Newsletter: Volume 49 - Fall 2016
Happy Fall everyone. It’s a great time of year, where we cherish the last of our lingering stone fruit, cool ourselves with sweet refreshing melon, and dive into the first butternut squash, apples, and pears of the season.
This is a proud time for our family of restaurants, as Rustic Canyon, our first restaurant, gets ready to celebrate its 10th anniversary on December 8th. Those of us who were here at the beginning still remember the mixture of excitement and nerves we felt when we first opened our doors.
We recall the huge learning curve of those first few years, all the good times, the mistakes we hopefully learned from, and more than anything the incredible support from you, our beloved customers, who understood what we were trying to do and gave us time to figure it out. We’ll never take that for granted and will continue to strive to make our restaurants better with each new day. With that said we welcome you to this 49th installment of our newsletter with a focus on what’s in store for the next few months and beyond.
We know we say this all the time, but as Rustic Canyon approaches it’s 10th birthday we’re proud to say that it’s never been better. Chef Jeremy Fox leads an incredibly talented and devoted kitchen, turning out some of the most creatively simple and delicious food we’ve ever tasted. Recent additions like the Local Rice, Lamb Carnitas, McGrath Farms Lima Beans and Garlic Confit is a revelation, with the crispy pieces of lamb dancing in a rich and creamy rice and lima bean porridge with a pronounced presence of highly aromatic fresh dill.
Also new is a delicious Smoked Black Cod with Beet Gazpacho, Yogurt and Flatbread, evoking flavor combinations your Jewish Grandma would love. For those in a celebratory mood, the massive Cote De Bouef is a treat, a beautifully marbled piece of beef served with the bone for 2-4 people, currently accompanied by Late Summer Vegetables like Blistered Sweet Peppers & Cherry Tomatoes, Charred Cabbage and Crispy Potatoes with our highly addictive Chili Butter. Yum.
Celebration is in the air as we get ready to turn 10, and we’re excited to be inviting some of our incredibly talented Chef friends from near and far to our kitchen to mark the occasion. We will be hosting three special dinners leading up to our anniversary.
For the first, Jeremy will be cooking with his friends that he came up with including James Syhabout from Commis in Oakland, Mourad Lahlou from Aziza in San Francisco, Gerard Craft from Sardella in St. Louis, Carlos Salgado from Taco Maria in the South Bay and Zoe Nathan from our very own Huckleberry.
The second dinner on November 7th features local Chef friends and favorites including Ori Menashe from Bestia, Walter Manske from Republique, Jessica Koslow from Sqirl and Josef Centeno from Orsa & Winston with Rustic pastry chef Jun Tan.
The final dinner will be held on our anniversary of December 8th where we’ll welcome back past Rustic Chefs Samir Mohajer and Evan Funke to cook along side with Jeremy, Zoe and some of the great up and coming chefs currently in the Rustic kitchen. Tickets for these dinners were released a few weeks ago and are almost gone. If you’re interested in snagging one of the remaining tickets or just learning more about the events click here. We’d love to celebrate with you.
This summer, after a delicious food trip through Portland, our big take away from all of the great places we ate was a commitment to simplicity and all the good that can come from that. On our return we embraced this inspiring principle.
If you haven’t been to Huck lately come visit or see our new menu online. We’ve kept our core classics like Green Eggs and Ham and Fried Egg Sandwich, but we changed a bunch of dishes and added new favorites like Chilaquiles where our house made tortilla chips are sautéed with black beans, a delicious salsa roja, red onion, cilantro and topped with two fried organic eggs. We’ve also added a Monte Cristo with Niman Ranch Ham which is served with house made blueberry jam for those who like the sweet and salty thing. We’ve added our Fried Chicken Sandwich with Mary’s Organic Chicken Thighs served on a Milo & Olive bun with spicy coleslaw, a drop of Bills’ Bees sweet honey and hot sauce and a new Fall Chopped Salad with roasted sweet butternut squash, organic chicken, apples, Niman Ranch bacon, romaine and fennel. All of these new dishes are wonderful and the slightly smaller menu allows us to do something that has often been requested--serve breakfast all day, all week long.
We’ve adjusted our hours so our complete menu is available daily from 8-3. From 3-5 we serve prepared salads and sandwiches from our cold case, as well as coffee and pastries. Please come visit us soon and let us know what you think of our new items and the changes we’ve recently made.
