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Manhattan House Hangs On With Just Two Employees

Dec 19, 2020 11:50AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Manhattan Beach's popular Tree Section neighborhood restaurant Manhattan House - like all Manhattan Beach restaurants - has been struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The restaurant, known for its handmade pastas and wood-fired pizzas, has cut its staff from 20 down to just two as the team tries to hang on for as long as possible with takeout orders.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Chef Juan Torres, who has been at the helm of Manhattan House for five years. "We're at the point where we say to each other, 'Why are we even open?' But I have to remind myself that I love cooking. Deep down inside, I just really hope this restaurant can make it through the pandemic."

A Long Struggle For Restaurants

The pandemic has been a long slog for Manhattan Beach restaurants, who first had to deal with takeout only, then carefully spaced seating, then outdoor dining, then no outdoor dining and back to takeout. 

Many Manhattan Beach restaurants have taken on special measures to try to help all of the employees who have had to be let go during the downtime. The Strand House recently stepped up to provide 1,000 holiday family meals to local restaurant employees who have lost a job due to the pandemic.

At Manhattan House, it's now just Torres and his cousin Jonny Torres who are working tag-team in the kitchen.

Each day the cousins hand-roll pasta and stretch out the pizza dough as they pull together the takeout orders.

Torres estimates that at this time they can make just enough money to pay for utilities and food supplies and maybe "a few dollars in our pockets." They're trying to work out a deal for their rent, which they haven't been able to pay.

Of course if they got a huge surge in new customers, they would happily scale up. "We'll always be prepared for more people," he said. "That's not a problem."

Trying to Reach New Customers

The amiable Torres is a popular figure in the neighborhood who can often be seen hanging outside the restaurant chatting with customers as they come to pick up their food.

But, as Torres says, "A restaurant can't survive on just your neighbors. You need everyone to come out." 

And Manhattan House has the addiitonal challenge of being in an unusual location. It's on Manhattan Beach Blvd. near Sepulveda, so it's not in the downtown area. It has an easy appeal to people in the Tree Section who can just walk over without worrying about parking. But other potential customers have to know that it's there in the first place.

Lately Torres has tried a new tactic: popping in on the online platform to announce nightly or last-minute specials. There, he's gained a small but loyal fan following, who wait eagerly for the next announcement.

"I just try to think what it is that I would like to buy," he said. "I think of something, and then I say, 'I'm sure people would like this deal.'"

The restaurant offers a popular Thursday night special of $10 pizzas, with the margherita pizza being the local favorite, followed by the "funghi" pizza with mushrooms, ricotta, and pesto.

They recently added "Pasta Saturday," with every pasta going for $10. This week, due to customer suggestions, they are also adding a vegan pasta option.

(Insider secret: The chefs often throw in a surprise with the order, such as their popular olive oil cake.)

Will they be open for regular Thursday night pizzas on Christmas Eve? Torres said that he is "70 percent sure" that they will stay open that night. But he adds that it's going to feel strange for the first time in his restaurant career not to be open and cooking on Christmas. 

That said, the downtime of the pandemic has given him more time at home with his family and two young children. 

"There's a lot of bad to this pandemic, but there's still a little bit of good," he said. "It'll be nice if I can be home for Christmas."

Manhattan House is located at 1019 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, CA. Call to place your order for specials: 310-574-2277.

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