In a busy, to-go world, Manhattan Beach’s Un Caffè Altamura is an oasis of slow-brewed community. It’s a place to pause awhile, sip your coffee and connect. Alexa Altamura is the curator of that community, founded in Italian family traditions and deeply rooted in the South Bay.
She glided over to meet me at my table at Un Caffè Altamura, taking a little time to connect warmly with every person along the way. It’s hard to resist her down-to-earth charm. We sat down in her buzzing restaurant to chat.
Alexa has a long family history in Manhattan Beach. “As the youngest of four children, I joke that I am like a survivor,” she says. “I come from a very community-involved family. I’m Italian; my dad is first-generation Italian. He came out here to be a teacher, and he taught at Culver City High School. One day he drove off the 405 down Rosecrans where the hill drops toward the ocean. He was like, ‘What is this place? I need to figure out how to live here.’”
Her father, John Altamura, left teaching to pursue the restaurant business. He started a successful chain of pizzerias and sports bars and ultimately made the move into real estate and development. His two sons, Giovanni (Gio) and Vincenzo (Vincent), joined that business with an office located on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. That office is adjacent to BLVD—the successful and beautifully curated fashion boutique owned by Brieana, John’s eldest daughter.
Alexa, however, left Manhattan Beach to spread her wings. She attended USC along with her twin brother, Vincent, but then went further afield–ultimately running an international school in Pompano Beach, Florida. Her education is in management consulting and interpersonal relations, but while in Florida she also attended culinary school and wrote a curriculum for children’s understanding of tolerance and cultures.
Serendipitously, that school was connected to a region in northern Italy, to which Alexa felt an instant connection. The student body was very diverse: 74% of the parents were from immigrant families, and most of the students spoke a different language at home.
Additionally, she worked with sensorial-oriented kids from 12 months to 12 years old from different countries and accustomed to different foods. “The lunch tables look noticeably different from my upbringing in Manhattan Beach, which was a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” she shares. “We had kids from Ukraine, Columbia, France, Italy and Russia. It was such a mix, and it was beautiful. Helping the kids understand how to engage at the lunch table was giving me that little bit more drive.”
Alexa would often travel to Italy because the curriculum at her school was connected to theirs. In one region, retired chefs were teaching the children how to eat. The teachers all sat at the tables with the kids, bringing a consciousness and enjoyment to each meal. “I just have an affinity for that. I worked with the chefs on how to engage with children. I think we are really all just kids pretending to be adults.”
Alexa started cooking along the way just for fun. “I have always been into food, and I enjoyed being involved in my mom’s kitchen growing up,” she shares.
She also attributes much of who she is and the inspiration for her restaurant to her mom, Kathi, who made her children the ultimate priority in her life. “The family dynamic is really strong because my mom was able to be present. Home was always our base,” she says.
In the Altamura household, dinner was always on the table by 6 p.m., and the family would slow down, sit and eat dinner together. Alexa brought the preciousness of taking time over a meal into the experience at Un Caffè Altamura.
She hadn’t planned to open a restaurant. In fact, she was going to move to Europe to get her master’s degree when the pandemic shut everything down. But during lockdown, Alexa started cooking for a friend, dropping daily meals off on his doorstep.
At that stage, cooking was just a hobby and a way to help out. Then a family friend heard of a space opening up in Manhattan Beach (formerly Homie) and asked Alexa if she could put her in contact with the previous owner. The opportunity was too enticing to turn down, and Alexa dove in—turning a hobby into her passion and daily work.
The space has since been fully remodeled, offering both indoor and outdoor seating with comfortable booths and a wonderful flow—reflecting Alexa’s impeccable taste. “I want to create a level of intimacy that you may feel at a local European café,” she says. “The relationship is all about community and being open to having a conversation with the person next to you.”
Alexa drew inspiration for her menu from her strong Italian roots, exposure to different lifestyles and cultures, as well as growing up in California. “We offer California seasonal food, depending on what our land offers us,” she says. “There is science behind why we eat seasonally. The changing seasons help us rotate our food and not build up intolerances. And the fruits of summer, like red bell pepper and tomatoes, have a natural SPF for your skin. My food is very consciously curated. There needs to be a level of integrity with what you’re giving people.”
Alexa also hopes to transform the restaurant into a wine bar at night, with food items on the menu paired with wines based on the notes of the soil. Look for that expansion this summer.
We finish our conversation with a coffee together, which is fitting given that Un Caffè means ‘a coffee’ in Italian. “I think that we Americans are constantly carrying a to-go cup on the road,” Alexa notes. “In Europe, it’s the opposite. People pause and commune over their coffee. It was this experience that I wanted to create here: pausing and enjoying.”