When he opened his namesake restaurant in late February, Ventura County-based chef David Raigoza was encouraged by the response to its menu of from-scratch hash browns, filet mignon steak salad and avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes.
Then came the novel coronavirus, followed by restrictions on the size of public gatherings and on sit-down dining, period, for restaurants throughout California.
Raigoza’s catering gigs canceled. And as he contemplated making the pivot to takeout and/or delivery, the restaurant’s tucked-away location and menu of informal yet carefully plated dishes turned into unexpected obstacles.
“All of a sudden I had to wrap up my dishes and utensils because I had no use for them anymore,” said Raigoza, owner of Chef David’s Kitchen and Catering in downtown Santa Paula.
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“I had to get to-go boxes. And I had to shift my mindset away from what I had been doing to thinking about which items on the menu would stand up to takeout.”
His efforts are working.
“Takeout is doing so much better than I ever thought it would,” said Raigoza, who is handling all of the prep, cooking and cleanup himself after having to let two line cooks go early in the crisis. “The crazy thing is, my business has flipped. In the beginning, my weekends were the busiest. Now it’s the weekdays.”
No stranger to the ebbs and flows of the restaurant industry, Raigoza started his culinary career as a teenager, when he was put in charge of making omelets during Sunday brunch service at Alamo Mexican Dinner House in Camarillo.
He went on to oversee food operations at and/or to co-own business like Harmony Sweet Cafe in Simi Valley and Holly May’s Bar & Grill near Palm Springs before serving as head chef at Viva Santa Barbara and Mizza in downtown Santa Barbara.
Along the way, a life-threatening bout with aplastic anemia, a rare condition in which the body stops producing enough new blood cells, put Raigoza in the hospital for two months. Despite the personal and financial losses that followed, the experience changed his outlook for the better, he said:
“Now I always have faith things will get better.”
With no money in the budget for a website, Raigoza and his scaled-back crew of two part-time servers — one of whom is his niece — rely instead on the business’ Facebook and Instagram pages to announce updates about hours and daily specials.
In recent days, the latter have included a French dip onion burger on Parmesan-crusted garlic bread ($8.95) and a surf ‘n’ turf burger that featured a beef-and-chorizo patty topped with melted cheese and sauteed shrimp on a brioche bun ($10.95, including hand-cut fries).
Raigoza credits social media and word of mouth for the fact that more than half of his patrons now call ahead and pay for their meals before pulling up for takeout or curbside delivery.
“Circumstances have changed, but I haven’t: I still make things in house and prep everything fresh daily. People notice that and remember. If we’re getting them in the doors now, so to speak, there’s a good chance they will remember us when we open again for real,” he said.
Hours at Chef David’s Kitchen & Catering are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays (925 E. Main St., Suite 6, 805-420-9096).
Also new — and open restaurants
BANH MI PARIS SANDWICHES in Ventura: In the works since last summer, the restaurant focusing on bánh mì sandwiches ($6.95), pho ($7.95 and up), fried rice ($11.95), lomo saltado ($14.95) and rice and vermicelli dishes ($11.95 and up) opened on March 18 — the day after Gov. Gavin Newsom called for the temporary halt of sit-down dining throughout the state.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Banh mi sandwiches are coming to a new restaurant near you (2019)
“We had hoped to be open last fall, so of course that would have been better timing,” owner Phillip Nguyen said with a laugh.
But the restaurant’s built-in focus on takeout due to lack of space (its address is a former Starbucks) is a plus, as is its existing customer base: Nguyen’s family also owns Pho Oxnard (722 N. Ventura Road), through which they’ve been spreading the news.
In addition to takeout for phone orders and walk-in patrons, Banh Mi Paris Sandwiches offers third-party delivery. Its menu is posted on Facebook and Yelp. Hour are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (1413 S. Victoria Ave., Suite E, 805-620-0987).
BANH-MI GRILL in Ventura: Focused on takeout from the time of its debut last spring, the restaurant temporarily closed March 21 to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. It reopened April 17 with online ordering available for pickup Mondays through Saturdays. Check the Instagram page for specials and updates (2611 E. Thompson Blvd., Suite 108, 805-628-3637, bit.ly/bmgrill).
CAPRICCIO in Ventura: After closing in mid-March in anticipation of coronavirus guidelines issued by the state, the restaurant reopened April 13 with online ordering available from a limited version of its menu of salads, pastas, pizzas and more. Service is takeout and third-party delivery (298 E. Main St., 805-643-7115, https://www.capriccio-inc.com).
