Posts Tagged ‘culver city restaurant’

Dave Licht – Kay ‘N Dave’s Restaurant Culver City

September 25, 2010

Dave Licht Kay N Daves Restaurant Culver City

Dave Licht, Jintana Licht, Alejo Grijalva

Restaurateur Profile: Dave Licht

Owner: Kay ‘N Dave’s

9341 Culver Blvd

Culver City, CA 90232

Yelp: 3 stars

Interview Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

“I always thought that one day I would start a business,” says Dave Licht, owner of Kay ‘N Dave’s. “It could have been anything – lots of ideas lured me and I just happened into restaurants. As quirky and odd and challenging as this business is, I’m glad it’s what I settled on.”

Originally a lawyer, Dave found himself at a crossroads in the last big recession in the late 1980s. “I was doing some land development in Rancho California and the recession shut it down,” he says. “Rather than go back to law, I thought: let me buy a little run-down business and see if I can turn it around. I knew that I wanted it to be small so that I could avoid a partnership, and I didn’t have much money. I stumbled upon this shack/cantina on PCH and that was my first restaurant.”

It was called Topanga Beach Cantina, and Dave bought it in 1991. Within one year he had opened a second location in Pacific Palisades and a third in Brentwood in 1995. Dave sold the PCH location in 1998, but after a few years of watching it get run into the ground, he bought it back and turned it into a Thai restaurant, Cholada, which is still there today. Dave sold Cholada to two of his employees a few years later.

Kay N Daves Restaurant Culver CityMeanwhile, the Pacific Palisades location, which was called The Other Cantina, had become known as Kay ‘N Dave’s almost by accident. “We (Dave and his first wife Kay) were always there, and so people just started associating the restaurant with us,” says Dave. “By the time we opened in Brentwood we called both restaurants Kay ‘N Dave’s.” In 2000 Kay sold her share in the restaurant to Dave and Dave married Jintana Licht. “Like me, she has no restaurant experience, but she quickly concluded that I was pretty lousy at running the operations, so although she had no intention of becoming involved, she basically runs everything,” says Dave.

The two opened their newest location in Culver City in 2009. “I have quite a bit of experience with failure,” says Dave. “In 2001 we opened a restaurant five days before 9-11 next to a movie theatre in Hollywood. It was a disaster, but sometimes the most challenging failure is the best experience. That process taught me a lot, so opening during a recession wasn’t really scary for me.”

“In the beginning I took more risks, but after the Hollywood restaurant I recognized that I had a lot of learning to do,” says Dave. “Sometimes you try to grow too fast – you forget that you have to get everything up to speed: staff, know-how, finances. We closed escrow on the Culver City restaurant in the throes of the economy melting down, but for whatever reason I didn’t feel a lot of stress with this one – all the years of learning came together and it’s worked out really well.”

“A lot of what has happened with Kay ‘N Dave’s is based on the original concept at Topanga Beach Cantina on PCH,” says Dave. “It was a little bit healthy, and they had some vegetarian options. Over time, there were many evolutions, and we gradually looked for ways to be healthier and offer vegetarian sauces and broths. It was based on watching, listening and evolving.”

The chef at Kay ‘N Dave’s, Alejo Grijalva, began as a dishwasher and now runs all of the kitchens. “He is self-taught, and uses some of his grandmother’s recipes in our kitchens,” says Dave. “He is part of the heart and soul of this restaurant.”

The best part about being a restaurant entrepreneur, says Dave, is the fun. “It can be a lot of fun – we meet a lot of really wonderful people, and when it’s all working – the music, the food, the people, it’s like hosting a great party.” Dave’s main role at the restaurant is conceptualizing, designing and managing legal matters, all of which are especially well utilized when he is growing the business to add more restaurants. “There are a lot of great opportunities jumping up right now,” he says. “I’m looking, but I’m also not as young and stupid as I was before. The key is finding good staff to make it work – the biggest challenge is getting the right team together so that things run just the way we like it.”


