Owners: Tender Greens
9523 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Yelp: 4 stars
Interview Date: Friday, August 13, 2010
Matt Lyman, Erik Oberholtzer and David Dressler each had his own history in the restaurant business when they met while working at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. “I went to Shutters and met Matt,” says David. “Then Erik came, and we became the Three Amigos.”
Matt grew up on a farm on the East Coast in a “cooking-friendly family.” “I worked in restaurants through high school,” he says. “I started in the Front of House but soon realized that all the fun happened in the back, so I transferred to the kitchen.” When he decided to pursue cooking as a career, he attended culinary school in Maryland to hone his skills. Next he became a cook at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City. Next he began working with Gunter Seeger as a sous chef – working at two of Seeger’s Atlanta restaurants.
Matt moved to California 13 years ago and began working with Jean Francois Meteigner at La Cachette. “He’s a super nice guy,” says Matt. “Despite everything you hear.” From La Cachette, Matt went to Shutters on the Beach, where he was the Chef for four years and where he met David and Erik.
David was born in Montreal and spent his summers working for his Aunt and Uncle, who owned a hotel in the Adirondacks. “I started working there when I was about seven,” he said. When he was 18 he moved to Switzerland where he attended hotel and restaurant management school for four years.
David moved to California as a trainee at the Hyatt La Jolla while still in school. He was invited to stay on as the Assistant Manager, Food and Beverage. After managing Cafe Japengo, the sushi restaurant at the hotel for a while, he decided to switch coasts and went to the Four Seasons, first in New York, then Dallas. Finally he ended up back in California (who can blame him?) and he went on to be part of the opening teams at the Beverly Wilshire, Four Seasons Carlsbad and Four Seasons Newport Beach.
After a short stint as an independent training consultant, David was recruited to Shutters on the Beach. “After we had worked together for a while, Erik shared his ideas for Tender Greens with me,” says David. “Actually, it was during his annual performance review in an off the record conversation.”
Soon after that meeting, David, Erik and Matt began “planning their getaway.” David left Shutters to raise money for Tender Greens and got a job at the Peninsula Hotel as a pool waiter. “I knew the manager and told him what I was doing,” says David. “I told him that I just wanted to wait tables – no management!”
The original plan of raising money in about two months morphed into two years of fundraising, but in 2005 the company was officially formed, and in 2006 the team opened their first Tender Greens restaurant in Culver City. The concept was born out of a desire to create a place where they would like to eat. “As Food and Beverage guys living in LA, there weren’t a lot of places where we would go on our day off for Farmers Market food at a price that didn’t suck,” says David. “We were tired of bad food, high prices and having to valet your car,” adds Matt.
After the first opening in 2006, the team followed up with a second location in 2008, a third in 2009, a fourth in March 2010, and numbers 5, 6 and 7 planned for Walnut Creek, Santa Monica and Pasadena scheduled through 2011. Ultimately, they have plans to open about 30 restaurants.
“The best part of owning a restaurant business is being my own boss,” says David. “I don’t have to compromise my own values, and we’re able to provide an opportunity for young people who are looking to get a leg up in the world. We are responsible for 160-170 employees, and growing, and we feel proud that we are able to help a lot of people improve their lives.”