The lobby at Etchea Bakery is reminiscent of a living room. It’s easy to forget that this building is a full-scale bakery and that a few hundred yards away, actual spaceships are being manufactured. Instead, you sit on beautifully upholstered armchair and take in the slight scent of fresh bread each time the backdoor opens.
John Baptiste’s desk is near the entrance, and on the adjacent wall are photos and newspaper articles, sepia-toned pictures of people in long-outdated clothing in front of what was once Pioneer French Baking Company building. “This is a picture of the original bakery in Venice,” he tells me. “This is my grandfather Jean Baptiste.”
As John shows me photos of his family home and the original Garacochea bakery nestled in the French Pyrenees, a car parks in front of the glass window of the lobby. Two men emerge; it’s Wexler and Kassar. John, always amicable, introduces us and returns to his daily tasks, phone calls and emails, the logistical side of the business.
Wexler and Kassar are classmates from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. They met freshman year over a miscommunication. “I saw him [Wexler] limping and I was thought, ‘Are you imitating my walk?” Kaiser says, and they laugh. The two have been friends since; they teamed up through college on multiple projects, and “catered a lot of frat parties.”
Afterwards, they again worked together in Europe for a year. First in Italy, and then at Restaurante Martín Berasategui, a famed three-Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. For a time, while cutting their culinary teeth, Kassar was front of house at Spago and Wexler ran the kitchen at Craft. In 2011, they collaborated as business partners as owners of the Mediterranean-themed Mezze in West Hollywood. After Mezze ran its course, they opened Wexler’s Deli in 2014.
“We talked about doing business and having a restaurant together; it was a natural pairing. You don’t find that often, to have a back of house person and a front of house person,” Wexler says. “One of the questions I get the most often chef friends trying to open their own thing is ‘How did you find Mike?’ So many people struggle to find someone they trust, who is actually good at what they do. We fight like crazy, but it allows us to have so much success.”
I ask about Seder. About brisket, tradition, about being Jewish, about not being Jewish, and they both laugh, understanding where I’m headed with this line of questioning. “I’m Jewish,” Wexler says, “Mike isn’t. But both of us had a real attachment to Jewish deli food growing up. Growing up in LA, deli food for Ashkenazi Jews is ubiquitous in every life cycle, whether someone is being born, getting married, a bar mitzvah—whatever the fuck it is, there’s always deli bagels and lox. If my mom wasn’t cooking and we were going out, it was always deli food. It’s comfort food.”