The newly opened Café Lovi in Santa Monica specializes in the traditional Jewish bread challah, which is used to make pastries and sandwiches. PHOTO BY CHRIS MORTENSON

Café Lovi brings challah to Santa Monica

By Michele Robinson

The recently opened Café Lovi in Santa Monica puts a twist on challah to create a new type of sandwich.

Owner Benedetta Jasmine Guetta is using her Italian-Jewish heritage to make these sandwiches featuring the traditional braided Jewish bread.

For those who aren’t familiar with challah, the semi-sweet, fluffy bread is usually eaten during major Jewish holidays like Shabbat, and its origins date back to Biblical times.

“Challah is our special thing,” Guetta said. “It’s my favorite food to eat at any given time of the day, and it makes the best sandwiches. Everyone who tries it loves it.”

Guetta opened Café Lovi on October 11, just 10 days after purchasing the space from her previous employers at Priscio.

Prior to opening her café, Guetta waitressed at that Italian café.

Hit hard by the pandemic, the previous owners sold the business to pursue a different career.

Luckily, Guetta was in a position to purchase the place and revamp it.

“It took two days to clean the kitchen, redesign the space and paint it white,” Guetta said.

“I was on a tight budget so the interior is minimalistic, yet I wanted the place to feel new, bright and clean.”

To make the café more sanitary, Guetta used disposable and compostable cups, cutlery and plates.

She wanted everything to be single-use to ensure the highest hygiene standards, while being friendly to the environment.

“I am striving to be a Santa Monica certified green business by the end of the month,” Guetta said.

The name of the café was inspired by Guetta’s nickname, Lovi, which was given to her by her sweetheart.

Guetta moved here from Italy two years ago to be here with her partner and has since fallen in love with Santa Monica.

“The people are so sweet,” Guetta said.

“On the day I opened, a random lady who lives nearby showed up with roses to wish me good luck.”

Guetta is also a food writer specializing in Jewish cuisine and has co-authored cookbooks in Italy.

In 2009, she created a food blog called “Labna,” the only Italian blog dedicated to Jewish food.

She is also a food photographer and her work has appeared in several news outlets in Italy and abroad.

Her newest book, and the first in English, is called “Cooking alla Giudia.” It is due in March.

The book focuses on the Jewish-Italian tradition and took about three years to research and write.

“I interviewed grandmas all around the country to get the recipes right,” Guetta said.

“Jewish food is what I write about, but writing is a very lonely job so I opened Café Lovi to bring the food out from the pages into the real world.”

Guetta could not run the café without her chef, Christopher Swall.

He prepares the sandwiches and other food, while Guetta works behind the coffee machine.

A Chicago native, Swall has more than 20 years’ experience and has worked in many Los Angeles restaurants, including Birdie G, Eveleigh and Tower 12.

Besides it signature challah sandwiches, Café Lovi’s menu items include pastries and sweets, salads, coffee, drinks and homemade lemonade.

Their most popular item on the menu is the turkey and avocado sandwich. The team calls its favorite the pastrami sandwich, which comes with pickled red cabbage and beer mustard, both made in house.

The most popular drinks are lattes, especially flavored ones like rose and lavender.

Although Café Lovi isn’t certified kosher, its food is in that style

The eatery does not serve pork or shellfish, nor does it mix meat and milk in its dishes.

In addition to offering customers traditional challah, they also have a gluten-free and vegan challah option.

“People, especially the celiacs, are very grateful for this choice,” Guetta said.

Even though Café Lovi has only been open for a short time, the staff is seeing repeat customers.

“Clients come back all of the time, because the challah is honestly addictive,” Guetta said.

When asked what she hopes to see in the future, Guetta shared, “I would like to slowly implement a few Jewish-Italian dishes on a weekly rotation, and include some recipes from my upcoming book.”

But for now, Guetta is enjoying what she has accomplished so far.

“Running a business is a lot of fun,” Guetta said.

“It’s hard work, too, of course. Feeding people and seeing them enjoy our food really warms my heart. I love bringing people and food together.”

Café Lovi
1912 Broadway, Suite 100,
Santa Monica
Open Monday to Friday for breakfast and lunch, and delivery is available.