We randomly came across Irvine's Avocado Café, tucked into a high-rise community off Jamboree. The Huntington Beach spot opened off Main Street not too long after we visited at the beginning of this year. Chuy Vidales (a.k.a. the one-man marketing team) was taking exterior photos for the Facebook page before finally settling in for our interview.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Great management! It's the key component in any restaurant or business. It blows my mind how poorly some restaurants are managed. A majority of the time, everyone notices but the owners, but when a place is managed superbly, it is just expected and rarely appreciated. It is the focus of attention right now at the Avocado Café Inc. corporate office.
It was an "egg before the chicken" kind of situation. My business partner/brother Jon and our graphic designer Joe Mac thought of the name first, and everything great about the fruit came after. There are too many reasons. All of you avocado-lovers know what I'm talking about. They are magical.
Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make?
Not necessarily. I just wish I had more of a passion to bake. My grandfather was a baker, and my mother's family owns bakeries in Mexico. I know it's in me.
Your earliest food memory:
It's a toss-up between my grandmother and mother teaching me how to make homemade tamales during the holidays and Chili Billy's at Huntington Valley Little League snack bar. Both were etched into my brain forever, and both are highly influential in their own ways at Avocado Café.
Favorite meal growing up:
Tuna-noodle casserole and confetti cake. Every birthday, baby! Thanks, Mom.
How do the three locations differ in clientele?
We attract people who enjoy the quality of food we provide. Our clientele is consistent across the board. My brother and I buy the best produce, meats and cheeses on the market, and the customers can tell. A lot of our customers are health-conscious and love our wraps, gluten-free bread and fresh juice menu. I also have customers who love the Kissle's club with extra cheese and bacon. I have a GREAT catering clientele. That's the beauty of the concept; you can have it your way.
Your best recent food find:
White seabass ceviche served with a crispy baked plantain chip–instead of corn chips–and salsa Lizano from Flamingo Beach Resort, Costa Rica, Central America.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
The Chuy with a pickle on the side, of course! It is our best-seller, company-wide.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Orange County has the best resources for produce and meats on the planet! You can source what you want, pretty much whenever you need it from the right vendor. We are truly spoiled when it comes to our product sourcing. It is the reason Avocado Café has succeeded; our quality of product is unmatchable by any other sandwich deli. We buy the best of the best.
Most popular item at breakfast?
George's Breaky Burrito is the best seller, but I like a great breakfast sandwich. Those are hard to find. Our HB Breakfast Sandy is EPIC!
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
That's a tough one. I have had some of my best and worst nights after a Manbow with a floater (some people call it a Rainbow) from Aloha Grill. It's an HB must-have for anyone new in town and a Fourth of July tradition for my family and friends. Thanks, Gaston!
One food you can't live without:
Sounds boring, but chicken is such a versatile ingredient. You can do so much with it, and it is a great source of pure protein. I love chicken.
Where was your most recent meal? What did you have?
Avocado Café HB Reuter's Avo Original–no cucumbers, extra pickles, with a side of potato salad. Yummmm!
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Google! And pour a glass of wine for yourself.
Matt Perez from TS Restaurants ofDuke's Hawaii and Jakes, Cliffhouse and Umami Burger, just to name a few. Matt is not only one of the best chefs/consultants I have ever met, but he is also just a great guy to be around. Matt is going to excel Avocado Café to the national brand Jon and I have said we were going to be from day one. You can only do so much on your own, and then you need to get a guy like chef Matt involved. We are beyond excited to have him on board and to see what the future holds for all of us.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Craig Casey's famous barbecue dove. Our friend Craig is a hunter. Doves are so tiny, and they're the most bizarre thing to bust out at a family barbecue. And to top it off, there were still some bullet fragments in it.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
The No. 1 place is my kitchen with my 10 best friends for our Thursday-night "family" dinner. Next would be the late, great Villa Nova Restaurant in Newport Beach for its wine list and bar. Last is Captain Jack's Sunset Beach for king crab and prime rib!
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Simple: Eggs sunny-side-up, bacon, toast, sliced avocado and juice.
How was Villa Nova's last supper?
What a great night [Editor's Note: Random fact–Chuy was the youngest waiter when he was hired to work at Villa Nova]. It was my brother's birthday, and we took over the entire upstairs bar and drank and ate like Vikings. I ended the night with Cash Wilson (the manager from Billy's At the Beach), the owners of Villa Nova and most of the staff taking pictures and drinking scotch in the main bar. It is so sad that most of society nowadays doesn't value the importance of maintaining the history of a city. People just think in numbers. It's a shame.
[Owner] Andy Crean told me at the end of the night that he is beyond confident that the men taking over are going to do it justice. We will see how the Winery's steakhouse holds up to the one and only Villa Nova.
How did the original Newport location get going?
I was involved in restaurant management and had a short stint in boutique wine sales. Both were recipes for getting my own thing going someday. My brother came to me two years ago this month and said, "I want to open a restaurant, and I want you to be my partner." And I said, "Let's do this!" We began our research by toying around with a concept specializing in design-your-own pizza with craft beer and wine.
A friend, Chris Moreno, showed us this little hole in the wall in the Newport Beach Athletic Club that needed a lot of love. It turned out being a great "test lab" for what was to come. We decided we wanted to combine a smoothie, juice bar and sandwich shop all in one and take all of our favorite places and do it our way, but BETTER! Some paint on the walls, new flat-screen TVs, vision, passion and A LOT of hard work, and here we are, three stores later, with a fourth store in the works. We truly owe it to each other. Jon is the backbone of the production; he handles the build-outs and the corporate end of things. I handle all the day-to-day and internal operation of the café, marketing and menu stuff–with his approval, of course. It's a great match.
Where are you headed next?
With the business? Every town that loves great, healthy, fresh food. We are targeting beach towns first. Personally, Maldives for a surf trip.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
I had a customer ask if they could sleep in the [Newport location's] bathroom for the evening. It's safe to say that didn't happen.
Find your nearest Avocado Cafe at www.avocadocafes.com