are sitting across the table…just as we enjoy doing with our loved ones.

Food & beverages are my passion and being able to walk into Gabi James everyday fills my heart. To get to share our passion for what we do with our amazing team members & guests is all I could ever have dreamed of!

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The restaurant industry has always been incredibly hard. As my dad says, it is a penny business. The profit margin is tight at best & it is nothing short of a labor of love. This has never been more true than since the beginning of the pandemic.

When we shut down in March, we immediately shifted to a take-out & delivery format. We were forced to lay off most of our team & run with only my husband, Adam, our manager Victor, our chef Jorge & our other kitchen all-star, Adolfo. The hours were long & the unknown was daunting. We were so incredibly grateful to our loyal customers and our team for helping us survive, but it was rough. The struggles continue as we continue to navigate a world that is constantly evolving and an employment shortage that has, at times, felt crippling, but we lead with the love and passion that helped us bring Gabi James to life in 2018.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I have always had a creative spirit and a flair for organization. This is something that I find invaluable in the restaurant business. Every day, we are faced with the functional responsibilities of the restaurant and also the constant need for evolution. Whether it’s creating a new dish or cocktail or finding a new way to set up the restaurant for the best flow, there has to be balance. I have always loved being able to express creativity and also make things fit for functionality.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
If nothing else, I have learned that flexibility is key. As a restauranteur, every day was different during the pandemic & we were never given warning of the new protocols or restrictions, so we had to be ready to shift and keep on trucking. If we didn’t just let go and find a solution, it could have been our downfall.

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Image Credits:

Anne Fishbein (photos 2-8)

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