The chefs behind The Mar Vista are doing double duty (at least) with its quick-serve companion across the street
By Jessica Koslow
Westside powerhouse chefs D. Brandon Walker, Jill Davie and Jorge Rivas set out to elevate Mar Vista’s dining scene with The Mar Vista, the elegant and airy farm-to-table eatery that replaced The Good Hurt on Venice Boulevard.
In just five months, the concept has been so successful they’re now splitting their time between that collaboration and a sister restaurant — The MV Grab & Go — directly across the street (between the Venice Grind coffee shop and Soaptopia).
“We’ve been doing a lot of jaywalking,” Chef D., formerly of Bread & Roses Café, says with a smile.
“… Even though there’s a brand-new crosswalk in front of us on Venice Boulevard,” Davie (Venice Beach Wines, Josie) is quick to add with a laugh.
While The Mar Vista has established itself as a hot dinner spot on the block, Grab & Go is more casual and quick. The idea for the concept came to the two when they were building out The Mar Vista.
“We were there every day overseeing construction,” says Chef D, “and the reality of this neighborhood is there isn’t anything nutritious for breakfast or lunch. You are limited in your options in walking distance for fast, truly delicious food.”
Chef D. points out that The MV Grab & Go menu is small, but it has a wide range of possibilities, from gluten-free to Northeast Italian frico-style.
“And you can bring your dog and have a social atmosphere on the back patio,” says Davie, as she sits on the back patio shoulder to shoulder next to Chef D.
“It’s why we don’t want to come out here and yell out numbers,” she continues. Instead, the cooks yell names over the counter inside.
The MV Grab & Go occupies the space that was once Earl’s Gourmet Grub, which closed during The Mar Vista build-out. Chef D. and Davie’s business partner, Demetrios Mavromichalis, owner of Venice Grind and The Wood, suggested expanding.
“I always like to be inspired and do new things,” says Davie. “Coming over to Grab & Go is a relief. It kind of works bothways.”
Grab & Go serves tacos, falafels, cold-pressed juices, “dillas” made with corn instead of flour tortillas, salads, and torn potato poutine — the “national dish of Canada,” says Davie, who has spent a lot of time in Canada as the corporate chef for Sunkist for 12 years.
“We realized that The Mar Vista is not a lunch place,” she explains. Grab & Go opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m.; The Mar Vista opens at 5:30 p.m.
While Grab & Go can be left in the hands of line cooks, The Mar Vista has turned out to be quite a handful for Chef D. and Davie.
“The hardest part of running The Mar Vista is consistency,” Davie says. “We do such volume that we have to start every day like a new day.”
Chef D. agrees: “You plan to do 200 covers a night, in your wildest dreams. We’re really doing that! You walk back in the kitchen in the morning and you’re wiped out. There’s no product.”
“We have 60 employees,” Chef D. continues, his mouth dropping open. “That’s 60 stories every day. Sixty-seven employees with Grab & Go.”
“We have an HR department now,” they both gasp.
“That’s a lot of lives to manage,” he says.
“You’ve got to find some humor in it,” says Davie. “We look at each other and say, ‘Call HR.’”
This back-and-forth exchange between Chef D. and Davie is natural, warm and constant. They agree on most things and take tremendous pride in their two projects. And they keep each other chuckling.
Like, when Chef. D. declares Grab & Go got their phone number in early June, after one-and-a-half weeks in business.
“We got out first phone call today!” he says, enthusiastically.
“Yeah, it was from you!” Davie replies.
Chef D. and Davie plan to get more creative with Grab & Go, and they’re definitely taking advantage of the nearby Sunday Mar Vista Farmers Market. Instead of bananas, Davie chooses to sell white nectarines for $1. On Sundays, they serve fresh strawberry lemonade, with berries from Tamai Farms.
Soon, they’ll offer family-style dinner pickup.
What Chef. D thinks makes Grab & Go truly unique is their tacos, frico-style. He explains: “The cheese goes into the pan first and becomes like a crispy cheese crisp. Then an egg is cracked on top. The egg is covered up with a corn tortilla and the whole concoction is inverted with a flip in the pan. The frico melds into one delicious unit and is filled with a choice of protein [carnitas, brisket, shrimp] and garnished with house-made sauces and a chayote and cherry tomato salad.”
In fact, any of their tacos, Chef D. boasts, are the best around. And if there is any doubt, this is quickly confirmed by a customer sitting nearby, who, after overhearing his comments, waves him over to say she just ate the best taco she’s ever had.
The MV Grab & Go, 12226 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista (424) 228-4679