Living The American Dream -Spring 2009
The New Partners of Lo La 41º
by: Eliot Baker
photography by: Kevin Korn
It’s early evening and Marco Coelho is already dancing between platters of exquisite sushi rolls and mouth-watering burgers in foie gras dipping sauce to exchange hugs with Lo La 41’s faithful patrons.
Around him, flickering table candles ignite reflective glows in exotic infusions and wines. The drinks are sipped by what resembles a gathering of trendy friends and family celebrating amid a soundscape that makes you want to nod your head while nibbling your Nantucket bay scallop tempura.
No single demographic dominates Lo La 41’s 48-seat cozy interior or its outdoor summer patio. But everyone – graying hipsters, dressed-down high-powered professionals, dressed-up students, bearded islanders in designer shirts – is here to have a good time. Coelho and co-owners Ed Schmidt and Ozivaldo “Ozzie” Medeiros demand nothing less as they serve up flavors culled from across the planet’s 41st latitude: hence, the name.
The final product approximates the spirit of neighborhood tapas bars in Spain, sushi bars in Japan and Californian burger joints: a second place to satisfy appetites for community and fun.
Lo La’s flavors can be by turns an exotic revelation or an eye-opening reinvention. Beginning a meal with sea urchin roe topped by raw quail egg (which deserves acclaim) and then moving to bouillabaisse, mac-and-cheese or a Lo La burger (which deserves knighthood, be it the beef or tuna variety) before finishing with a signature tres leches cake (which deserves a sonnet) makes perfect sense here.
“We just sent our chef (former West Creek Café chef Robert “Boz” Boslow) to Portugal and to Spain so he can taste the food and be hands-on in their culture, right in their pans, right in their restaurants, experiencing the flavor of their wines mixed with their foods and the energy and the atmospheres,” said Schmidt, who exchanges hugs and stories with many of his Nantucket customers at his chic Palm Beach Grill in Florida, as well.
But this intimate bistro offers an experience for many that persists beyond the fuzzy gastronomical afterglow. The three owners fill Lo La year-round due largely to the drawing power of their personalities, whose dynamic approaches a measurable magnetic force. They are an in-crowd who refuses to leave you out; so hip they’ll make you feel cool, but warm enough to make you feel part of their family. Their customers are as likely to sit down after attending a funeral as a wedding for levity and comfort.
Indeed, Lo La is a family-run business. Schmidt and Medeiros will be married this April after 14 years together, with Coelho as the best man. Community is important to them, and they strive to welcome people into the Lo La family year-round. If you’ve just arrived from the New York hustle-and-bustle, it’s like entering a Nantucket reality of casually chic relaxation. For islanders seeking solace from a gloomy winter, it’s like discovering a cultural hub in their back yard when they’re greeted by an attractive wait-staff dressed as geishas, gypsies or flamenco dancers during the monthly 41st Parallel theme nights.
For the owners, Lo La 41 is the distillation of years of hard work and dreams.
“This place is really a dream come true for me,” said Coelho, who remains the face of Lo La 41 after buying out his former co-owners on New Year’s Eve. “I had the most amazing moment with my staff when I walked in – it was this huge snowstorm outside, it was horrible – and I said, ‘Alright guys, it’s ours.’ And it was a night to be here, let me tell you.”
The dream didn’t come easy. Coelho arrived in Nebraska from Brazil as a 15-year-old exchange student and never left. He worked his way up in the restaurant world across the country, washing dishes and busing tables as a teenager before coming to Nantucket a decade ago with $200 in his pocket and worked his way up to help manage The Galley restaurant. High-energy Coelho is laughingly referred to as the “black sheep” of the family.
Along the way in New York he met Medeiros, who was born at home in Brazil in a house without electricity. He pulled himself out of poverty to become a bank manager before tiring of it and successfully switched careers, first as a TV actor in Brazil and then an entrepreneur. Staying in Brazil would have ensured a comfortable life.
But his standards and dreams were larger. So, at 26, Medeiros the TV star and business owner found himself cutting vegetables, digging ditches and washing dishes in America to scrounge for rent. His English became fluent and he was offered high-paying, influential jobs in Brazil. But his dreams led him back to New York where he eventually became Tommy Hilfiger’s driver. The designer bought him a car as a token of appreciation. They remain good friends.
“I see Marco and Ozzie, and it gives me such great pride, as they are living the American dream,” said Connecticut-born Schmidt, who was raised by his grandparents after his father died when he was small. “You’re talking about two men … two young children, two young people, coming to this country, not speaking English, learning English, learning how to survive and knowing they had a dream and fulfilling it. And that’s the American dream and they’re living it today.”
The dream is just beginning. This summer, the partners are focusing on expanding their Lo La Burger enterprise, a takeout burger shack on the Broad Street “Strip” that will offer sushi boxes in addition to their delicious burgers, fries and hot dogs. But ultimately, they envision Lo La bistros on many latitudes, from New York to Palm Beach, offering a core of signature Lo La sushi and comfort-food favorites in addition to global cuisine from each parallel.
“We wish to bring the energy, the face, the environment, the fun and the attitude of Lo La to places we also treasure,” Schmidt continued, noting how commonly he sees his Nantucket customers elsewhere along the Eastern Seaboard.
“And that’s what we see moving forward. We want to continue the flow of Nantucket because that’s where Nantucketers are, so they’ll be able to take a piece of this with them when they’re not in Nantucket, whether it’s Palm Beach, or Boston, or New York, or Washington; they can take it with them so they may always have the family of Lo La with them wherever they might be.”
Eliot Baker is a staff writer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.