This past week Marco Cappani, owner of Marco’s Trattoria announced that the famed establishment will be closing for good on Christmas Eve after 32 years serving West Hollywood.
WEHOonline sat down with Marco shortly after the announcement in this tell all reflection on his childhood growing up in the unincorporated part of Los Angeles and his disappointment and love for the City of West Hollywood. His heartfelt affection for the customers who have supported him over the years and the final straw that forced his closure.
Larry Block: Hi Marco,- so I got your letter this morning, – so what was the final straw?
Marco Capanni: The final straw was my landlord wants me out. But, there’s more to it. Back in February I wanted to find out what my business was worth if I sold it. Those were the signs I was pulling money out of my savings, my pension money that I put it all into the business. I was thinking what am I doing here, – what can I get for the restaurant because I can’t keep going like this. So far this year in 2023 I put $198,000 of my money into the business to keep it afloat. It really started going south when the minimum wage went up and then the strike. That’s when the guy from (another publication) posted a story that the restaurant is for sale, – and that when it really hurt. One inquiry from February and they never came back or nothing, an it was reported we were closing and then on social media and I lost customers and staff. That was the final blow.
Larry Block: So when the other blog posted the story that you were closing were they right?
Marco Capanni: No, thats why I said, I blame social media on this. Because everything goes around on the internet. I was ready to hang in there. Some people thought we were closed so they weren’t coming down here. And us being open and closed because I didn’t have enough workers. That really hurt. It went all over social media and it was hard to pick up from there.
Larry Block: Do you know if they have a tenant ?
Marco Capanni: No, I don’t know. We used to have a good relationship. He came two months ago and said , ‘what do you want to do?’, and I said, I’d like to stay on. He said, here’s what I have for you, – I’ll give you a new lease and I’ll give it to you at the standard what you been paying. — and I replied ‘What about the Covid money?. Cause I don’t know if you know our rent is $11,500, but during Covid I only paid him $7500 because we didn’t have any money so I did what I could.
Larry Block: So you gave him $7500 versus the $11,500 – how many months did you discount that?
Marco Capanni: I owed him for 10 months, I owed him $30,000.
Larry Block: So when he came back for the new lease…..
Marco Capanni: Let me tell you something, –I didn’t pay much attention to it during that time because I started giving him $11,500 after ten months. All along I been paying fully. He was adding interest $1500 a month on that Covid money which I didn’t know. Then he sends me a statement and that Covid money $30,000 all of a sudden turns to $62,000. And he wants it. When he offered me the lease he said don’t worry about the Covid money. – I know that he let people slide when they signed new leases. I don’t know why he said don’t worry about it but 3 days later I get an email from his company with the lease drawn up. It says 2 years and I have to pay $15,000 a month. Regular rent and the balance toward the payback. He said things have changed, the Labby family said they don’t feel that they should have to eat that money. And Illi, -that is the real estate company that represents the family said but things have changed.
Larry Block: Tell me about the $200,000 that you had to put in from your pension. Why was the business taking such a downfall? What was the problems, – you had gotten through Covid right?
Marco Capanni: Have you spoken to anybody in this area about the business in this area?
Larry Block: Yes, I have a business down the block – it’s terrible. The hardest day of all was letting my staff know that we are also listed for sale.
Marco Capanni: But how long has it been going south. It’s been over a year at least. Because we are so close to our business, it means so much we keep pouring money into it, maybe you don’t. But I do hoping things will turn around. Then the minimum wage goes up and then the strike. And makes everything worse and now things are really going south.
Larry Block: How much is the percentage is the sales going down from last year?
Marco Capanni: This year I’ve averaged $1400 per day. Before Covid we would average about $3500 per day. The sales today does not even cover the payroll. So I’m barely making payroll with that $1400 and the discounts from apps on all the deliveries. I can show you right now.
Larry Block: No, its okay I have the same exact problem. How long have you been here, when did you open and move across the street to this location?
Marco Capanni: We opened in 1993 across the street and moved over here when we had to leave, I moved here in 2009. We are in business for 32 years.
Larry Block: And you also live just down the street?
Marco Capanni: I’ve lived on this block for 70 years. I moved on this block in 1953.
Larry Block: So this is your whole life?
Marco Capanni: Absolutely!
Larry Block: Do you plan on staying in West Hollywood?.
Marco Capanni: Absolutely till I die. They are going to have to bury me in my house.
Larry Block: And you have a wife and family?
Marco Capanni: I have a wife and two kids,- one works here – he doesn’t know what he is going to do he has to look for a real job now. My other son is in the music business.
Larry Block: But it wasnt worth putting good money after bad?
Marco Capanni: Well I did it, – I believe I can come back from this. I’m seeing all new customers the last two months that are just discovering me. If I had the money I would keep it open.
Larry Block: Did you receive a waiver from the City when it was offered for the minimum wage and all the extras?
Marco Capanni: No, – but when they came in they wanted me to stay open. They came in like two months ago, they had this new person in re-development that came from Beverly Hills, Laura Biery, – and they wanted to help me, how can we keep you open? I told them the situation and explained everything. The only thing at this point is if you can talk to my landlord and convince them we want to keep this business open in West Hollywood. They didn’t say anything, they had a fund that they can help me with those expenses, –
Larry Block: So did they ever follow up?
Marco Capanni: No, they didn’t. I called them and they said let me check with Laura, but I never heard back.
Larry Block: I met her too, told them about my business, told her about my situation and never heard back either.
Marco Capanni: You just said it, they never got back to me. Laura Biery and DeAmbrosia, — and I called them recently and spoke to Laura DeAmbrosia, so I just called them recently and I talked to Deambrosia who was sending me emails all along, I said Laura (DeAmbrosia), I thought you guys were going to get back to me. Oh let me check with Laura (Biery) and get back to you. She never got back to me. Then I called again and nobody picked up the phone.
