Co-Owner: Umami Burger
1520 N Cahuenga Blvd Suite 7
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Yelp: 3.5 stars
Interview Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Adam Fleischman is an ambitious restaurateur. After opening his first Umami Burger in January of 2009, he was working on the second location just a few months later, and now there are four locations, with two more on the way (in Costa Mesa and Studio City) this Fall.
Adam is also working on a new restaurant concept, Red Medicine, which will be a high-end Vietnamese chef-driven restaurant due to open Summer 2010. “I like finding concepts that fill a gap in the market,” says Adam. “While there are lots of Vietnamese restaurants, they tend to be somewhat generic, whereas this concept is chef-driven, which is different.”
The first Umami Burger was 100% self-financed. Adam had owned two wine bars, including Bottle Rock in Culver City, which he sold in 2008. Hi other wine bar concept was sold within just a few months of opening. His portion of the sale funded Umami Burger. “I opened the wine bar with a partner, which I think is always challenging in this business,” says Adam. He says that now he can take on partners to expand Umami Burger, but he owns enough of the concept that he remains in control.
Umami Burger satisfies Adam’s desire for finding a niche within an established market. “There are lots of burger places, but by focusing on the umami taste, we can take burgers to a whole new level,” he says. “The combination means that we can offer fairly inexpensive, delicious food in a nice environment.”
The concept caught on quickly, as evidenced by Umami Burger’s relatively fast growth rate. Adam has plans to create a national chain limited to about 100 outlets, which he believes will maintain control over the quality and concept while still meeting market demand – which he says is worldwide.
Currently Umami Burger employs 150 people, including about 10 who are dedicated to the head office, but when I asked Adam if he was looking to build a corporate environment, he says “I’m looking to be more spontaneous than corporate.” His core management group is a great asset – managing many of the day-to-day challenges that can bog an entrepreneur down, including hiring in an industry that is typically always hiring.
Adam says that the key to running a successful restaurant and growing it beyond a single location is to be good at a lot of different things. “This business is multifaceted – it involves traveling, cooking, managing, product development, and just about every business activity there is,” he says. “It is always fun – never boring!”
Adam says a big benefit of working in the restaurant industry is the instant gratification of seeing people get excited about the food and the restaurant. “Most of our growth is word-of-mouth,” he says. “That is definitely the best way to grow!”
The hardest part of running restaurants, says Adam, is the pace. “The work is fast and strenuous, and there’s a high degree of physicality,” he says. “Restaurants are never what you set out to do,” says Adam. “Spago wasn’t opened with the idea that it would become what it is today – it just evolved.”
What I took away from Adam is that a restaurateur needs to be flexible with his/her concept while being disciplined in business management. Adam appears to be on a powerful path, and I’m looking forward to seeing more!
Adam’s Business Advice
- Expand based on your guests’ desire for more locations
- The key to success lies in great organization
- Look for concepts in which there is a lack of diversity and fresh ideas
- Never forget practical matters like food costs and market demand
What is Umami?
According to Adam, Umami is present in both pizza and burgers (two of my favorite foods). The definition of Umami (taken from the Umami Information Center): umami is a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods. The taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious.