Verge: Restaurateur Mark Verge had to close one of his locations recently but another has been reborn. Courtesy photos

For a Samo native like Mark Verge neighborhood restaurants are the bread and butter of community, which is why it was heartbreaking to close OP Cafe, but heartwarming to breathe a new plant-based life into Margo’s.

Verge has lived in Santa Monica his entire life and runs four local eateries—Ashland Hill, Golden Bull, Art’s Table and Margo’s—alongside his high school sweetheart turned wife Lani.

A few weeks ago they bid a tearful farewell to the beloved 40-year-old breakfast joint OP Cafe, which they took ownership of in 2006. Located opposite Santa Monica Business Park, the restaurant had been unable to turn a profit since the pandemic sent home hundreds of office workers at nearby businesses such as Snapchat and Activision Blizzard.

“It’s terrible to say but the failure has been a lot to deal with. This one was a failure just because the idea was to have a neighborhood breakfast place and now that’s closed, but you’ve got to have failure or you’re not trying,” said Verge, adding that this was advice his late mother always shared.

Verge tried many things to keep OP Cafe afloat. He built an outdoor dining patio space and experimented with a pop-up deli designed for to-go food. While in its glory days Verge recalls two hour waits for a table at OP, he ultimately had to concede that the customer base was no longer there. He closed down shop and transferred all the employees to his other restaurants.

With his mother’s words of failure fresh in his mind, Verge did not let the loss drag him down and channeled his energy into a new vision for Margo’s, which is named for his mother Margaret’s nickname. Margaret, who passed away in May, raised Verge and his five siblings in Santa Monica garnering a reputation as a local celebrity known for her honesty, kindness and humor.

Margo’s was formerly a seafood focused restaurant, which also offered customer favorites like pork chop and filet mignon. It shut down for several months during the pandemic and has now returned with a completely redesigned interior and an entirely vegan menu.

“People said you have to change the name and I said ‘nah Margo’s grew up’,” said Verge. “I couldn’t change the name after she died, she was such a Santa Monica legend.”

In crafting the new vision for Margo’s, Verge relied on longtime friend and well known local Chef Greg Daniels. Daniels has been the Executive Chef & Partner on Golden Bull for several years and formerly headed the kitchens of Salt Air in Venice and JG Rooftop in Beverly Hills.

While transitioning from steakhouse chef to plant-based chef is no simple feat, Daniels took on the task with much vigor.

“I love cooking and there’s plenty of things even at Golden Bull that are accidentally vegan because my background has always been leaning more towards olive oil and citrus and things like that instead of heavy butter,” said Daniels. “I like the challenge, I think it’s fun to kind of step outside of your comfort zone and not just keep making the same things you’ve always made.”

The new menu features a range of plant-based comfort foods including nachos, tacos, pizza, pasta, and burgers alongside salads and vegetable side dishes. Margo’s is still one of the only restaurants on Montana with a full bar. It is headed by seasoned barman and long-time vegan Mike Misetich, who first brought up the idea of making the restaurant plant based.

Daniels also shares Verge’s love of neighborhood restaurants. Prior to returning to work with Verge, Daniel was running the JG rooftop restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria, but found himself missing the tight knit family atmosphere of a neighborhood joint.

“The cool thing about micro small restaurants, and my first one being Salt Air back in 2013, is you plant the seeds in a neighborhood and you get staff in and all the staff become friends, become roommates, some of them will get married 10 years later,” said Daniels. “The restaurant itself is just this living, breathing thing that becomes part of the neighborhood.”