Sweet Rose Creamery just finished up a busy summer where we got to revisit some of our favorite seasonal flavors. From Sweet Corn, to Blueberry Muffin, Plum Sorbet this summer was a fun time to indulge in all of our favorites. As school starts again, we’ve decided to launch a new item that has long been requested as well—Customizable Ice Cream Sandwiches. Since we’ve opened customers have been asking us for the option to be able to customize their own ice cream sandwiches and we’ve recently come up with something we’re excited about.
Our new make your own ice cream sandwich, available in all of our stores, features two homemade waffle cone cookies, sandwiched around your favorite flavor (mine is mint chip) and then the entire sandwich is dipped in chocolate sauce. It’s a wonderfully decadent treat and fills the need in case you’re looking for a sandwich flavor that we’re not currently running.
Another exciting new development at Sweet Rose is our soft serve partnership with Mendocino Farms. We’ve long been fans of Mendocino Farms. Like Sweet Rose, they were founded locally by a husband and wife team Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen and like all of our restaurants they’ve long been focused on quality ingredients and great local producers. As we began talking, we discussed the unique quality of our Soft Serve, only available at our Pico location. While most soft serve you see out in the world comes from a mix full of stabilizers and synthetic products, our base is made just like our ice cream using organic Clover dairy, Organic Sugar and other impeccably sourced ingredients.
We’ve recently launched at Mendocino Farms in El Segundo, where you can currently get our classic soft serve flavors--Chocolate, Vanilla or Swirl. Stop by the El Segundo Mendocino Farms store and get a great sandwich and some soft serve to complete your meal!
We are so grateful for our regulars. When we designed the restaurant space and kitchen we wanted it to be completely transparent, so not only could our customers see everything going on as we prepare the food but also our cooks could catch the expressions of the diners eating their food and hopefully be able to see the joy that eating good food brings to people.
But at Milo & Olive, we serve almost as much food in take out boxes some nights as we do for our dine in customers so our goal is to make food that tastes just as good when it gets to your home as it does coming right out of the kitchen. This has become more important than ever with the popularity of food ordering apps, from which we’ve seen such a huge increase in volume as of late. At Milo & Olive you can now order food through Doordash, Postmates and Uber Eats, or through our own website on Chownow (for pickup) with a few simple clicks and have it delivered to your home in a short period of time.
While this is efficient for everyone involved, it continues to force us to look at how we make our food and how we maintain quality even if we’re not staring directly at our guests while they’re eating the food. So if you can’t visit us and order online let us know how it goes and if there’s anything we can do to make that experience better for you.
Cassia’s rounded the corner on its first year and as we get well into our second year of business it continues to be a wild and exciting ride.
Fresh on the heels of a glowing 3 star New York Times Review, Bryant and his team continue cranking out delicious food including new dishes like Cold Sesame Noodles with young soybeans, cucumber and crushed walnuts and a salad of See Canyon Apples with Wild Arugula, honey roasted cashews & feta. Other dishes that we’re loving right now are Snow Crab Claws with a highly addictive charred tomato and almond sauce, the Whole Seabass off the wood burning grill with that amazing dill & tumeric sauce and the scrumptious Wok Tossed Yard Beans with Avocado.
Cassia also has a very special event coming up, spearheaded by our fantastic co-owner and wife of Bryant, Kim Luu-Ng. For those of you who don’t know Kim, she’s worked as an immigration and human rights attorney for many years fighting for many people who’ve had to endure tremendous abuses and unimaginable challenges in their lives. One of the best organizations she’s worked with is called the Program for Torture Victims, or PTV for short.
On October 10th, Kim, Bryant and the Cassia team will be hosting a fundraiser called LA Chefs for Human Rights, where Bryant will be cooking with his longtime friend and mentor Nancy Silverton, along with friends Niki Nakayama (N/Naka) Ray Garcia (Broken Spanish) and once again our very own Zoe Nathan. This event is already sold out and will raise over 100k, all of which goes directly to PTV. To learn more about PTV and the La Chefs event click here.
Esters continues to be a wine lovers paradise with Kathryn and her team stocking the wine shelves with so many unique and delicious small production bottlings.
Zoe and I have shared many a very enjoyable date night at Esters as of late, tucked into a banquet, experiencing a new bottle from the Burgundy or Northern Italy, while snacking on some great cheese, cured meats, and special dishes Jeremy and Jun are working on in the kitchen.
One of the things that’s so great about Esters is how many different experiences it can offer, from special flights on Saturday to fantastic wine tastings on Sunday afternoons to having one of the knowledgeable staff walk you through the retail wine walls and cheese case to pick up supplies for your next party.
