Observant foodies like Redondo Beach resident Jackie Cuevas have taken notice of the Day of the Dead-themed restaurants that have started popping up all over the area.
She spotted the first a few months ago after moving into her new neighborhood. She was drawn to the bright graffiti-style artwork painted on the dark walls. She also took note of the Latin, reggaeton and rap music being played, creatively presented cocktails and sizzling plates passing by at the busy Kalaveras restaurant. Pressed for time, she couldn’t break a bite, but it definitely caught his attention.
A few weeks later, while on her lunch break, she came across a similarly styled restaurant on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles.
“It was another Kalaveras and this time I decided to give it a shot, and wow, I’m taking care of them now and still watching them,” she said as she sat outside. inside the West Los Angeles location. Kalaveras is a growing restaurant chain whose young trio of owners seek to redefine modern Mexican cuisine in Southern California neighborhoods as they build a family-run restaurant empire.
“This is the future of Mexican restaurants,” said Isaias Ocampo Brito, 31, who along with his cousins Angel Bahena, 32, and Daniel Brito, 29, are behind the expanding chain . “It’s a restaurant that every city needs. It’s bursting with bright colors, music, and not just traditional Mexican food, but with more than a twist.
The first Kalaveras location opened in Bellflower in 2016. The cousins currently own and operate 13 Kalaveras restaurants, including restaurants in Montebello, Redondo Beach, Whittier, San Pedro, Chino Hills, West Los Angleles, Puente Hills , Pasadena, Riverside, Silver Lake and newly opened locations in Rancho Cucamonga and Santa Monica.
But young restaurateurs are far from done with expansion.
Over the next year, the cousins plan to double their local footprint with the opening of 13 more restaurants in Burbank, Covina, Monrovia, North Hollywood, Corona, Marina Del Rey, Simi Valley, Temecula, Long Beach, Montclair , Orange, Newport Beach and Fullerton. .
“It’s wonderful,” Bahena said. “It’s amazing. I think it’s beautiful to see an empire being built and who better to do it with than your family.
Gastronomy and cocktails
Like Cuevas, Redondo Beach resident Jesse Bobbett gave Kalaveras a shot after seeing the inviting decor and energy of the place.
“It feels like Mexico City when you’re here,” said Bobbett, a regular at the Redondo Beach site. “It’s the environment, it’s vibrant, it’s colorful, it’s festive.”
But the cousins know that while these things may bring people through the door, it’s the food and drink that will turn them into loyal customers. So they created a chef-led menu with dishes not found in typical Mexican restaurants.
A great example of this is Pasta a La Diabla, which mixes grilled prawns and penne pasta with homemade Salsa Diabla served with cotija cheese. There are also dishes that mix Latin cuisines like carnitas, which are made with traditional carnitas dipped in a green sauce, but served with plantains, which are more traditionally found in Central American cuisine.
“You have Latinos from all over here, not everything is Mexican,” Ocampo Brito said. “So our food will have ingredients that they use in El Salvador, Peru, Guatemala.”
Meanwhile, the drink menu includes dozens of mezcals, tequilas and cocktails, alcoholic slushies and margaritas.
A family business
Ocampo Brito, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 16, created the concept of Kalaveras after working for his uncles, who owned several restaurants for decades.
“I started as a dishwasher at Spires, which was owned by my uncles and worked my way up to waiter, cook, waiter…all positions in the restaurant,” he said.
After really learning the trade, he decides to share his ideas with his uncles.
“I wanted to do something different,” he said. He wanted to create a place that not only served great modern Mexican food, but he wanted to do it in a hip, stylish environment with high-end cocktails that would appeal to millennials.
“Acapulco, El Torito, these places are dated,” he said. “I wanted to create a place where I wanted to go drinking, where I wanted to hang out with my friends. A place of celebration, of destination.
The family invested in the new restaurant and his cousins, who also grew up in the restaurant business working for their fathers, loved the idea and helped refine the concept.
“It’s about a vibe, an experience, an identity,” Bahena said.
“What makes us unique is that we are a family,” added Brito. “We can work together and grow the brand and keep it within the family.”
According to restaurant experts like Alonso Castañeda, vice president of strategy and brand development at Savory Restaurant Fund, the family seems to me to be making all the right choices to grow their empire by putting as much effort into their style as they do into the kitchen.
“Getting from one to all of these locations in six years is very talented, it’s huge growth,” said Castañeda, whose company partners with new restaurateurs to expand their concepts to multiple locations.
“The consumer is currently looking for entertainment when they go out, and from the description, it looks like they fit that profile,” he added.
Owning and operating multiple locations has always been the goal. In 2019, they had a total of five restaurants and are planning more until the industry is hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“We basically closed during the pandemic because we were an experience, a place of destination,” Ocampo Brito said. “It was really bad for us. We’re such a big family, so we had a few family members at each location and takeout.”
Despite the difficulties encountered during the very dark days of the pandemic, there was a silver lining for the burgeoning chain.
“Once we reopened, it just exploded,” Ocampo Brito said. “Nightclubs and mass events were still closed, so restaurants were the only destination. And if you wanted to have fun, you had to go to a restaurant like ours. So we were doing double our numbers before.
The plan to move forward with expansion was back and now each cousin owns a handful of restaurants in an arrangement that has become something of a family franchise.
“We all invested in the first locations together, and then we each started opening our own locations,” Bahena explained. “And it’s beautiful that we’re all about the same age and we’re all ambitious and have our sights set on the moon.”
For more information and a complete list of restaurants in Kalaveras, go to kalaveras.com.