It was happy hour, deep in Arnold country. We speak of Schatzi on Main, the Santa Monica restaurant/bar that Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver opened in 1991 to bemused reviews ("What self-respecting blintz ever found itself stuffed with crab meat?" food critic Ruth Reichl wrote in The Times, shortly after Schatzi opened).
The place had wiener schnitzel and star wattage and some bizarre touches (German-language tapes piped into the bathrooms, for instance). Locals went for a pleasurable breakfast. But by 1998, Schatzi had cycled through any number of managers and head chefs. By 1998, celebrity-owned eateries were declasse, overpriced tourist traps.
Enter Charly Temmel, the self-proclaimed "ice cream king of Graz."
Californians still may be waiting to learn the fine points of Schwarzenegger's political platform, but this much is clear: He turned over his restaurant to an ice cream man, a plucky Austrian immigrant devoted to that most American of dictums: Give the people what they want.
What they want, Temmel is sure, is his ice cream.
Taste Charly Temmel's sorbet, Charly Temmel's vanilla fudge. You'll be back.
Are they back? After Schwarzenegger leased the place to Temmel, its fame subsided. But on a recent night, with the whiff of Arnold mania about the place, the restaurant was respectably full, and cigar smoke hung thick in the air at the outside tables. Temmel was a blur, going from room to room and back again. We should try his ice cream, he said. It was the best in the world! He plopped two pints down on the table, next to the fried calamari.
The next day, Temmel elaborated. Graz, Austria, where Schwarzenegger attended school, is also where Schwarzenegger first tasted Charly Temmel ice cream. "I'm the ice cream king there!" Temmel said.
It was 4 p.m., a Wednesday, the wait staff straggling in, and Temmel was standing in his empty restaurant. He is 47, with graying hair that he wears several clicks below a pompadour. He thanks everybody for coming.
The pumping of the ice cream is a curious strategy if the goal is to compete gastronomically with Chinois on Main across the street or the trendy places on Abbot Kinney, in nearby Venice. But then, that's not the strategy.
The strategy is to strip the place of some of its bistro pretensions. And prices.
"We are not a high-class restaurant, we are a good restaurant," Temmel said emphatically. An 18-ounce steak for $13.95. Why not?
"Everybody should like Schatzi Main," Temmel said.
Schwarzenegger still owns the red-bricked Main Street shopping complex that surrounds Schatzi, which is in the back, up a set of stairs. He leased it to Temmel in 1998. Asked about the terms of his lease agreement, Temmel gave a blithe flick of the hand.
The bad news for Temmel is that Schatzi on Main was downgraded to a "B" by the Health Department after a July 28 inspection found violations under such categories as "other insects" and "food storage." The previous three inspections had yielded an A.
"It's always hard when the guys walk in and it's lunchtime, sometimes there's something on the floor, but we're really clean," Temmel said.
The Los Angeles County code mandates that grade cards must be posted within 5 feet of the front door, in a window or an exterior-enclosed display case.
This B, Temmel said, is posted in the back, in a garden area. "It's not happiness when you have a B," he said.
There is happiness, however, in the patio bar, where Temmel broadened the seating area and made things looser, like a beer garden. He jettisoned the gift shop and put in a fire pit and sofas and a big-screen TV.
Oh, sure, the pop-arty Hiro Yamagata paintings left over from the Schwarzenegger-Shriver era are a little incongruous, and the menu still refuses to embrace its heritage (what, no Sacher torte?).
But on a midweek afternoon, Schatzi is a downscale beachcomber's hang -- a smokers' haven with $3 bar food and pitchers of Gosser beer for six bucks. An alfresco oasis. All welcome.
"You see, if I had a high-class restaurant, I would say, 'You can't come in,' " Temmel said as two young men, one of them in a tank top and heavily tattooed, found sofas on the patio. What did they know from Sacher torte?
Some of the old Schatzi remains. A recent visitor reports that the restaurant ran out of bagels during brunch. And when you go to the bathroom you are still perplexed by a deep voice speaking to you in German.
And, of course, since Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy the media have dropped by for customer sound bites, hoping to catch Schwarzenegger himself. The hopeful next governor maintains an office in the complex and still pops by the restaurant, particularly on cigar nights, Temmel and others said.
But as the patio filled for happy hour, Temmel didn't want to talk recall politics; he wanted to talk ice cream.