MADE IN ITALY in Thousand Oaks: After initially closing amid coronavirus restrictions on March 22, the restaurant specializing in house-made pastas, sauces and more reopened April 7 with separate online ordering capabilities for curbside pickup and third-party delivery of pizzas, salads, desserts and half and full trays of popular dishes (go the “menus” tab for details).
Bottles of wine and market items like flour, cheese, eggs and fresh pasta are also available. Hours are from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (3825 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Unit F, 805-370-8667, https://www.madeinitalybistro.com/).
MOODY ROOSTER in Thousand Oaks: Chef and co-owner Collin Crannell started offering curbside takeout on March 14, then decided to temporarily close the restaurant about a week later, “for the safety of our family and the community.”
He and wife Vicki Crannell reopened the business April 15 with online ordering available for a changing menu of salads, soups, sides and entrees made from locally sourced ingredients. Packaged snacks, frozen dishes and beer and wine are available, along with desserts like butterscotch budino. Hours are from 1 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (2891 Agoura Road, 805-370-3131, https://moodyroosterwlv.com/).
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Chef ready to crow about Moody Rooster in Thousand Oaks (2017)
OJAI CERTIFIED FARMERS’ MARKET: Closed April 4 and Easter Sunday, the market reopened April 19 with a new layout, a limit on the number of shoppers in the market at a time and a requirement that face coverings be worn at all times. It takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays in a city-owned parking lot behind the historic Libbey Arcade (300 E. Matilija St., http://www.ojaicertifiedfarmersmarket.com/).
CAFE NOUVEAU in Ventura: Located in a 1920s-era house that has served as different restaurants dating back to the 1950s, the 18-year-old cafe temporarily ceased operations on March 17, the day Gov. Gavin Newsom asked restaurants to either close or switch to takeout and delivery.
A message posted on the cafe’s Instagram page that day reads, “The welfare of our staff and community are of the utmost importance to us, therefore we have have elected to close, in an effort to do our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We will reopen when it is safe to do so.
“Viruses are contagious. So is panic, fear, hysteria, kindness, joy and love. Please choose wisely,” the post adds (http://www.cafenouveau.net/).
LITTLE SAMA in Ojai: The order-at-the-counter restaurant inside the Topa Topa Brewing Co. taproom on Ojai Avenue temporarily discontinued service on April 14. “Sadly, our takeout and delivery service were not quite enough for us to justify staying open,” reads a social media post. The taproom remains open for curbside pickup from 2 to 6 p.m. daily (345 E. Ojai Ave., https://www.littlesamaojai.com).
MESTIZA KITCHEN in Ventura: The Filipino-fusion restaurant is temporarily closed “until things start to get back to normal,” reads an April 21 post to its social-media pages. The post adds that the closure is due in part to problems finding the supplies to open each week and worries about the immunocompromised status of a family member (805-620-0146, https://www.mestizakitchen.com/home).
DREAM DINNERS in Ventura: The DIY meal-assembly business at 1413 S. Victoria Ave. in the Victoria Village shopping center closed on an unknown date. It opened about 15 years ago. Its sign remains on the building and some equipment is still visible inside, but the phone is disconnected and the address is no longer listed on the Dream Dinners website. The chain’s Thousand Oaks location remains open with pickup and home delivery service available for made-for-you meals (https://dreamdinners.com/).
KREATION ORGANIC JUICERY in Thousand Oaks: The Santa Monica-based chain known for its cold-pressed juices, bottled smoothies and salads closed this month at 180 Promenade Way, after just over four years of business at The Promenade at Westlake location at 180 Promenade Way in April, after just over four years of business. Other locations remain open for takeout in Los Angeles County (https://www.kreationjuice.com/).
Previously announced plans to open a TWISTED OAK TAVERN & BREWERY in Old Town Camarillo took a step forward this week with the installation of a new sign at 2433 Ventura Blvd., the address previously occupied by Qué Pasa Mexican Cafe.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Twisted Oak Tavern & Brewery of Agoura Hills to put down roots in Camarillo (2019)
The original Twisted Oak Tavern & Brewery will continue to do business in Agoura Hills.
It currently offers online ordering for curbside takeout and delivery of food and alcoholic beverages. The business also offers groceries for home delivery, with online ordering at https://twistedoakgrocery.com (30105 Agoura Road, 818-735-0091, https://www.twistedoaktavern.pub).
Lisa McKinnon is a staff writer for The Star. To contact her, send email to [email protected]
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