Oscar Hermosillo decided to quit his job — as a social worker — 10 years ago. He says he loved the work, but hospitality has been in his blood for as long as he can remember. So he opened Venice Beach Wines with his then-girlfriend, now wife and partner Norma Alvarado. The two started out by attempting to make their own charcuterie and spending most of their money on wine. While tasting wines to build their own list, they bought bottles from retail shops, not knowing they could sample them for free at trade wine tastings. Now Hermosillo is considered an L.A. restaurant veteran with the wine bar, Cerveteca locations in Venice, the downtown arts district and Culver City — and a new taco joint called Clutch in Venice. And he's doing it all with the help of his family, including his mother Consuelo, who does most of the cooking. Hermosillo took a break from building his restaurant empire to discuss why he left social work and what he'd eat for dinner with John Bonham.
How did you get into the food business?
I absolutely enjoyed my job as a social worker. I went through my schooling; I was an administrator; I was pretty successful. If you drive your parents and the director of your agency to a beat-up liquor store and say, "I'm quitting my job because I want to open a wine bar," you better love what you're doing. They thought I was absolutely nuts.
After being a restaurant owner for 10 years, what have you seen happen to the food scene in L.A.?
With the Food Network and kids dropping their guitars and picking up knives, this whole kind of cultural thing going around food — it mystifies it. Restaurants talk about how much they're building a brand; I talk about it too. But I say, "First, I'm a restaurant." People are a lot more open to different foods. Now I'm serving periwinkle and tongue — all stuff that, back then, people in their 20s were like, "Whoa, hold on." Now they are like, "Give me more; I had this at a truck."
Guilty pleasure late-night food?
There's a woman that you have to follow in Highland Park. If I'm here and I leave, you never know where she is at. She has about five corners. And she makes steamed head tacos. Koreatown, I'll hit that at 2 a.m. If I'm … with my family I'll just head over to the San Gabriel Valley. I'm eating pickled feet; it's just amazing.
What did you grow up eating?
When I was growing up in Boyle Heights there was a little bit of a Jewish community. I remember going to delis around there. I remember selling tamales when I was a kid and I remember my mom and my grandma making trips to the Grand Central Market. Most of what I sell in the restaurants is what I grew up eating.
If you could eat dinner with anyone, who would it be and what would you eat?
[The late] John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Because he'd probably have a bunch of hot rods around and a big drum set. And I'd probably be making some pretty mean Santa Maria tri-tip, good smoked dirty beans and stuff like that. He'd like that because it goes well with whiskey — he used to drink a lot of whiskey.
Cerveteca DTLA, 923 E. 3rd St. #109, Los Angeles, (213) 805-5862, http://www.cervetecadtla.com.