Kathryn and the team are also working on more ways to bring the Esters experience into your home, and will soon be launching a special Monthly Wine Club, where those who sign up will receive two very special curated bottles each month along with notes on the wines. If you want to be one of the first people to learn about the club when it launches or just to get information about anything new at Esters sign up for the Esters specific newsletter here.
As always we would like to say a big thank you to all of you for being such great supporters of the RC Family restaurants. We love seeing your faces on a regular basis and look forward to celebrating the many special occasions for the rest of this year and beyond.
We’re really excited to announce that beginning October 1st, we at the Rustic Canyon Family of Restaurants will be offering fully covered health care coverage to all of our employees who work 30 or more hours a week. Offering health care is something we’ve always wanted to do, but for a long time felt it was financially unrealistic. We’ve recently sat down with other like-minded local chefs and restaurant owners like Suzanne Goin, Carolyn Stein & David Lentz, Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo, and Josiah Citrin to come up with a plan to offer coverage and have decided to implement a 3% employee benefit surcharge added to all of our checks beginning September 1st to pay the October 1 premium. This will cover the majority of the cost of providing this benefit. Everyone on this list will also be offering health care plans to all full time staff beginning on October 1st or by the end of the year.
We understand that health care related surcharges have been a hot topic at times, both in San Francisco, where they’re widely used in many of the best restaurants in the city, and here locally when Walter Manske and Bill Chaite introduced the first charge of that sort at Republique. We felt that it was best that we take a minute to explain why and how we’ll be offering benefits, the reason for the surcharge, and how we intend to show transparency so that our customers can understand how the money is spent. The major point is that this is not a political statement or endorsement of any kind. Our desire to offer health benefits is not even really tied to the Affordable Care Act, which at this point wouldn’t require businesses to provide health benefits to their employees until January 2016 at the earliest, and where ultimately businesses of our size might not be required to provide health benefits at all. Our desire to do this is because, quite frankly, we believe it’s the right thing to do, and that as a community of independent and family run restaurants we want to provide the best work environment we can so that we can provide long term jobs and careers for our staff instead of the usual transient employment that is associated with the restaurant business.
The plan to roll out health care coverage is pretty simple. We will be offering all staff members who work full time (30 hours a week) an opportunity to have a fully covered HMO plan with a top tier carrier, or if they choose, we’ll pay a significant portion of a PPO plan if the employee chooses a more specialized plan. In addition we’ve pledged to work with any employee who is currently below the minimum hours threshold to give them enough hours to meet the minimum so that they can qualify for benefits.
The cost of offering these benefits is significant and the reality is that restaurants, particularly smaller restaurants like the ones many of us own, have a very high ratio of staff members to revenue and run on very slim profit margins. Successfully run restaurants generally make between 5-10% net profits so a health care benefit which eats away 3% of gross sales will take away anywhere from 30% to 50% of annual profits for a restaurant. We’ve discussed simply raising menu prices, but ultimately food prices are tied in many ways to the ingredients we purchase . Those ingredient costs have increased astronomically recently so we’re already struggling with working creatively to keep menu prices down and don’t feel it’s right to try to factor health care costs into menu prices as well. We’d rather keep our menu costs as an accurate refection of our ingredient prices so that customers know that if we have to raise them it’s because we can’t avoid passing on our increased costs.. So that leaves with us a surcharge, which based on our calculations of 3% allows us to cover 100% of our employees in full. In addition, a 3% charge on your bill gives the customer options they wouldn’t have if the cost was simply folded into menu prices. Customers can simply pay the surcharge and support a healthier staff, choose to adjust their gratuity down by 3% in order to end up paying the same amount they originally anticipated while still supporting health benefits for the entire staff, or if they strongly oppose, ask to have the charge removed from their bill. In addition, to avoid any misconceptions, we as a group pledge to post total transparency on our websites by the end of the first quarter of each year for the previous calendar year showing the total that was collected for employee benefit surcharges the previous year, how it was spent, and in the case of a surplus how every dollar of that surplus will be applied to employee benefits. Rest assured that none of us would use any of this surcharge for anything other than wellness benefits for our staff.
We’re extremely happy to be able to offer these health benefits to our staff and our staff has been extremely excited to get signed up to receive them. Many of our staff were not previously covered or were covered but it was a significant financial burden. Feel free to check in with our staff and ask questions about the health plan or the surcharge on your next visit and we’ll happily address them in a candid and transparent manner. We are eternally grateful to you, our customers, who support our restaurants and allow us to do what we love for a living. We thank you all for your support and as always will constantly strive to be the best restaurants we can be day in and day out.