Larry Block: So the city was no help?
Marco Capanni: No, not at all. Why did they say they can help me. Why did they even send me these emails. They came out here and said let us see what we can do. And they never answered.
Larry Block: They never answered me either. Have the homeless affected your business? and the Public Safety issues?
Marco Cappani: They are around and affect every business just by being on the sidewalk. In my block J’ve lived at for 70 years, I see camp set ups, they are breaking into houses that are for rent that have been vacant a while. Living inside, La Jolla, here, because this house if for rent. They got in through the window and invited their friends right across the street from me. My neighbor saw a guy running naked into the house from the car into the house at 2 in the morning. They called the police out and thats how they found out all these guys were leaving here. The police came out and arrested three guys. As we are sitting there with the police the next day somebody walking by told us that they did it to their neighbors house on La Jolla.
Larry Block: All these years that your here what is the number one best seller?
Marco Capanni: It used to be the Spaghetti and meatballs, but now its the Rigotoni Bolegnese.
Larry Block: Thats what I always get!
Marco Capanni: And then I see like Irv’s Burgers down here, burgers and fries are like $15. My lunch special Rigotoni, big plate, two people can eat that is $14.99. I don’t get it. We have pretty good food for the money. The new generation on their phones, they place their order while they are driving. People dont get off their phones they don’t have time to sit down and have a meal anymore.
Larry Block: So your last day is the 24th Christmas Eve and your offering a 25% off any meal.
Marco Capanni: From now till then. It’s my farewell.
Larry Block: How do you feel personally? After all these years we get married to our businesses.
Marco Capanni: I feel that its been great until just recently. I met some of the nicest people which I would have never met, even fromm out of State. They come in .. if you were back in Idaho you would be packed. They all say that. But over here were so jaded.
Larry Block: Do you have a surcharge on your receipts?
Marco Capanni: It’s 4%, goes to the waiters for their benefits. And they are already getting $19 per hour, – they used to get $17 per hour plus their tips. We have 400 hours per week times $2 per hour is an extra $800 per week. Plus the other sick and vacation time. Adds up to over $3500 per month increase in costs.
Larry Block: If you had to tell everybody in West Hollywood your goodbye, what would you say.
Marco Capanni: Oh my gosh, I’m heartbroken, that I have to leave this business after 32 years. I’m thankful for the 30 years that were good. I appreciate that. In 2020 I had cancer and I went to over 100 sessions of chemo the past few years and I had carpel tunnel surgery, and all these things happening. Oh man, its really difficult. — How ow long have you been in business here?
Larry Block: I’ve been on this street since the 80’s but BlockParty has been in business for 14 years?
Marco Capanni: Have would you feel? Have you ever been happy with the business?
Larry Block: You know I ran for council, I was complaining about the crime, the homeless, petty theft, the city went downhill in front of me. Look at the city its filled with empty storefronts. Your out of business it affects the coffee shop next door and all the neighbors. Thats what happened to me, all my neighbors closed or sold and there is no day business anymore.
Larry Block: So its disappointing, how old are you? Are you ready to retire anyway? Is it a blessing in disguise?
Marco Capanni: I’m 76, – No its not a blessing but I can’t afford to stay. This is my office here, since I got cancer in 2020, – I went to over 110 sessions of chemo every week over the past two years.
Larry Block: Is it in remission now?
Marco Capanni: Yes, just recently.
Larry Block: So you got a new lease on life. Time to enjoy and relax.
Do you have any photos of the old Marco’s? So tell me they moved you over here in 2009 and all the businesses were forced to leave and that lot is empty for 14 years.
Marco Capanni: Walgreen’s owned it, I was paying them the rent until all the leases run out.
Larry Block: What was the problem? They found gas or something under the ground?
Marco Capanni: I don’t know maybe me living here too long I know too much. So the guys would come in for lunch, all the head guys for construction when they were planning how to do this. So I said to one, hey John, what are you guys going to do with the gas tank? He looks at me and said, what gas tank? I know because when I moved onto block in 1953 there was a one-pump Richfield gas station owned by a guy name Serloin, There is a gas tank, right underneath where your sitting. He said how do you know? I used to play here when we first moved here in the 50’s and there was a gas station there. Because it became a city they didnt see all the documents when it was LA. When he dug they found the gas tank.
Larry Block: And that’s what halted the whole project?
Marco Capanni: So they found the gas tank and tried to work around it. But then they found out the soil was contaminated. Not from the gas tank, but the two cleaners, this cleaners and the one on Crescent Heights, had been pouring for over 30 or 40 years all the fluids into the ground and it got to the alley here and two of the houses had it underneath. Their soil was contaminated too. They (Walgreens) spent millions trying to clean it out.
Larry Block: And they sold it to the city and paved paradise and put in a non-working parking lot.
Marco Capanni: There are alot of things they don’t know that I know just from being here. I know there was an alley that right there that went all the way to Hollywood Blvd through Spaulding Square. We used to go to the Christmas parade, me and all my buddies, 12 and 13 and walk from here up to the parade.
Across the street was a movie theatre, I saw “the Blob’ there. Steve McQueen, 1958. It was called the Carmel theatre. And this was the Carmel market, and across the street Carmel bakery. This area was called Carmel. There was a lot of little businesses here. Carmel this, Carmel that. After the movie theatre for some reason it went out this guy opened a clothing store, this guy would sell a lot of schmata’s, it was called Jerry Piller’s. A discount clothing store. Took up the whole street.
I want to thank you for your many years of service, – the many dinners and birthdays enjoyed here, and for sharing your story with us. You are truly a legacy business and legend in West Hollywood.