We love talking with people at the top of their game. Interviewing CEO and founder of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group, Janet Zuccarini, was every restaurant lover’s dream.
Gusto 54 is best known here in L.A. as the team behind the pasta temple that is Felix Trattoria. The always-booked Venice haunt has been lauded as Esquire’s “#1 Best New Restaurant in America,” Eater LA’s “Restaurant of the Year,” and was shortlisted as a finalist for the James Beard “Best New Restaurant” award a few years back.
Now, Janet and team are taking on hemp in a fine dining atmosphere with DTLA’s new Gusto Green, a plant-forward restaurant in partnership with Ziese Farms, the only federally-approved purveyor of hemp leaf for food.
We asked Zuccarini to talk to us about the new space, what makes a restaurant great, and what’s next for the restaurant industry in general…
Favorite dish at Gusto Green: Sourdough Puffed Pita with hemp heart zaatar and smoked baba ganoush. I also love our Coconut Cream Pie (vegan and gluten free!), Burrata Pizza with asparagus (the season just started!), Kale Caesar Salad (vegan and gluten free), both Crudo dishes, and new Gaucho Steak with chimichurri is amazing for people who want to eat animal protein.
The perfect restaurants are…There are many elements that make a restaurant great. Sometimes it can be the smallest details that make or break an experience. Striking a good balance is the key for aiming to please your customers, attracting new business and building your brand over time.
A great restaurant hits it on all points: location, menu, consistent delicious food, service, atmosphere, cleanliness, noise levels and price point.
What you wish more diners knew now: We want diners to know that we appreciate them now more than ever after these 2+ years of navigating the pandemic—where hospitality arguably was one of the industry’s hit the hardest.
3 big trends in restaurants next: One, knowing the source of your food, which farms your produce is coming from, and who your food purveyors are.Two, moving further towards embracing hyper-local with all the concerns for the environment.
Plant-forward menus are becoming more and more popular. Animal proteins are moving more towards sustainable fish, grass fed beef and treating animals humanely.
What do all restaurant people wish diners knew? There is some talk out there about restaurants paying staff more. I wish people knew how slim the profit margins are in the hospitality business. The national average is 4% net profits. The system is broken—as food costs skyrocket, all restaurants should be charging more, but instead the industry accepts slimmer profit margins.
Best business advice ever given? Treat your team well. Happy people make people happy.
Tell us the full scoop on Gusto Green! Our brand-new Gusto Green delivers a menu of plant-forward, omnivore-friendly cuisine; a dedication to featuring quality ingredients from game changing purveyors; and a commitment to modernizing what it means to eat and live healthfully. Located in DTLA, our restaurant is a warm, friendly, and progressive destination that embraces the future of food and lends a feeling of dining in nature (the moment you step into Gusto Green, you’re underneath a custom-built greenhouse-like structure). Gusto Green incorporates highly nutritious hemp and terpenes in its foodways, provides access to plant-medicine movements, and pushes boundaries of food innovation at the intersection of wellness and indulgence.
One of my favorite food memories of all time…I was in Italy on a wine trip and the owners of a vineyard took us to this tiny mountain top restaurant north of Verona where a family cooked everything directly from their farm. They were closed this one particular day but opened up just for our group. They had a fire going in the middle of the restaurant and the “nonna” took charge and cooked us an incredible Italian feast, everything made from scratch from handmade pasta to the burrata cheese, to cooking Florentine steaks over the fire in the middle of the restaurant. This meal was Italian home cooking at its absolute best.
Fave cookbooks: My favorite cookbooks are anything by Marcella Hazan, which were the first cookbooks I purchased when living in Italy in my 20’s. She’s the queen of Italian cooking. As I’m dining more plant-based, the king for me is Ottolenghi. I love Ottolenghi’s cookbook Simple and Plenty. Another cookbook I use more than any other cookbook these days is Eating Out Loud by Eden Grinchpan, with incredible delicious, recipes— many of which are plant based.
Business books: Good to Great by Jim Collins, E-Myth by Michael Gerber and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Ruiz’ book is not so much a business book but I have gifted this book the most. It’s a recipe to live a happy life in work and life in general.
What other restaurants Are you excited about? I just dined at Pujol in Mexico City, so I was very excited about Damian in DTLA. Now I hear Enrique Olvera is supposedly opening another restaurant in Venice, which would be a great addition to the neighborhood.
What is unique about L.A. diners and restaurants? L.A. has always been at the forefront of health and well-being, which is why we are excited to have opened Gusto Green, a plant-forward restaurant.
Another difference is that L.A. generally likes to dine on the early side, whereas in other cities like New York and Toronto, you can easily book a 9:30 pm table, which is a much harder sell in L.A.
Best wellness or sustainability trends happening in restaurants now? Hyper-local sourcing of food products and produce, biodegradable packaging, the banishing of plastic — especially plastic straws, sustainable fish, grass fed beef, use of adaptogens, botanicals and herbs infused in beverages and food.
Prettiest restaurant you’ve ever visited? La Sponda in Positano is an incredibly beautiful restaurant with killer views.
What is your next project? We are close to starting the buildout of our next restaurant, Stella in West Hollywood, in the original Madeo space on Beverly Blvd. Stella will be very authentic Italian with a focus on fish and seafood and cooking on a fire.
What more foodie thrills? Read all our interviews with chefs like Rene Redzepi, Ottolenghi and Dan Barber!