Benjamin Ford – Ford’s Filling Station

May 15, 2010

Benjamin Ford Ford's Filling Station Restaurant Culver CityRestaurateur Profile: Benjamin Ford

Co-Owner: Ford’s Filling Station

9531 Culver Blvd.

Culver City, CA 90232

Yelp: 3 stars

Interview Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010

Benjamin Ford grew up in the Hollywood Hills in one of those houses where the kids came over to hang out and stayed for days. Benjamin’s mom fed them all with fresh food often sourced from her garden. It was in this environment that Benjamin became interested in food. “I was as likely to be found in the kitchen as in the backyard,” he says.

The only competing passion was baseball, at which Benjamin was talented. He played through high school and then while attending the University of Southern California (USC). When the head coach moved on in his junior year of college, Benjamin dropped out to pursue a major-league career. Unfortunately, he got hurt while pursing his major-league dream and had to abandon it before getting very far.

Ford's Filling Station Culver CityReconnecting with his love of cooking, and partially fueled by a short stint working at Greens Restaurant when he was 15, Benjamin headed to San Francisco and “banged on every back door to try and convince someone to hire me,” he says. He was hired in the kitchen Raff Restaurant, and then heard of an opening at Chez Panisse and immediately applied.

When his application was rejected, he wrote a letter, begging them to hire him. They did, and he spent two years under the tutelage of Chef Paul Bertolli. “I learned integrity and responsibility at Chez Panisse that has impacted me in a big way,” says Benjamin. “In many ways, it set the precedent for how I work now.” After two years at Chez Panisse, Benjamin left to work at the Skywalker Ranch. “It was a cool place – they had wild horses there for effect,” says Benjamin. “It was there that I started to embrace the coastal Marin lifestyle.”

In 1993, Benjamin left San Francisco after six years to open Opus Restaurant with Chef Eberhard Mueller. “Working with him, I learned more refined cuisine – more subtle flavors and delicacy,” says Benjamin. “He was a wonderful chef from whom to learn how to cook fish.”

Benjamin left Opus to take what he calls a “money job,” working at a corporation of seven restaurants located from San Diego to Pasadena. “I wanted to learn the business side of restaurants,” says Benjamin. “I had a great window, but did very little cooking.” Moving on, he joined Chefs Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at Campanille. It was at Campanille that Benjamin regained his passion for cooking. “It was my first time being part of a ‘super line’” he says. “It was amazing – there were no slouches on that one. I regained my passion for cooking and learned about production. It was a very challenging, excellent working experience.”

After a few more jumps, Benjamin finally achieved his entrepreneurial dream and opened Chadwick restaurant in 1999 with colleague Govind Armstrong, with whom he had worked at Campanille. “It was a little house on Beverly Drive, and we won multiple awards almost immediately,” Benjamin says. “We assembled a superstar team and created an organic vegetable garden in the back yard.” The servers were all expected to harvest and connect with the food, with the idea that their understanding of the ingredients would translate to the guests. “It was then that I took on the notion of reconnecting people with food sources,” says Benjamin. The team sold the location (now Urth Caffe) but have retained its name; 11 restaurants have been opened by its former employees to date, including Wilshire (Andrew Kirshner); Grace (Neil Frasier) and Table 8 (Govind Armstrong).

With Chadwick as a strong foundation, Benjamin was looking for a new concept when he discovered the emerging gastropub trend. “Ford’s Filling Station (opened in 2004) was the second gastropub in the U.S.,” he says. “The emphasis is on keeping the community connection of a traditional pub while elevating the food and service.”

Ford's Filling Station Culver CityAt Ford’s Filling Station, “craft is really important, and we do as much by hand as possible,” says Benjamin. They also work with “whole animal” techniques – bringing in whole pigs, deer, rabbits, and chickens among other animals. Benjamin has also personally visited all of the farms and dairies that supply the restaurant. “We focus on teaching everyone about the ingredients and building a connection with the food,” says Benjamin. “This way we can really challenge the guest.” Some challenges include menu items like a whole pig dinner and head cheese.

Benjamin is already seeking opportunities to extend the gastropub concept into new areas – specifically, he is interested in opening a Moroccan/Indian-themed gastropub and a Mexicali gastropub.