The restaurants under the Custom House Restaurant Group umbrella are blessed with proximity to the scenic beaches of California’s Central Coast. But creative menus and welcoming service are what make them destinations for tourists and locals alike, says Vice President of Operations Ricardo Ortega.
How would you describe your restaurant group in just a few words?
We’re innovative—a pioneer in the community and the restaurant world. We consider ourselves to be role-model restaurateurs.
How did the group get started?
I had been at Custom House, our first restaurant, since 2002. When Compass Health Inc. took over the property for its restaurant division in 2005, I was the executive chef there. The one restaurant has now evolved into a group. I became vice president of operations because the company asked me to reinvent the new restaurants it was acquiring. They’re all unique. They have different cuisines and different groups of customers. After we acquired about four restaurants, it was time for me to start hiring chefs to bring in some fresh ideas.
Tell us a little bit about your concepts.
Custom House is the mother ship, our highest-capacity restaurant. It was built on the concept of being a breakfast house. It’s right in front of the pier in Avila Beach, so it’s perfect for families.
Ventana Grill was our second opening. The views are majestic: pristine coastline, very rustic and rocky. It has an eclectic feel—Latin fusion with some California cuisine and plenty of seafood, which is important at all of our concepts. The restaurants are on the coast, and seafood is what guests are often looking for.
Wooly’s Beach Bar & Grill in Pismo Beach is named for the president of our company, Mark Woolpert. He’s a surfer and a local. The restaurant is all about grabbing a beer, watching the surfers and having some good grub.
Above Wooly’s, Oyster Loft has a fantastic raw bar. Jared Hurst is the chef; his food has a lot of Asian influence, but there’s a little bit of French and a little bit of American in there, too. It’s dinner only, so it offers a fine dining experience with a casual, beachy feel.
Our latest concept is Flagship. We went for something family-friendly and affordable. We want a family to be able to go there without busting the bank and yet still give them an ocean view. We’ve added Southern food like fried catfish and fried okra.
What are some of your signature dishes?
At Oyster Loft, we have our miso black cod. The sablefish is local. We really like to feature that one because it’s fish from our backyard. At Flagship we do fish and chips five different ways. We have our traditional beer batter, California tempura-style, lemon-pepper grilled, and we have a Sriracha and a coconut. Ventana Grill has our molcajete bowl, a Mexican dish served in a sizzling lava stone. And then Custom House is one of the best-known breakfast joints in the area.
What items do you source from Sysco?
We get everything under the sun from Sysco, from seafood to produce to dry goods. Any time we need exotic ingredients, they make it happen. If I were to pinpoint what I must have from Sysco, it’s their Certified Angus Beef®. That brand just screams consistency and quality assurance for customers.
How has Sysco been a partner in your success?
I go to food shows where I sometimes find innovative products. When I want to order one of those items, Sysco has been instrumental in helping me do it. They never say, “Oh no, we just can’t get that.” That speaks volumes to me.