On the Line: Jeremy Saenz of The American Dream
Ask for a sour
When I dropped by for lunch at The American Dream last week, I learned a few insider tips about his particular establishment. First off, they're the only full-service eatery inside Pacific City's Lot 579. Plus, they've got their own bathroom for customers. Between that, 15 sours on tap(!) and a killer view of the ocean, I was seeing the appeal of this concept.
What sets you apart from other burger concepts?
There are a few things that set us apart from normal burger concepts. One is the quality of our product. We make sure to get the highest quality ingredients we can possibly find, so no matter what we make, everything we put in it is top notch. Another huge one is our staff, the Dream Team. We have held over 500 interviews to nail down our staff of 45. We were extremely picky when choosing the Dream Team, and it definitely shows. Not only did we hire people with experience, we hired people with a passion and love for their work. The Dream Team is the best, and we've grown to be family. Another huge one is our beer selection; 60 of the finest craft beers you can find in one place. We choose to carry only independently owned craft beer companies, and are lucky to get our hands on very rare, small batch beers that you can't really find anywhere else.
Where does your restaurant name come from?
The restaurant name actually isn't 100% what everyone normally associates The American Dream with. Although I love the original meaning, my personal American Dream is much more simple. It's just burgers and beers at the beach.
Name an indispensable kitchen utensil that isn't a knife.
The most indispensable kitchen utensil isn't something you can actually hold. It's fire.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
One stereotype about our industry is that people think, "Oh, cool. You own a restaurant. You must be set." Not true! I think people would be amazed if they really got a good look behind the scenes and saw all the moving pieces that need to line up. It really is hard work!
Most popular burger on the menu.
Our most popular burger is the Truffle Burger. It's an 8-ounce wagyu patty cooked medium with Gruyere cheese, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, truffle aioli, truffle oil and finished with a red wine reduction.
Suggest a beer pairing with the burger mentioned above.
If you would like me to pair a beer with it, I would pair something acidic to balance the richness of the truffle burger. I would definitely have a sour beer, and we have around 15 sour beers on tap at all times. Right now, I would choose Sang Noir from Cascade. Being aged in red wine barrels, it complements the red wine reduction on the burger.
Most undervalued ingredient.
I would say the most undervalued ingredient is the potato. You can do a lot of fun stuff with a potato.
Where was your most recent meal?
My most recent meal was at one of my favorite places, Tabu Shabu. I had my go-to order of half prime ribeye and half wagyu short rib. If you haven't been, you need to go. The staff kicks ass, too.
How did all the business partners meet?
We all grew up together in Yorba Linda except for Hugh. Hugh grew up with my girlfriend, and we all became close because of their friendship.
How are the responsibilities divided between the partners?
We all have our different talents, but together we become a well-rounded force. It worked out perfectly that we all have different strengths, and that we when we work together, it makes us more powerful as a whole.
Dakotah Challacombe is our tech mastermind. He can program any system with his eyes closed. Jonathan Potalivo is our wine guru and customer service extraordinaire. He can tell you what's in a glass of wine by smelling it. Hugh Amato has been in the restaurant industry for almost 10 years now, and knows the ins and outs better than most. It's also awesome that he's our class clown and always playing some kind of prank on one of us. Jon Le is our angel investor that's in it for the free food and the beer. If we make a buck or two, he wouldn't mind that either. All of my responsibilities extend across our entire business. The food, the beer, the atmosphere. It's a culmination of what I personally want for this place. This is my American Dream. Together we all compliment each other in the best way, and we can't wait to bring more concepts to life as we progress.
One food you can't live without.
The one food I can't live without is my Mom's salsa. I've been eating it my whole life and I'm totally addicted.
Explain the story behind Lucky Habanero Salsa.
That's my Mom's company, and also what got me into the food world! We started that in 2005, and she's continued to grow the company year after year. There was never a company that would make fresh salsa with no preservatives that you could buy in the store. So in 2005, she made Lucky Habanero Salsa into a business and hasn't skipped a beat since. You can now find her five flavors in Whole Foods, Stater Brothers, Mother's Markets, nationwide in Sprouts, and The Butchery is a great local account. She's working with Amazon Fresh right now and also going nationwide with Whole Foods. We carry all her salsa at The American Dream, and it's the first thing on our menu.
I wouldn't be where I am without her taking that first leap and starting Lucky Habanero Salsa. I also wouldn't be where I am without my Dad being the rock and foundation of our family. Him being so strong allowed us to take risks, and if it wasn't for him, my Mom and I wouldn't have the businesses we have today.
Location, location, location
Where did you grow up, and where's home these days?
I grew up in Yorba Linda, where my parents still live. Then for about 10 years, I was all over Orange County. I finally settled down just over two years ago in Costa Mesa.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
If I'm making breakfast, we're having eggs covered in mama's salsa, of course. Bacon, hash browns and toast. Very traditional.
Last thing you looked up online:
The last thing I looked up online was stats on a new beer that just came out. That was this morning. I research beer all the time to make sure our tap list is the best it could possibly be.
Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food?
Skill that isn't food related. How long do you have? Just kidding. Well, I know I'm 32, and I'm going to wind up breaking some bones soon, but I love skateboarding. I still got a nice bag of tricks, too!
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
Most people don't know that I love milk. I usually don't go out and order glasses at dinner (although I have), but I love the stuff and stay stocked up at home.
What profession would you like to try if you weren't in this business?
If I wasn't in the food industry, I would like to try acting. I like movies, and think it would be cool to be in one.
The American Dream is located inside Lot 579 at Pacific City. 21058 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-1330; www.theamericandreamhb.com.
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