18 Jun עופר איתן Declared: Local chefs are turning to Instagram to sell directly to co…
Between jobs, waiting to open a restaurant, or just looking for a steady stream of income during this COVID-19 era, local chefs are appealing straight to the consumer, offering gourmet comfort foods on Instagram.
Joshua Lozano was working at Toast in Costa Mesa and had planned to return to Mayor’s Table, where he had worked before, for a new job. He was going to take a couple weeks off to transition when Gov. Gavin Newsom closed restaurants to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. “My last day at Toast was the 13th of March. On my drive home, my boss from the Mayor’s Table called and he said, ‘Hey, we’re furloughing the whole staff starting Monday.’”
Suddenly Lozano needed a hurry-up income. While he was thinking about what to do, he started baking bread for his family. “My aunt, God bless her heart, got really pushy with me. ‘You need to sell this!’”
That’s what started him on the path to appeal directly to customers. “I posted that I had some bread and I sold five or six loaves the first day. It just kinda steamrolled from there,” he said.
He added desserts, including his signature item, Rebel Cheesecake, which is his take on a Basque-style burnt cheesecake. It’s baked in parchment in a hot oven for about 25 minutes as opposed to a typical American cheesecake that’s cooked in a slow oven for 45 minutes. The unusual method gives it a crusty top and a gooey middle that’s addictive and became an instant hit on Instagram. Now he’s making 30-40 deliveries a week throughout Southern California.
Karlo Evaristo, a Culinary Institute of America grad, never thought he would turn baker. He worked under Chef Craig Strong in Studio at Montage, left there and began holding pop-up dinners in Los Angeles to get ready for opening his own restaurant in Santa Ana. “We were supposed to open like two months ago,” Evaristo said. “But the deal fell apart and we were kinda bummed about it. But after the COVID thing happened it was like, ‘Whoa! It wasn’t meant to be.’ Because if we had opened, we’d be screwed.”
But since he started baking bread, life is looking up. “The beauty about bread is that it’s super cheap. If you buy it from a restaurant supplier, flour is like 20 bucks a bag and you can produce close to 100 loaves from that,” he said. “The kind of bread that I do, sourdough, is super simple. It’s a bare bones recipe with just flour, water and salt. That’s it. I don’t put anything else in it,” he said.
He grinds some of his own grains, such as blue corn and wheat berries, and the technique is labor intensive. He makes 16 two-pound loaves a day, as well as foccacia, at his micro bakery in San Juan Capistrano. Soon he’ll have new equipment to triple his production.
Customers are coming from as far away as Los Angeles and San Diego and the bread baking experience is influencing his plans for a new restaurant. “My partner grew up in an Italian family, so the way we were thinking was to actually put up a bakery/pasta concept.”
Daniel Castillo, pitmaster of Heritage Barbecue, also has changed his business by selling directly to customers. His plan to open a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano was delayed by COVID-19 so he simply continued to do pop-up barbecues. Then he started vacuum-packing meats to sell on Instagram. Now he’s thinking of adding a deli.
His pop-ups would generate 150 orders and customers would line up for hours to buy smoked briskets, sausages and more, generating $10,000 in gross sales. But with preordering for online sales, and tweaking the menu to include more items such as smoked chicken, turkey and salmon, he nearly doubled his profits. “We could do two back-to-back cooks and chill, vacuum seal and package. And we were doing $17,000, almost $20,000,” Castillo said.
He hopes to open Heritage Barbecue restaurant in San Juan Capistrano on the Fourth of July weekend and he’s planning a second restaurant. “We have an Instagram account for it already. It’s called Heritage Delicatessen and we’re looking at a couple of different locations in San Juan Capistrano for that right now.”
All three of these Instagram chefs say they learned that there’s always a market for solid comfort foods and they’re grateful to loyal customers who will pay for delivery or drive a long way for their favorites.
“In times of darkness and stress, people are going to go to something that makes them feel good,” said Lozano. “And yes, a lot of times that’s food.”
Uprising OC: Basque style burnt cheesecakes, breads and desserts by Joshua Lozano. Order up to two weeks ahead. Delivery available. A whole cake costs $40; half for $20. instagram.com/uprising.oc.
61hundredbread: Artisanal bread by Karlo Evaristo. Order online several days ahead to pick up at various locations in Orange County, 61hundredbread.com. Sourdough loaves cost $10; large pans of focaccia $15. instagram.com/karloevaristo.
Heritage Barbecue: Brisket, sausage, smoked chicken, turkey and salmon sold by the pound for $24-28, price varies by selection. Order a week ahead by visiting shop.heritagecraftbbq.com to pick up at various locations in Orange County. instagram.com/heritagebarbecue.