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At new Goudas & Vines, tough times call for innovation

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As local businesses feel the pinch of the tightening economy, some small restaurants and retail market owners are hanging on to their slice of the pie with a little creative name-swapping and neighborhood hopping.

In April, 31-year-old grocer Brandon Kim changed the sign in front of his 3-year-old Montrose wine, artisan cheese and specialty foods market, and -- presto! -- Goudas & Vines became the Spanish tapas bar Three Drunken Goats. Last month, Kim and his father, Ian, former owner of several small grocery stores in La Cañada Flintridge, reopened Goudas & Vines in Santa Monica.

But swapping the Epoisse (a soft cow's milk cheese from Burgundy) for pulpo a la gallega (grilled octopus with potatoes) and opening the "sequel" market 30 miles away wasn't the Kims' initial re-stocking plan.

"It didn't take long to figure out that retail alone doesn't cut it anymore," says Brandon Kim at the Santa Monica store, waving to a server from the restaurant who trekked from Montrose to scope out the expanded charcuterie and cheese selection, grab a cappuccino and taste a couple of Ciao Bella gelatos (malted milk ball was the favorite). "The wine tastings and catering [in Montrose] were paying the rent," he says, so they converted the Montrose shop into a tapas bar. The Kims expanded the existing wine-tasting bar and hired former Cobras & Matadors executive chef Jason Michaud as a consultant to develop the menu and train the staff. "We added a few tables -- that's about it."

But the Kims weren't ready to get out of the gourmet grocery business entirely. Last year, they signed a lease on a retail space on the first floor of a new apartment complex on Main Street in Santa Monica. "With the first store, it was also a location issue," Brandon Kim says. The new Goudas & Vines is several blocks from the bustling heart of the retail district.

The layout is similar to the original: a wine-tasting bar in one corner, a cheese and charcuterie counter and three rows of steel utility shelving where such specialty ingredients as ulmo tree honey (a floral, creamy honey from southern Chile) share space with everyday imports, including PG Tips tea (the British equivalent of Lipton).

Baguettes from Le Pain du Jour bakery in Santa Monica and bombolini (Italian crème-filled doughnuts) are delivered daily.

Chef Michaud also consulted on the Santa Monica store while doing a little name-flipping of his own in Silver Lake. Last month he opened Local, a bistro in a space formerly occupied by his Eastside Mercantile, an antique shop he operated for five years while moonlighting as a chef.

Michaud said he saved a "hodgepodge mix of oak stools from the 1940s and '50s" for the restaurant Local but hadn't had time to do much decorating. He still stops by Three Drunken Goats several times a week to "peek in on them, plan new menus and put out any fires."

Brandon Kim is grateful for the help. He's pounding the pavement in Santa Monica, trying to persuade local companies to order rosemary-stuffed Tuscan ham sandwiches for staff meetings. "This time around we're focusing more on the catering [from the start]."

And if that doesn't work, an antique shop with a side order of dulce de leche bombolini might be just what the Westside ordered.

Garbee is a freelance writer. food@latimes.com

Goudas & Vines, 2000 Main St., Suite C, Santa Monica, (310) 450-6739.

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