|Ebbink at Little Dom's|
When Warner Ebbink, co-owner and aesthetic visionary, and chef Brandon Boudet decided to open the retro diner in 2011, being most popular didn't cross their minds. But they did hope to create a new standard of diner food, one with familiar dishes only made better with great ingredients. This is how it's stayed in business for 11 years, why it continues to rise to the top, and why their other restaurants (Dominick's, Little Dom's and now Tom Bergin's) are here to stay.
We caught up with Ebbink to chat about the win, what he thinks about taking the honor from Spago, the secrets to success, and his next boozy project. Check it out below.
So 101 Coffee Shop was voted as Most Popular in the 2013 Los Angeles/So. California Survey, replacing Spago. How do you think that happened?
I think maybe the recession? It’s more accessible to everybody? I think people are eating less expensive meals more often, and more expensive meals less often. I’ve seen it at all the restaurants, what’s selling vs. what’s not selling. I think people are watching their budgets. For every one time they can go to Spago, they can go 20 times to the Coffee Shop. Maybe the 101 has become the Spago of diners.
When is it the most crowded, most popular?
We’re pretty much busy every day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night. Late-night dining probably because it's one of those rare places serving after 2 AM.
What's the story of the diner?
We opened in December 2001. That building was built in 1938, and there was always a small luncheonette counter and a liquor store. The idea originated from me as a child going to coffee shops with my grandfather. I was always seeking out good coffee shops, and I've been to every one between here and Nevada, all over Southern California. I always wanted to do a diner that had better quality food than your run-of-the-mill greasy spoon. I mean, I wanted to keep all of that, but make it better. I partnered with Brandon and he just said, let's use better ingredients, all fresh, nothing frozen. And Brandon, you know, he’s not a diner chef. He’s actually a high-end chef that chose to do diner food. And the food stands for itself in that way.
Anything new going on there? Menu, etc.?
As we’ve grown as people, we're paying attention to what we're putting into our own bodies, and we passed that on to all of our businesses. Now we’re using organic and free-range meats and grass-fed beef. We juice our own oranges. We use Straus organic milk in the milkshakes. We put a complete list of vegetable smoothies on the menu, so you can pick kale, spinach, almond milk, etc. We just try to offer the best we can for that price point, and always strive to make it better.
Is 101 the most popular of all of your restaurants?
Little Dom’s is probably number one of our restaurants. We're just finishing our fourth year there, and I think restaurants really hit their stride in third or fourth year. While the Coffee Shop probably has the most customers, Little Dom’s is at the peak of its popularity right now.
What’s the secret to keeping your restaurants so busy?
Being true to yourself always translates really well. It’s not a trend or what someone else is doing, just doing what’s right really works when you follow that path. Consistency is key. You have to be consistent in the food, the service that you give, and the environment. The people may not realize it’s consistent, but they know they can depend on it, whatever they like there, whether it's the vibe, the food, or a particular item. What I pound in to my staff is that everything has to be the same. If someone comes in and eats the spaghetti and meatballs at Little Dom’s, it should be the same. If they sit in this booth, the music volume should be just the same. The valet should be just as friendly. If there’s too much interepution in any of those things then it makes the experience not good. Consistency is the biggest secret to what makes our businesses so successful.
The permits just went through, literally two days ago, for our liquor license to open a small bar in the Hollywood Hills Hotel, next to the 101. It's always been on my mind to do something like that there. It's really small, only about 650 square feet. It will only have about 30-45 seats. It's basically just an accessory to the hotel and Coffee Shop, something with a simple cocktail list. It will be throwbacks to the 60s and 70s, like a Fuzzy Navel done properly with great ingredients. We just want it to be a super easy neighborhood place. With the amount of people that stay in the hotel and come to the Coffee Shop, it just seems like a no-brainer. An no, no name yet.