David Mendez

Orlando’s, Redondo Beach’s ‘hidden jewel,’ closes

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Chef Orlando Mulé, at Orlando’s Pizzeria and Birreria. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

 

by David Mendez

For nearly a year and a half, Orlando’s Pizzeria and Birreria was operating without its heart, as owner and Chef, Orlando Mulé was stranded a country away. Last month, owner-operator Carole Beauvais Mulé and her husband chose to reunite their family, permanently closing the business and moving back to their native Canada.

“Finally, it took a toll on us. Financially, mentally, we’re still sane and strong, and we’ll be positive, Carole and I. That’s the type of people we are,” Orlando Mulé said in an interview.

The Mulés opened Orlando’s in February 2015, with the vision of bringing their spin on Italian cuisine — influenced by Mulé’s own French-Canadian-Italian heritage.

“There was a challenge to teach people how to eat, and what the culture of food was in Redondo Beach,” Mulé said. “Everyone wanted to eat fettuccine alfredo with shrimp, chicken parmesan; they had a certain way of eating…that’s what they thought Italian was.”

What Orlando’s instead brought was a melting pot of ideas — with influences from Montreal’s “ethnic stew,” as Richard Foss suggested in his Easy Reader review of Orlando’s — and a kitchen that was focused on doing everything in their own way.

The restaurant centered on Orlando Mulé’s presence. The menu was based on his culinary ideas, and he frequently walked around to greet his restaurant’s guests. That’s where he met customer, and now friend, Barry LeMesuier. While the two talked about Vancouver, LeMesuier was reminded of a potato skin pizza that his mother made.

“Orlando said ‘stay here,’ and he went into the kitchen. About six or seven minutes later — the man is fantastic — he told me to wait a few minutes, that it’s cooking,” LeMesuier said. “How’s that for an introduction to a chef?”

But then the Mulés stumbled into a problem. Orlando had returned to Canada, needing to renew his visa.

He was denied.

Mulé acknowledged that he was “a rebel, with my driving record,” which he thought may have delayed visa approvals in the past. But this was different.

He held an E2 visa, designated for foreign investors interested in developing businesses in the United States. But his restaurant, he said, had trouble keeping the minimum amount of employees needed to show that it was sustainable for growth.

“They didn’t even want to listen to my plea for a waiver, to go back, to be with my family, to sell our stuff and come back here,” Mulé said.

In the meantime, as he reapplied, again and again, Carole kept the restaurant going.

“She built an amazing relationship for the musicians there — it was building up, the restaurant was successful. Just a few things, like me being there, would’ve helped us get over the hump.”

They borrowed money when they needed. They were angling on a catering operation. And though the revenues were not quite there, Orlando’s kept running, making just enough to get by — until they couldn’t bear it anymore.

“They had a business plan that relied on Orlando being there, setting up the menus,” LeMesurier said. “If you’re the chef and you’re working, you’re paying yourself. If you’re in Canada, paying someone else, you’ve increased the costs, and if you’re paying a good salary to have a good person there, it’s increased substantially.”

So, between the cost of running the business without its centerpiece and the heartache of the family’s separation, Orlando’s was closed. Carole, Orlando, and their kids are now living in Toronto.

Orlando has transitioned out of the restaurant business, opting instead to work as a homebuilder — an honest occupation that allows him to keep working with his hands. Carole, a visual artist whose work was displayed in the restaurant, is continuing to paint. And the family is together once again.

“We found out a lot about ourselves, as a team — our capabilities, our strengths and weaknesses,” Orlando said. “It was an incredible journey and it still is…everything we did set us up for where we are today. And there are always possibilities.”

Though they’re looking forward, for four years Orlando’s was their world.

“We built that place…we turned it into a hidden jewel, where people loved coming in,” Mulé said. “That bond was created and that’s what I miss, and I hope they realize that they’re going to miss us as much as we miss them. That’s my regret.

“It was a place of serenity, of love. It had a lot of integrity, and we wanted to make sure people knew that,” Mulé said.

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