PHOTOGRAPHS BY SASAN AMINI/LA JOLLA, CA AMIN ATLASCHI/A3LA
Morteza Talebi is bright, quick and eager to talk. His enthusiasm for what he has created is contagious, his tone friendly and his manners impeccable. He doesn’t miss a beat, effortlessly filling the conversation with the details of his newest business venture. Talebi is, in fact, a charming and solicitous host—one who would never allow a client to walk away with a bad fit or an unflattering style.
“We had this guy come in... he was in the entertainment industry. And he wanted me to tighten his frames so they would no longer slide down his face,” says Talebi. “But what I saw was not a pair of frames that needed to be tightened. I saw frames that needed to be opened for a better fit. So that’s what I did. And the guy was amazed. He told his assistant to take a handful of business cards and pass them out to people they know.”
In the spirit of “they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on...” Talebi hopes the structure, design and philosophy of Optical Café will strike a chord with clientele. Still less than a year old, this smartly finished optical showcase is warm, friendly and inviting. By taking a decidedly non-clinical approach to high-end eyewear, this optician has created a space that emphasizes the artistry of well-made frames and celebrates the energy that is so uniquely L.A., and more specifically, Beverly Hills.
Situated on a high-traffic stretch of Beverly Drive, Optical Café is just a few blocks south and a million miles away from the tourist-rich shops of Rodeo Drive. “I originally did not want to be in Beverly Hills. I thought it was not my cup of tea,” he says. “But when I saw this, I knew. I said this is where we want to be. It is a street where people who live in Beverly Hills do their shopping. I wanted to find a place that would give me a steady clientele and repeat business. Once people know my work, they keep coming back. And the response to what we’ve done here has been great.”
When a place successfully embraces its surroundings, it’s hard to image the concept carrying over to another city, another location—and to that point, Optical Café is so clearly a good fit for its neighborhood. Large front windows offer passing traffic—on foot or behind the wheel—a peek inside where a sophisticated blend of materials and contemporary styling highlight the character and design of nearly 1,000 frames. Though the dispensary is just 600 square feet, the interior is open and the custom cabinetry and artful displays promise a unique shopping experience.
“We have already begun to see people again who were here in the first month or two that we opened,” he says. “They are coming back now for a second pair.”
Not content to simply move into an existing shop, Talebi gutted the space. Working with Atlaschi and Associates, a local architectural firm, Talebi was able to realize his vision for a warm and cozy spot where people could shop or simply stop by for a cappuccino or espresso at the coffee bar. “We thought it would take three months and X amount of dollars to complete,” he says. “But is took twice as long and twice as much money.”
Punctuated with satinwood veneer finishes and brushed aluminum, the custom cabinetry is against faux painted walls designed to resemble brushed suede. A dark stained beech hardwood floor stands against travertine marble insets, while dramatic lighting draws the eyes up and into the displays. Café table and chairs line a front corner and offer a comfortable respite from the go go go that is so typically Los Angeles.
Though his original dream was to study architecture, Talebi—like so many students paying their own way—took some time off from school to earn a bit of money. He found himself sitting down with a counselor at Valley Medical College explaining that he needed to learn some sort of trade so he could work and make money and go back to architecture school. The counselor took off his glasses and said, “Why don’t you do this?” Talebi never looked back.
He spent a few years working in the field and then in 1980 he opened his own business. One thing led to another and in 1999 MT Optical- Opticians was born. Specializing in custom lab work, MT Optical-Opticians continues to do lab work for neighboring dispensaries, including Optical Café. Though his brother Mustafa manages the lab, Talebi continues to handle some of the more specialized work, including three-piece rimless mounts.
Optical Café carries a range of high-end frame collections, including Gucci, Fendi, Oliver Peoples, Paul Smith, Prada and Marc Jacobs. The average complete Rx sale is in excess of $600 and the average sunglass sale is $350.
“Our customers are young, some in their 20s, the next generation—and they come to us looking for these brands,” he says. “The only brand they ask for that we don’t have yet is Chanel. Everybody wants Chanel, but we’re new and they aren’t opening new accounts.”
No doubt that will change soon. And when it does, Talebi will be right in step. For this optician, it is always a work in progress. “We’ve been open seven months, but I feel like we are still not done. We have to upgrade the air conditioner, and I’m looking for a couple of chairs...You know, it is very hard to find good furniture.”
If the work he’s done so far on Optical Café is any indication, Talebi will find his chairs—and perhaps, maybe, even his Chanel.