For 23 years Craig Susser worked at LA institution and celeb magnet Dan Tana's, taking a job while still in college, and moving up the ranks as server, bartender, maître d’ and finally GM. When Dan decided to sell his restaurant, Susser was faced with a decision. Continue to work for someone else, or take a risk and launch his own spot. Craig's opened a year and a half ago on Melrose serving Italian accented American fare to a similar Dan Tana's crowd. Here now Susser on table waits, regulars, and the future.
It's 8 p.m. on Saturday night. What's the wait for two? With a reservation, if we have done our job correctly, not long at all. Without a reservation, typically an hour or so.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? Hang out, have a drink, and take any table that is offered. We are here to be of service, we want you to sit and eat. We want our customers to know that we will do whatever we can to accommodate their requests.
Do you get a lot of celebrities? We are lucky to have an incredibly loyal following, some of them happen to be celebrities. Our job is make sure they have as normal an evening as possible.
Tell me about your favorite customers. Any customer is a favorite customer! What I love about our regulars is that they use Craig’s like an extension of their dining room. They sit, they love their favorite dishes, but are not afraid to taste chef Kursten Kizer’s specials. I love to bring something out from the kitchen that we are working on for them to try. They are like family. We have been through a great deal together. I always say, “It’s easy to take care of people when everything is going great; the real test is when someone’s life has taken a turn for the worst.” Looking after people through the ups and downs is really what hospitality is all about.
What's the strangest request that you've accommodated? Someone once asked me for a medium- rare steak because that’s the way their dog liked it.
Is the customer always right? Yes, within reason. We are here to serve, and our goal is to make our customers happy.
Do you have a lot of regulars? Yes, and I consider that the greatest form of flattery. Regulars are the life-blood of a successful restaurant.
What's the biggest different between running Dan Tana's and running your own place? Dan Tana’s has 47 years of history, and people’s expectations are firmly entrenched. The challenge in opening Craig’s was finding a way to create our own identity, and offer a compelling reason to dine with us. People today have very high expectations of three elements that have to be working together: food, service, and atmosphere. Chef Kursten Kizer (coming from the Post Ranch Inn) has been indispensable, along with Tommy Salvatore, our GM. The volume of regulars is proof that we’re on the right track.
What's the best thing to eat here? Filet with homemade Blue Cheese Ravioli. If you’re not a meat eater, the Cioppino is superb; and the vegan entrees have been wildly popular.
Would you ever open another restaurant? I would consider opening another restaurant if the right opportunity presents itself. I am keeping my eyes open. I am very aware of how fortunate I am in the success of my first restaurant, and don’t ever want to jeopardize that
What's on tap for the future? Our next job is getting the private table ready for service, which will seat a maximum of seven. The fun part will be working on tasting menus for the private table that will take full advantage of Chef Kursten’s abilities and imagination.
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