Happy Spring Everyone! It’s been such an exciting and busy past few months for all of us at the Rustic Canyon Family of Restaurants. A newsletter update is long overdue. There’s a ton to cover, including exciting new dishes, developments within our existing restaurants, and updates on our new openings.
With so much to jump into, here’s a list of what we’ll be focusing on in this newsletter:
• Jeremy Fox gets a well deserved James Beard Nomination and the Rustic Canyon team heads to NYC to do a James Beard Dinner
• Huckleberry deepens its commitment to artisan local producers
• Sweet Rose goes kosher, bottles its famous almond milk and invites you to tour it’s ice cream kitchen
• Milo & Olive doubles its seating and adds a new pizza oven for Erin Eastland to play with
• Cassia and Esters get ready for summer openings
Rustic Canyon turned 8 this past December and it’s such a joy to look around and know the restaurant is better than ever. Over the past few years Rustic has continued to evolve with a fantastic service team led by General Manager Steve Infield, a great artisan cocktail program helmed by Aaron Ranf, and of course by the incredible creativity and delicious food of Jeremy Fox. Getting to eat Jeremy’s food on a regular basis is a treat that we don’t take for granted. It’s a pleasure to watch him take local ingredients like beautiful peas from Valdivia Farms, chicories from Windrose in Paso Robles, anchovies that have been pulled from the water just up the road in Santa Barbara and polenta from our friends at Kenter Canyon and turn them into dishes so imaginative in presentation but simple and satisfying in flavor that we dream about them for days to come. There are always new favorites to try, but currently we’re going crazy for the House-Smoked Passmore Ranch Trout Tonnato Tartine, where the house made Trout spread meshes perfectly with Griddled Brioche and local Favas. They say that you can judge a chef by how he prepares a simple chicken dish and Jeremy doesn’t disappoint with the Roasted Organic Chicken, served with Charred Savoy Cabbage, King Trumpet Mushrooms and bathed in a slow cooked deeply flavorful Chicken Broth with Scallions.
Jeremy was recently one of only a handful of LA chefs to receive a James Beard nomination for Best Chef West Coast and we’ll be heading out to New York to cook for the folks at the James Beard Foundation on April 8th. If you live in NY or happen to be in the area then, please join us, we’d love to see you there. You can buy tickets at http://www.jamesbeard.org/events/socal-farmhouse
Huckleberry, like all of our other restaurants, has always been committed to using the best ingredients. We’ve proudly served organic eggs and poultry, produce from our local farms, organic milk and many more top products. But recently we’ve decided to take our commitment to the food we serve even deeper by incorporating a new wave of local food producers who use sustainable farming practices into our restaurant and onto our menu. We’re so excited to be getting all of our almond products from Fat Uncle Farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Seeing the big blocks of almond paste arrive at our door makes our bakers geek out, and then working them into a Lemon Poppy Seed Tea Cake or an Almond Croissant is a delight to bake and a joy to eat. All of our honey comes from Bill’s Bees at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and you can taste the difference when you eat a spoonful of our homemade Granola or take a bite into our Kouign Amman Yogurt Tarts which are drizzled with this amazing liquid gold.
On the savory side, we are now proudly serving sausages and ham from Peads and Barnetts, a local producer who you might have seen at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, who pasture raises all heritage pork without any hormones or antibiotics. We’re also proud that all of our beef is 100% organic from Sunfed Farms, as well as other new organic ingredients, like turkey from Diestel Farms, flour from Central Milling Company, chocolate from TCHO in San Francisco and so many other great items. Working with these producers gives us great joy and we hope you’re enjoying it as much as we are.
Sweet Rose is the shop that keeps making us all feel like kids again. Shiho and her team keep amazing us with classic, seasonal and new flavor creations. This month some old favorites like Earl Grey and Peanut Butter Brownie make their return as do non-dairy specialties like Green Tea Matcha made with the amazing soy milk from our friends at Meiji Tofu and Coconut Tangelo Sorbet. Recently Shiho’s also been playing with candy, crafting different flavors of Marshmallows each month, Assorted Cookies and chewy Vanilla Caramels.
You might have also noticed that all of our pints now have a kosher sticker on them and that our Mid-City store is completely kosher certified. Sweet Rose has always been proud to serve the neighborhoods that we’re in, and we noticed after opening our Mid-City store on Beverly that many families and in the area wanted to try our ice cream but couldn’t because they kept a kosher diet. So we researched it, worked with a local Rabbi, and are proud to say that as of last September the Mid-City store is completely kosher certified by KosherLA. In addition all of the ice cream, the candy and toppings we produce from scratch out of our Santa Monica headquarters are kosher too unless otherwise noted.
We’re also excited to announce that we are now bottling Shiho’s famous almond milk made with almonds from Fat Uncle Farms and will be selling it in 16 ounce bottles at our Santa Monica and Mid-City stores.
Finally, many of you have asked about the chance to get a peek behind the scenes and see how our ice cream and toppings are made. Beginning on April 11th, we’ll be giving free tours of our ice cream kitchen at 826 Pico Blvd in Santa Monica on the second Saturday of each month. These tours which can accommodate up to 15 people can be booked on a first come first served basis by reserving a spot on our website. The link to reserve spots will be up by the end of the month. Adults and kids 5 and older will get a chance to see ice cream being made and taste it fresh churned out of our machines plus get to see all the ins and outs of our Santa Monica kitchen.
For the first couple years of this restaurant we often heard the same thing, “we love Milo and Olive, but it’s so small so we’re worried we won’t get a seat”. Well we’re proud to say that as of last month, we’ve finally grown. We doubled our seats, adding an extended dining counter, plus a handful of 2 and 4 tops to give you more dining options. In addition we’ve added a second pizza oven that allows us to speed up times on to-go orders, and gives our wildly talented chef Erin Eastland a space to play with new wood-fired dishes that she previously couldn’t explore because of a lack of oven space. Our famous Organic Chicken Meatballs and are now braised and finished in the wood fired oven. Baby Broccoli from Thao Farms in Fresno is charred in the oven and served with creamy Burrata from our local favorite Gioia and served with a delicious Romesco Sauce. And did we mention that we now have Wood-Fired Mac and Cheese on the menu? Yum! Our favorite compliment on the expansion is that it feels like this space has always been there, and that we’ve maintained the intimacy of the original space. All of that is a result of great design by our team at Montalba Architects and seamless building by the fantastic team at Sarlan Builders.
We’re so excited that after a year of painful delays our two new restaurants in Santa Monica are far into construction and will be opening in the next few months. Cassia, our 200 seat Southeast Asian Brasserie that we’re collaborating on with Bryant Ng and his wife Kim is set to open in early June. The menu will feature Bryant’s brilliant Southeast Asian cooking with flavors from China and Vietnam. The large beautiful space has the feel of a brasserie with various spaces to sit and eat, including an impressive chilled seafood bar, a wood grill where Bryant will feature many of the dishes that he became known for at the Spice Table, a cocktail bar, and a large sidewalk patio.
Opening in August next door to Cassia, will be Esters, the brainchild of longtime Rustic staffer Kathryn Coker and her husband Tug. This will be a place to shop for wine with a few hundred selections of small production bottlers, plus a well curated selection of meat and cheeses and wine bar bites dreamed up and executed by Rustic’s very own Jeremy Fox. This space will also feature a beautiful u-shaped wine bar, sidewalk patio and other sit down options so you can grab a drink before or after you shop, or just meet there with a group of friends to nibble and drink and feel like you’re on vacation.
As always we love seeing all of your faces and appreciate the support for all of our restaurants. We look forward to feeding you again soon.
Newsletter: Volume 45
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.