Big Mango Café sends a message that tasty meals can be healthy and fast
By Jessica Koslow
Without many words, Jonathan Weiss communicates volumes through his cooking. He’s in the kitchen every day at 2:30 a.m., preparing 1,000 catered meals for the surrounding business community. He greets and often hugs his customers at Big Mango Café, a successful restaurant he co-owns with partner Adam Drucker on Waterfront Drive. He’s worked alongside master chefs including Wolfgang Puck, Julia Child and Border Grill co-founder Susan Feniger.
And if you don’t pay close enough attention when ordering at the counter, you might not realize that Jonathan Weiss is deaf.
Weiss’ culinary education began as a kid in his grandfather’s British pub, The Fox and Hounds.
“He’s been in the kitchen since five minutes after he was born,” jokes Drucker, who often stands by his partner, listening to him and translating. Weiss speaks, but is liable to not be understood, and reads lips.
“His grandfather was a huge influence on him,” Drucker says. “He pushed him to speak, to read lips and to cook like a champion.”
Hidden among the towering offices in Silicon Beach, Big Mango Café has been open for five-plus years — an impressive feat considering other eateries in Playa Vista have come and gone in the past few years. When it opened, the café was mostly surrounded by dirt. Four outside tables have multiplied into 13 today.
Back then, the café catered mostly to businesses, and it still does. The kitchen, where Weiss and his staff prepare all of the food, is located four blocks away. The company partners with online catering and ordering services, and they have plenty of corporate clients they service daily. The café is open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays.
“We’ve designed the business to offer food that is fast, fresh and reasonably priced,” says Drucker.
Weiss adds: “People don’t have time, only 45 minutes. They want quick, and we understand our audience.”
Serving an office park is definitely a niche market. There is not much foot traffic on Waterfront Drive. Two stand-up signs have been placed at the end of the block in each direction. But it’s still tucked away just enough that you probably have to know that it’s there.
“We feel lucky to be here,” Drucker says. “We got here way back when. We know the area well, and we know the people that work here in Playa Vista well. We cater to their needs.”
The menu offers specials that Weiss creates every week. Every Wednesday is Sushi Wednesday.
“People go crazy over our specials,” assures Drucker, “especially the Mexican dishes. We do them right.”
Big Mango Café serves artisan sandwiches and salads, desserts, soups and smoothies. They sell pre-made salads and sandwiches too, if you need to grab and go. A few customer favorites are the Thai Crunch salad with chicken and peanut dressing, and the BBQ Beef Brisket — all home-made by Weiss in his kitchen.
“We hate artificial stuff — nitrates, high-fructose corn syrup,” Drucker explains. “We serve all-natural sodas, sparkling water extracted from maple syrup, and Waiakea Hawaiian volcanic water.”
Located on what seems like an island of their own, it’s not immediately obvious if Big Mango Café is affected by all of the new restaurants popping up in Playa Vista.
“Every time a new one opens up, we feel it,” says Drucker. “When Whole Foods opened up, our business dropped for two months.”
And, luckily, the customers always come back.
Drucker and Weiss are a perfect working pair. Weiss is in charge of the food, and Drucker oversees the business. Both are seasoned restaurateurs. Weiss has been catering for 25 years and once ran Jack Sprat’s in West L.A. and Gladstones in Malibu. Drucker managed Paradise Cove Café in Malibu and ran Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s Border Grill food truck business.
Considering all the major obstacles this amiable duo has already overcome, it doesn’t seem like there’s much standing in their way — except maybe weather, temporarily.
“Weather has a negative effect on our business,” says Drucker. “If it’s sunny and then one day it’s cloudy, we’ll have a bad day. And if it’s cloudy and we get a sunny day, it’s the same thing. Any major change in weather affects our business for one day.”
With just a few cloudy days sprinkled here and there, it looks like sunny days ahead for Big Mango Café.
Big Mango Café 12035 Waterfront Drive, Playa Vista, (310) 862-9400 bigmangocafe.com