As you approach the walkway of Coquette’s Bistro, toward the sprawling patio and the eat-in bakery beyond, look down. In the concrete, you’ll find the handprints of Michelle Marx, her daughter and business partner Turu Marx, and her 6-year-old grandson, Dezmond.
They embedded those in June, as work neared completion on the gleaming compound at 616 S. Tejon St. A short Facebook video of the event is punctuated with a laugh from Michelle that sounds one part awe, three parts joy.
That mix has fueled Michelle’s career since at least the late ’70s, when she managed publicity for the West Coast arm of A&M Records. “It was the whole British Invasion—Squeeze and all that,” she says. “It was a blast.”
As a rare woman in company management back then, she helped to break acts including The Police. Then she started her own public relations firm, where she built Emmy, Oscar and Tony award campaigns for Laurence Fishburne; helped Dolly Parton transition from country to pop; and worked with Robert De Niro on Tribeca Productions. She still represents comedian and actor Richard Lewis, of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.
“As hard as I work and as popular as I’ve gotten in some corners of the artistic world,” Lewis says in an interview, “I never would have become as well known without working with Michelle Marx.”
Lewis calls her “obsessively, wildly driven.” But unlike many who fit that description, Michelle sometimes lets her muse do the driving. As she tired of Hollywood in the early 2000s, Michelle started visiting Manitou Springs at the suggestion of a friend and connected with the artistic community. She bought a little place in Cheyenne Cañon and prepared to pursue her interests in photography, art and writing.
Then, naturally, she threw herself into property development.
Michelle bought Coquette’s original Manitou location without a firm plan. She did have an old daydream, hatched when Turu was a kid, of their running a restaurant together—à la J.G. Melon, her family’s famous burger joint on the Upper East Side of New York City.
“We’re Greek—most of the good memories we made are around food,” she explains. “So it became a thing: ‘Hey, we’re going to open a restaurant one day.’ ”
When not touring in a rock band, Turu had been working in L.A. restaurants for years. Ready for a change, she joined her mom in Manitou. They conceived of a creperie and tested batter after batter, until Michelle discovered a gluten allergy. So relying on ingredients like sweet rice flour, brown rice flour and tapioca, they went totally gluten-free—still a novelty back in 2009.
“We wanted to normalize the experience,” she says. “Anybody can come in here and have a great meal or a cocktail or buy a cupcake and not feel at all unusual. And they can be safe.”
The subsequent gluten-free frenzy helped, but can’t by itself explain Coquette’s quick expansion. The eatery moved to North Tejon Street in 2014, then expanded again, then moved into the new 246-capacity location. Along the way, Coquette’s cupcakes retailed in Whole Foods stores before the Marxes decided to focus only on the restaurant. For that level of success, Michelle and Turu credit community—the kind of community that saw regulars yelling out of moving cars on Tejon Street, “When are you gonna open?!” during the four-month overhaul of the former eye clinic building.
The project started with gutting “a million little offices” and a sage-burning party. It concluded with a July opening showcasing much of what mother and daughter have long wanted: an expandable party room, a killer bar, an eat-in bakery, a custom fireplace and a pizza oven.
Then there’s the covered patio, offering a chic indoor-outdoor experience—and a glimpse of those handprints, which double as stakes in the ground. Despite her big-city roots, Michelle says she doesn’t want to be anywhere else. “What we have is an entire community we’ve built of family and friends,” she says. “It’s beyond anything we expected. The outpouring of community vibration is lifting us higher and higher.
Visit Coquette’s Bistro
616 S. Tejon St.