The same restaurateur who brought California Shabu Shabu, the Iron Press, the Blind Rabbit and Shuck Oyster Bar to Orange County has opened Hatch, a not-your-typical tiki restaurant tucked behind the Auld Dubliner Irish pub at the District's Union Market in Tustin.
With gourmet sliders, craft beer selections from local breweries (such as the Bruery in Placentia and Noble Ale Works in Anaheim) and tropical cocktails on its menu, Hatch has a variety of options aside from drinks with little umbrellas in them.
"We wanted to set ourselves apart, as reflected in our restaurant's personality — where we have the freedom to do so much and not be stuck to one thing," said Leonard Chan, owner of Hatch. "We don't want to be overly tiki, but we still want to [keep] the culture with our theme."
About four years ago, as Orange County's food scene was getting increasingly diverse, Chan was talking with a friend over drinks about restaurant ideas. This led Chan, after the success of his second the Iron Press location, at the Anaheim Packing House, to open a sandwich spot called the Co-Op, based on the idea of bringing together a variety of sandwich creations from local chefs.
"We started out with sandwiches, but the menu kept changing … and then we wanted to feature a different take on sliders," Chan said. "We had about 60 different ideas for sliders."
Two years later, that restaurant had evolved into what is now Hatch. Chan and his friends were inspired by tiki culture and food — particularly with the success of Don the Beachcomber, one of the original tiki spots in Los Angeles and Huntington Beach.
"We wanted a different take on Southern California tiki culture … to meld the two things that were going on when everything first started: the mid-century mod design but infusing traditional tiki culture, food and drinks at the same time," Chan said.
When Russell and Andrea Young (who spearheaded the OC Mix at Costa Mesa's South Coast Collection, or SoCo) opened the Union Market food hall at the District shopping center in Tustin, they reached out to Chan and other restaurateurs for food concepts to try there.
"It's a great area," he said. "While the [Anaheim] Packing House is very much a food hall community [that's] more conducive to hanging out, Union Market is a mix of cool and unique food and retail tenants. Everyone here works together, and you don't see any big chain places."
Construction for Hatch began in spring 2015, and after several contracting delays, it opened a year later in April. The 50-seat restaurant is 1,100 square feet, with a 250-square-foot outside patio.
When describing the menu, Chan says, "It's kitschy eclectic. Here, we can go wild with our menu — this is like our little playground."
Guests can choose from 15 customizable gourmet sliders, organized by "moo" (beef), "oink" (pork), "flap" (chicken or duck), "swim" (soft-shell crab, salmon, oysters) and "sprout" (veggie) — cooked different ways — as well as traditional sides (fries, onion rings, wings, salad) and the best-selling Hawaiian comfort plate, the loco moco.
"Honestly, it's pretty free-for-all," said head chef Andrew Singh, who has collaborated with Chan since their first days at the Iron Press. "We try to keep an Asian fusion twist to our food, but sometimes it ends up being random. We like that flexibility."
Hailing from Roy's Hawaiian fusion in Newport Beach, Singh wanted to stray from the typical pineapple and teriyaki, and narrowed down hundreds of ingredients to fit the restaurant's pan-Pacific flavors and eclectic selection, from Portobello mushrooms to bologna.
Top sellers include the fried soft-shell crab and the Wagyu beef slider, with sweet Portuguese buns from OC Baking Co.
"Originally people thought, oh, two sliders? I'm not going to get full. But these aren't normal-sized sliders," said Singh. "We try to switch it up with extremely fresh, high-quality ingredients, instead of just melting cheese on meat."
Singh also shared his excitement about Hatch's upcoming full brunch menu, which will include daiquiris and a build-your-own breakfast slider.
Even the rum-based cocktail drinks typically associated with tiki bars have been creatively tweaked to include craft ingredients, such as fresh lime, simple cinnamon syrup and Portola espresso beans.
"We took the same components that were similar in different mai tais, deconstructed it, and put it back together with more craft ingredients," said Hatch general manager Janise Trans. "A lot of traditional tiki drinks are more acidic because of the heavy rum base. … We wanted to have a very balanced menu that wasn't all sugary and rum-forward, so it was our take on the classic tiki cocktail."
The restaurant's minimalistic, at-home look includes colorful designs and fun pieces like a bright orange couch and starburst lamps over the bar. The orange-and-green tiki drink wallpaper was designed by a friend of Chan's, artist Josh Agle, known as Shag.
While typical elements of a tiki restaurant and bar — fake lava, grass huts, beachy music, an overload of plants — are not unwelcome, Hatch offers guests an overall different, mid-century modern dining feel.
Chan said he was inspired by the Eames era.
"This place is like my condo, but at a bigger budget," Chan said, laughing, having noted the restaurant's 20-person staff. "The cheesiness is fun."
Chan's managing partner, Frank Laguna, explained how they came up with the restaurant's distinctive name.
"It was like, we'd been sitting on this one idea about a tiki restaurant, and it finally hatched," he said. "It was an 'aha' moment."
With Chan's other concepts including a speakeasy, shabu shabu place, gastropub and oyster bar (with more in O.C. and L.A. on the way), the restaurateur has become known for creating unique, themed restaurants where people can gather.
"We go to a location that we like, and we try to find a concept that will fit, something different and new. ... If you're building a new kitchen, you might as well do fun things with it," he said.