GRAND OPENING :: West Hollywood’s Hunger Market Cafe

by Jim Halterman
Friday Dec 11, 2009

When it’s mealtime and you’re looking for a place to eat that works for your wallet and your appetite, where do you go to satisfy your hunger? West Hollywood’s Hunger Market Café opened last month and has already made its presence known on Santa Monica Boulevard, thanks to their selection of food and market choices that are not only out of the ordinary, but will easily satisfy those hunger pangs.

As the restaurant/market readies for its
Grand Opening this Saturday (11am-8pm), EDGE’s Jim Halterman wandered in to see what all the fuss was about. He also got the chance to sit down with co-owners Kevin Milligan, David Reinke and Toni Miller, who also serves as head chef for the new business.

Keeping things close to home

One thing that immediately sets the Hunger Market Café apart from its competitors is the fact that the food served is bought locally in an effort to give back to the community. "The concept was bringing the farmer’s market into a retail space," said Milligan, "so we really scoured all the local farmer’s markets, brought in a Mediterranean supplier for our hummus, tabouli, falafels, olives, we found a local ice cream maker. We brought in John Kelly chocolates; he’s a wonderful Los Angeles chocolatier."

Buying locally also gives the staff a chance to mix things up on the menu, which is something you don’t see at many markets. Milligan said, "I’ve really enjoyed going to Whole Foods but, to me, it was never really changing out its menu and had the same lasagnas and salads. Because we’re local, we can change it out, go to the markets that very same day. What we’re telling our guests is to check back often because we’re always going to have something new.

Designing the menu for a new place, however, can be tough when owners are not quite sure what customers will respond to and what they won’t. The key, as Chef Miller explained, was to stay away from anything too complicated.

"Why not make our menu really simple in terms of pricing for the customers, That’s why we sell a sandwich for $8 and a scoop of salad is $4. Make it simple, simple, simple."

Keeping the menu less complicated also allows Miller to try different food items on a whim. In fact, a recent trip to the Farmer’s Market ended up as a new dish in the food case. "I found these amazing carrots. They were purple on the outside and bright orange and these crazy beautiful colors. I brought them back and we made up a salad."

In terms of the West Hollywood community, Milligan is excited that the Hunger Market Café is adding something that, despite the variety of grocery stores and restaurants, the area had been lacking.

"Because we’re between Trader Joe’s and Pavilions [on Santa Monica Boulevard], we really feel that we fill the gap... and also have the gourmet markets where we have a lot of great spices, rubs condiments, oils as well as imported pastas and other things that you can’t find readily... we’re really trying to be more of a boutique market."

In the present crippled economy, some might not think this to be the best climate in which to start a new business venture but Reinke sees it differently.

"Right now it’s good for opening because you can get better deals on leases and equipment is much cheaper than it would normally be. Our thoughts were ’if we can make it in this environment we could make it any environment.’ Our philosophy is that we’re starting at the downturn and things are going to get better."

Page 2 ::How’s the food?


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