, 2022-08-08 15:38:00,
Crudo e Nudo shouldn’t work. With only 32 outdoor seats and nobody to hand out menus, diners have to order at the pay station inside from a list of dishes posted on the wall. Its prices are pretty high for this stretch of Santa Monica’s Main Street, where burritos or onigiri run under $20 a meal. There are a few much more expensive restaurants on the block — Pasjoli, Chinois on Main, and Via Veneto — but they offer tablecloths, stemware, and full table service. Instead, Crudo e Nudo serves sustainable fish and seafood on compostable plates, and pours wine into canning jars. And yet, on August 2, it hit $1.2 million in gross sales for the first seven months of this year.
Even before the summer tourist season began, Crudo e Nudo was doing well financially. The restaurant had a 15 percent profit margin in May 2022, 50 percent higher than the industry’s standard goal of 10 percent, higher still than a four percent profit for a competitor in neighboring Venice that adopts a similar upscale casual menu.
Crudo e Nudo co-owners Brian Bornemann and Leena Culhane came up with a theory about how to rethink the restaurant model during the first year of the pandemic, and their revision, which invests more than usual in the food and scales for the rest, has succeeded — for the bottom line, employee culture, diner satisfaction, and, as far as they’re concerned, the very future of the restaurant business. The pandemic continues to challenge restaurants to be light on their feet; redefining success in a more modest way was the insurance policy Crudo e Nudo needed.
In March 2020, Bornemann and Culhane — partners in their personal life as well as in business — faced the vast unknown along with every other restaurant worker. Bornemann was furloughed from his job as executive chef at Santa Monica’s fine dining restaurant Michael’s, and Culhane lost a bartending gig when Ocean Park’s the Galley closed. After 10 months of scrambling at one pop-up location after another, they opened Crudo e Nudo in the spring of 2021, based on a strategy that sounds like Mies van der Rohe on minimalist architecture and design: Less is more.
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