A long-running Westside seafood pop-up is going permanent in Santa Monica soon. Crudo e Nudo is an Italian-focused raw bar operation from chef Brian Bornemann and partner Leena Culhane, turning out namesake crudos along with marketplace items, natural wine, and even ice cream. Now the pair is plotting to put down formal roots at 2724 Main Street, running evening service using an outdoor city-built patio. While there’s no opening date just yet, Bornemann tells Eater that the plan is to begin casual service as soon as possible.
“We’re ready to open up really any day,” says Bornemann by phone, while waiting for a final sign-off from the city of Santa Monica on a small change needed to the tiny 600-square-foot space. Once approved, Bornemann and Culhane will initially staff the space themselves, before adding a small number of employees to help out. “The whole idea is to run with a pretty lean ship, a small footprint, and keep the business side logical so we’re not incurring the traditional rent or labor model of a restaurant.”
Bornemann has spent his entire career in ‘traditional’ restaurants like Michael’s up the street in Santa Monica, and Viale Dei Romani in West Hollywood, but found himself looking for something more as the pandemic rolled on throughout 2020. That started with Crudo e Nudo as a pop-up, operating out of spaces like Employees Only, Shutters on the Beach, and currently at nearby Little Prince. “We’re selling a really high quality product at fair price that is still profitable and makes sense to me numbers-wise,” says Bornemann.
Running lean means a reduced service model and increased production from himself, Culhane, and whatever staff they ultimately bring on. There are positives to this new way of working, he says, though the life of an owner always working on every aspect of the business isn’t for everyone. It also leaves behind many of the job opportunities that come from larger restaurants, at a time when so many hospitality workers still find themselves on unemployment during a pandemic.
“Running with a smaller footprint means everyone is a little more hands on,” says Bornemann. “The work is less delineated. Everybody pitches in and feels more ownership over the whole thing. We get to choose the hours of operation, we get to choose the days that we’re closed. Honestly it’s kind of a relief.”
“This is also a good model for Brian and I to scale the business and hire more people as we’re able,” says Culhane. “This is a way that we can still figure out how to take care of people. It’s pandemic safe, but also holds room to evolve out of this situation and into something new.” Bornemann and Culhane both say that, while they have been affected by pandemic closures and industry uncertainty themselves, they’re hopeful to be able to reach out to some of their other out-of-work contacts to bring them in when the time is right. Those folks could help to scale to some future second space, they hope, though it’s all still nebulous for now.
“I hear people say a lot ‘when things go back to normal’,” says Culhane. “We’re of the mindset that this is moving forward. There’s no going back. We have to evolve.”
That evolution will come soon for Crudo e Nudo, once they’re able to begin service at their standalone storefront on Main Street, selling raw seafood alongside cioppino, lobster pitas, grain bowls, and more. Until then, Bornemann and Culhane will continue to pop up weekends at the Little Prince space at 2424 Main Street.