Style meets substance at Chez Tex

By Jessica Koslow

Chez Tex’s beautiful beet and goat cheese salad exemplifies the Feldmans’ focus on simple good food
Photo By Carley Rudd

“Chez Tex,” reads the yellow painted letters on the glass door on Main Street. Maybe you’ve passed by and wondered, “Who’s Tex?”

It’s Jesse Tex Feldman, a 36-year-old restaurateur named after his grandfather, and whose restaurant is the only eatery on the east side of Main Street between Rose Avenue and Marine Street.

Jesse grew up at Ashland Avenue and Fourth Street in Santa Monica. Twelve years ago his family opened Barndiva, a wedding destination in Healdsburg known for its elegant farm-to-table fine dining. Let’s just say hospitality is in his blood.

After spending some time in New York City, where he worked in corporate America and met his wife Hayley, the two decided to shake things up. They quit their jobs in pursuit of their passion: food. This past August, Chez
Tex celebrated its one-year anniversary.

It took the couple, who also have a 10-month-old daughter named Loulou, about three years for their dreams to materialize. It took one year to find a location, one year to build it out, and one year to acquire permits and a beer and wine license.

“This was the first place we saw when we started our hunt in Santa Monica and Venice,” says Hayley. “But it presented a lot of challenges. It would take a lot of work.”

Obsolete, a fine art gallery and antique furniture store, formerly occupied the space. The spot needed a total makeover.

Still, many similarities to a gallery remain: the art-covered brick walls, gorgeously plated seasonal dishes and minimalist décor. Chez Tex has Abbot Kinney written all over it. It would appear that the trendsetting boulevard’s influence is slowly creeping to Main Street.

“Main Street is having a renaissance,” says Hayley, holding Loulou in her arms one early fall evening. Hayley handles the marketing and PR and is usually at home in the evenings. Jesse, on the other hand, handles the managerial duties and is onsite every night. He’s also the finance and numbers guy, which matches his background.

“It’s a quiet stretch over here,” she continues. “But the neighborhood has rallied around us. Most of our guests are from a three- to four-block radius. It’s really been about getting the word out.”

The next step will be about getting a sign — maybe even a neon one. Right now, it’s easy to pass by Chez Tex without noticing it.

“We underestimated how seasonal this part of town is,” says Hayley. “We had a huge uptick in the summer. The summer was amazing.”

Now that winter is here, Hayley plans to focus on private events, catering and digesting what they’ve learned in their first year of business.

They’ve nixed the idea of offering different specials on every night of the week and stopped serving a lot of the more challenging dishes, like bone marrow and a mushroom dish with sous vide egg.

“We started with a very elevated menu,” says Hayley, who originally hails from South Carolina. “But being on Main Street, we quickly shifted to what people want to eat all the time.”

Now they work with chef Manny Santizo, who worked for Nancy Silverton (Osteria Mozza LA), to craft a menu featuring food they feel like eating. Hayley calls it “New American.”

You can order Korean-style baby back ribs or house-made ricotta gnocchi. Santizo makes the pasta himself. And he whips up a “best-I’ve-ever-had” Butterscotch Pots de Crème similar to Silverton’s Butterscotch Budino.

Hayley’s favorite dish — one of Chez Tex’s signatures — is the Valencian paella.

“You can have it vegetarian-style with green beans, fava beans and tomato,” she says with a big grin, “and it’s so good with the crispy charred bit at the bottom, or you can add chicken or fish.”

The last few years have been all about change and new life for the Feldmans. Loulou was born four months after Chez Tex opened, and now both restaurant and daughter are, we’ll say, toddlers who require tremendous work but bring great joy through the long days and even longer nights.

Chez Tex hosts a midnight champagne toast on New Year’s Eve.