It's been two months since Top Chef: Season 5 alum Alex Eusebio and his wife, Sara Mann, opened Sweetsalt Food Shop, Toluca Lake's neighborhood sandwich joint. Admittedly "turned off by the idea of big restaurant drama" after his Top Chef experience, Eusebio and his wife opted for a more simple, community-focused approach with Sweetsalt, an old-school sandwich joint where you "get a sandwich, see what we have in our deli case and go on your merry way."
Without budget for a soft launch, Sweetsalt opened on January 13. "We expected 10 people, but 100 people showed up," said Eusebio. He has had to double his staff, increase focus on training and upgrade his point-of-sale system, all while meeting the ever-growing demand of his customers.
Not to say that the Toluca Lake crowd is demanding. "The neighborhood is so supportive. They appreciate a young couple doing it on their own." Eusebio works 18 hour days, focusing on all aspects of the restaurant. "As we're talking right now," he said, "I'm moving chairs outside [for lunch service]. I also sweep the floors."
Between set-up and clean-up Eusebio mans Sweetsalt's kitchen, putting out made-from-scratch sandwiches, soups, salads, and sweet and salty treats, all using local ingredients. "Our goal is to have something new every day on the menu. There's no rules. It's just whatever we feel like making." Today, along with menu staples -- lavender duck confit sandwich and Champagne chicken salad -- Eusebio has made black rice and watermelon salad with walnut oil, and truffle mushroom soup.
As for the future, Eusebio enjoys "growing with the neighborhood and feeling out what they want and need. We're trying to see if a later evening crowd will come." He's also creating picnic baskets for the Hollywood Bowl crowd that include deconstructed sandwiches and salads.
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Sweetsalt Food Shop: 10218 1/2 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake; (818) 509-7790
Christie Bishop can also be found food blogging at PardonMyCrumbs.com.